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Equal Marriage Voted Down, Looks Like You Can’t Have National Civil Unions Either

The vote on the private members bill from MP for Throsby Stephen Jones on gay marriage has now been seen through both houses of parliament and of course the result was never in doubt. With the ALP allowing a free vote and the Coalition voting ‘no’ there was never any prospect of the bill having success. Yesterday the same-sex marriage bill was easily voted down in the House of Representatives, with just 42 parliamentarians voting in favour of the bill and 98 against. Today, the Senate also emphatically rejected the proposition of marriage equality, 41 votes to 26.

First, had the Coalition been afforded the opportunity for a conscience vote on the matter, it would have been hard, even impossible to foresee a different outcome to the one arrived at both yesterday and today. There would have been just as many, if not more on the Coalition side voting against the bill as there was on the Labor benches of parliament.

Particularly in the last few weeks there have been talks of pursuing the path of civil unions, clearly because the result finalised today was foreseen and an appetite to “do something” exists in the minds of some within the parliament. This barrow has been pushed publicly by MP’s, most notably Chief Opposition Whip, Warren Entsch and Malcolm Turnbull. Curiously, both of these MP’s are from the Liberal Party and have been the most vocal supporters of pursuing civil unions as a step toward equal marriage rights.

There has been and will of course continue to be a number of those in favour of marriage equality who view an interim step toward the inevitable as a ‘cop out’, but it’s not as the Greens are calling it a step backwards, it’s plainly not. It is however, not equality and would entrench “two tiers of love” as Adam Bandt today said. Overall however, it is closer to equal rights in marriage than the status quo.

Of course, the prospects of that step look doomed before the bill, according to Mr Entsch ready to go, sees the light of day. Tony Abbott today said “we really should let the dust settle on these parliamentary votes before we rush off and do something else.”

Mr Abbott further said that the concept of civil unions was the domain of the states and that is traditionally the case. But all we need do is look at the history of civil unions, particularly of late in Queensland and realise that the states too find positive change a challenge.

So why not push for the national recognition of civil unions? Surely achieving that end, though seemingly impossible at the present time, effectively dragging all states into line on a rights issue, would be a good thing? Clearly there are some deeper divisions within politics, but not the wider community,  stopping even such a small change toward what many in political circles view as the inevitable, same-sex marriage.

So, we’re at a stage where equal marriage has just been rejected. Even the prospect of civil unions at a national level seems equally despised and not wanted by just about all political parties in Canberra. The positive ideas of a few, whilst not great leaps forward, but still positive steps, albeit tiny ones, appear likely to stay just that, ideas.

Question Time Ahead of Time

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.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Question Time for Tuesday has thankfully flown by at warp speed, meaning we’re ever closer to the end of another week of Questions Without Notice, the second week in a row since the winter recess. After the events of yesterday, you could have been forgiven for thinking that much of the same was on the way, comparatively it was tame. That’s not to say it was shouty and screechy, it certainly was. But there wasn’t the same level of ill disciple that saw multiple Coalition MP’s booted for an hour under Standing Order 94a yesterday including the Opposition Leader and Manager of Opposition Business.

Probably tired from the amount of energy burnt yesterday, members of parliament, particularly on the Coalition side, fell back into the rhythm that’s been common since this 43rd parliament commenced in 2010.

Again, aside from Joe Hockey on spending priorities and the prospect of new taxes to pay for those immense spending allocations, the Tony Abbott led Opposition continued on the obvious ground of the carbon tax. Yesterday it was all about fruit and vegetable farmers and businesses, today it moved to the carbon price and meat producers and businesses.

The Gillard Government as they have shown in recent times, were much more varied in the areas of policy that their backbenchers asked questions on. Questions did include the price on carbon, but also education reform, health and workplace relations.

It would be folly to not accept much of the same during Questions Without Notice for Wednesday.

You can expect the Coalition to continue with questions about the carbon tax and any deviation from that would almost be a letdown, perhaps even like living in an alternate universe. The only question is what type of business will be focused on? We know that power prices and small businesses will continue to be the focus.

It would almost be equally as strange to not expect a question at the start of the session from Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey, again on the spending priorities of the Labor Party as occurred yesterday and today.

A question or questions on the Fair Work Australia investigation and Craig Thomson are also likely to make an appearance after the KPMG report into the Fair Work Australia investigation of the HSU was released.

The certain thing about the issues that the ALP Government ask questions of itself on is that there will again be variety. The carbon tax will attract the most questions again, of course.

However, other areas of policy will definitely be highlighted during the hour and ten minutes that is Question Time. This will undoubtedly include, as it has particularly this week, leading up to an announcement, education reform.

Other questions on the economy, health, infrastructure and workplace relations are also likely to appear.

A New Kind of Question Time for Australia, We’ve Earned It

Question Time, that hour and a bit of politics most sitting days, that Australians despise even more than the broader political discourse itself. Questions Without Notice frustrates everyone, from those who accidentally stumble across it on television or the radio and feel like they’ve had acid poured on them to the rusted on supporters that subject themselves to it freely on a regular basis.

Question Time in particular needs new rules to make it work better.

Some of the following are serious rule changes, the others, clearly not. The point is, that Question Time is still a joke despite changes to the Standing Orders- the rules that govern parliament and Question Time, when Australia discovered they’d voted for a minority government.

The Speaker of the Lower House is a very important position in the scheme of things. There should be a change which sees an independent Speaker, not necessarily an Independent MP, ideally a suitably qualified member of the public, elected to take the chair. This Speaker would ideally be elected by a popular vote of the people, but if an Independent MP or other suitable person were to be elected by the parliament, with at least 2/3 of the parliament in agreement, this would suffice.

Next cab off the rank- questions. Debate is not allowed in questions and questions asked in the House of Representatives are now limited to 45 seconds and to 1 minute in the Senate. This is simply too long.

Questions in the lower house of parliament should be limited to no more than 30 seconds- 15 to 2o seconds would be brilliant. It would be preferable, indeed beneficial, if questions asked in the Senate were limited to the same amount of time. Y0u could call it ‘The Katter Clause’.

The so-called ‘Dorothy Dixer’ should be completely removed as a feature of the parliament. If the government of the day wants to talk about their policies, have a press conference. Question Time should be all about holding those on the government benches to account, not allowing them a public relations exercise.

In addition, as far as questions go, there should be a new rule that business, education and health must be the focus of a certain number of questions every week. In an ideal world, that would mean one question in each area every day that parliament is in session.

Answers to questions asked during Question Time, in fact at any time, by anyone, politician, journalist or citizen during any political discussion involving our parliamentarians invoke very strong feelings. Even with a new ‘direct relevance’ clause our politicians waffle, blissfully aware that they are nowhere near answering a question.

Politicians should, as a matter of course, be ordered to be directly relevant to every single question asked of them from the moment they open up their traps. Any minister not immediately relevant is sat down by the independent Speaker. This will be hard for, well all of them, but if they want our respect they have to be weaned off the bullshit.

Not only that, but the time limit for answers to initial questions should be at least halved- from 3 minutes to at least as little as 1 minute and 30 seconds, but it would be glorious if answers could be limited to just 1 minute.

Ideally too, a device to measure decibels should be installed and if any one politician records more than a reasonable amount of loudness, they are sat down for their screeching. Call it a screechometer if you like.

The number of point’s of order that can be raised should be unlimited.

If in the course of Question Time the Opposition wants to table a document that they say supports their claim, in the interests of openness and accountability this should always be allowed.

Interjections really get under the skin of both sides of politics, they appear to cause the most angst in both chambers. They result in name-calling and can completely destroy the tone of any reasonable debate that exists in the parliament. If someone is overheard making offensive remarks about another politician across the chamber, they should be immediately booted, but only after being asked to withdraw first.

Both the government and the Opposition should have what could be described as a ‘captain’s challenge’. This would be a rule where the Prime Minister or Manager of Government Business on the government side and the Leader of the Opposition or Manager of Opposition Business on the other side can call for a video review by a third umpire when they think interjections are at their loudest on the opposite side. Question Time is then stopped and on the video evidence, anyone found interjecting on the opposite side of the chamber is immediately evicted for an hour under Standing Order 94a.

A bullshit meter was also considered, but frankly, they would cost too much as they’d be broken a number of times every day and our economy simply could not support that kind of spending.

Question Time Ahead of Time

The first week back in the federal parliament has been and gone. The week started off with a bang with the expert panel on asylum seekers headed by former Australian Defence Force declaring that a variation of the Coalition’s former Pacific Solution, which is also the Coalition’s current policy, being deemed the best way forward in dealing with boat arrivals. This set the scene for the early part of last week  being dominated by attacks on the government over the issue and was all about the Opposition scoring some political points on this difficult and complex issue.

After a couple of days of political posturing and games over asylum seekers, the debated returned to the main-game in politics since the August 2012 election, debate over the carbon tax and there it stayed.

It’s likely, with the asylum seeker issue now muted politically, that debate will stay with and over the carbon price introduced by the Gillard Government which commenced on July the 1st.

The Opposition will continue to try and paint price rises, in particular power prices, as in large part down to the price on carbon which has been in operation for a matter of weeks. The Tony Abbott led Coalition will also likely during the week direct their questioning to industry specific areas and to the Treasury modelling done in the lead-up to the beginning of the policy. It is also entirely within the realms of possibility, in fact alm0st certain, that as has been done time after time, the Opposition will ask the Prime Minister to apologise for breaking her pre-2010 election promise.

It is possible that the asylum seeker debate will result in at least some questions during Question Time this week with the Coalition indicating that they would have liked the government to go further and reinstate Temporary Protection Visas (TPV’s) and begin towing boats back to Indonesia.

The government will, after having spent today talking about the Gonski Review and school funding, likely spend the bulk of the hour and ten minutes of Question Time with backbenchers asking questions of the Prime Minister and Education Minister on education reform.

The ALP Government, through their usage of the Dorothy Dixer will probably, in some small part, continue to sell the message of carbon tax compensation that they have been trying to prosecute. This message appears to be cutting through to the public with a big swing in the perception of the carbon price in the community.

Another policy area that the Labor Party may choose to highlight is the National Disability Insurance Scheme progress, particularly in light of recent machinations involving New South Wales and Victoria.

The only uncertainty of the week is just how well behaved our MP’s and Senators will be in parliament this week. Will they be loud and bickering with each other more than usual? Or will they act with a little more restraint than in recent times? I

f last week is any indication then there will be some improvement in the level of childishness that has infected our parliament. The issues that will be at play this week are not exactly new so our parliamentarians will just be going through the motions, but as always there will be at least one or two who find themselves on the wrong end of Standing Order 94a.

Oh, and then there’s also that ever-present possibility of a motion to suspend standing orders that we’ve sadly become accustomed to as a regular function of Question Time during this 43rd parliament.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Parliament has now returned to Canberra after six weeks break and so has the associated noise and lack of courtesy and decency during Question Time. Things were looking up. There were wonderfully heartfelt speeches in the chamber at the commencement of Question Time in expressing the condolences of the parliament to the families of both Sargeant Blaine Diddams of the SAS and art critic and writer Robert Hughes who both passed away during the winter recess.

But that is where the respect and decency ceased. After over half an hour of speeches paying respect to Sgt. Diddams and Robert Hughes, which included a brilliantly animated and well-spoken speech by Malcolm Turnbull Question Time began.

Somewhat surprisingly at least, Question Time was dominated by asylum seeker politics. It was surprising insofar as it meant that the carbon price, the major battleground of this parliament did not even get even a skerrick of attention from the Coalition, nor for that matter from the government through their usage of the Dorothy Dixer.

What was also surprising about this is, given the outcome of the expert panel on asylum seeker policy, is that the government also used Questions Without Notice to heap attention on the issue. Now, it wasn’t a complete win for the Coalition. Nauru and Papua New Guinea will be used, but in a slightly different capacity than the outright detention under the Pacific Solution. But at the same time, asylum seekers that go there will likely languish for a very long period.

It would appear likely that the Coalition strategy from today, to focus on the half backflip of the Gillard Government on this area of policy will continue in Question Time on Wednesday. Not wanting to give up the opportunity, the Coalition will almost certainly continue to highlight the recent history of the ALP in asylum seeker and refugee policy. This should continue even though the new amendments will be supported by the Coalition. This attack will also likely continue even if the bills pass the House of Representatives before Question Time at 2pm.

What is far from certain regarding this policy shift on asylum seekers is whether the government will continue to highlight the importance of implementing the policy when the Coalition have agreed to support it in parliament.

Electricity prices were raised during Question Time, once, just to break up the monotony for the briefest period of time and this could again make an appearance in Dorothy Dixer’s and maybe in questions from the Coalition if refugee policy doesn’t completely dominate.

Failing asylum seeker policy dominating Question Time again, it is within the realms of possibility that the parliament could return to the tried and tested debate over the carbon price with the Abbott-led Coalition attacking the policy and the Gillard Government attempting to highlight the compensation package associated with the price on carbon.

Another likely inclusion, at least as far as the government’s questions to itself goes is the High Court case on plain packaging of tobacco products. This case today ruled in favour of the government, allowing them to proceed with their legislation. It’s almost certain that the Labor Party will dedicate at least one question to this matter.

Whatever the fuss that’s focused on, it all begins from 2pm Wednesday.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Everyone grab your HAZMAT suits, batten down the hatches, go out an purchase earplugs or earmuffs. Yes, after a month and a half break that institution we call Question Time returns to our television screens and radios on Tuesday. The winter break has flown by and as promised by our politicians, there has been little let-up in the political to-and-fro with the carbon tax and asylum seeker issues dominating the debate during the winter recess.

That seems the way that things will play out in Canberra this week during Question Time with carbon tax and asylum seeker politics set t0 be responsible for most of the noise during Questions Without Notice.

Power prices have been the debate over the last week with both the federal government picking a fight with the states over power bills which also brought in the federal Opposition with varying contributions from different MP’s to the debate, but the main ones being tied back to the carbon price.

It’s hard to see that electricity prices as they relate to the carbon tax will not be the major political battleground this week from the Coalition. The Abbott-led Opposition have dug in on this issue and will likely continue to prosecute the case of electricity related to the carbon price.

It’s also just as likely that, failing an electricity price specific attack on the Gillard Government related to the carbon tax, that other price rises associated with the price on carbon will form the basis of Coalition questions to the government.

The Labor Party too, through the use of the Dorothy Dixer will likely continue to try and hammer home the message of compensation for the price on carbon which commenced just weeks ago.

The Opposition, fresh from a fairly wide victory over immediate asylum seeker policy recommendations will likely turn up the heat on the Prime Minister and her government over the issue with the recommendations arguing the need to establish processing on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea as soon as possible.

The government will likely be fairly silent on the issue having been told by the expert panel on asylum seekers that their deal with Malaysia requires further work, so questions from the government benches on policy in this area will probably be scarce, perhaps non-existent.

The only major opportunity the government would have taken to get on the offensive over this policy area would be if the Opposition were going to oppose the legislation to be introduced into the parliament during the Tuesday sitting.

It will be interesting to see just how fired up both sides of parliament are after such a long break and whether or not this leads to the Speaker sending out one or two MP’s for an early coffee and cake.

Rest assured it won’t be such a quiet affair.

Harry Jenkins Leaving the House and Ending an Era

Henry Alfred “Harry” Jenkins entered the federal parliament in Canberra representing the electoral division of Scullin from February 1986. He replaced his father, Dr Harry Jenkins who served in the electorate from 1969 until his son replaced him in office. Today Mr Jenkins announced that his now 26 years in the parliament would be coming to an end at the 2013 federal election, one the ALP is almost certain to lose.

Harry Jenkins’ father after 14 years in the parliament rose to the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives under the former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke, serving in the role for 3 years from 1983 until his retirement in 1986 when his son took up the role of MP for Scullin.

It (the Speaker’s chair) appeared a place that Harry Jnr was destined for. Seven years after becoming the member for Scullin, Harry Jenkins, in 1993 under Prime Minister Paul Keating was Deputy Speaker for 3 years until the 1996 election when John Howard won government from the longest serving Labor administration of Hawke and Keating.

After the election of the Howard Government, Jenkins enjoyed the support of the lower house to become the 2nd Deputy Speaker during John Howard’s government, a role he stayed in until the end of the Howard Government in late 2007.

When Kevin Rudd was swept to power in a crushing defeat for the Howard Government, in office for over a decade, Harry Jenkins was elected by the house as Speaker, the role his father had enjoyed. He stayed in this role under both Prime Minister Rudd and his successor, PM Julia Gillard. The MP for Scullin served in the role until he left under interesting circumstances, suddenly one morning late in 2011 informing the parliament he would resign from his role to become a regular everyday MP.

It is widely acknowledged by both sides of parliament, Labor and Liberal alike that Harry Jenkins was a good and fair practitioner in the role of Speaker, helped along in the later years by changes to the Standing Orders, the rules that dictate how House of Representatives process is undertaken and policed.

Manager of Opposition Business and Liberal MP for Sturt, who enjoyed a run-in or two with the long-serving Speaker Jenkins said today that Mr Jenkins’ retirement would be “our loss, but his family’s gain”.

In acknowledging the bipartisan respect for the role Mr Jenkins played as Speaker, Mr Pyne also said “I always found Mr Jenkins a fair Speaker. It is a tough job and he did his best to perform with dignity.”

Mr Jenkins was also a Speaker known to take little nonsense from misbehaving MPs, with a healthy appetite for the usage of Standing Order 94a which allows for naughty MPs constantly interjecting or calling other MP’s names among other things to be sent from the chamber for one hour in what should become known as the “coffee order”.

Life largely away from politics beckons, about a year from now should all go to plan, for an MP who is the longest serving Labor MP in the House and the second longest serving MP currently in the parliament, behind Phillip Ruddock.

May his future be bright and his future dealings be with slightly less boisterous individuals than the MP’s he presided over.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Tuesday’s Question Time has come and gone and Wednesday’s hour or so of Questions Without Notice is fast approaching a politically weary public who will be looking forward to the winter recess in two days time. Unfortunately for those in that category who still watch the news there will be little let-up in the loud debate over the long winter break, especially with the carbon price commencing this weekend which means so much to both major parties and their strategies, albeit for different reasons.

Question Time on Tuesday was all about the carbon tax again for the Coalition with little surprise there. For the government Tuesday was just as predictable being almost all about budget allocations for low and middle income earners and families, including  trying to sell the compensation package for the carbon price which gets closer and closer. There were other issues too which played a minor role but Questions Without Notice was again extremely predictable for the most part.

Question Time tomorrow will of course most likely continue the air of predictability with the carbon tax almost completely dominating the debate in one form or another.

For the Opposition the majority of questions will undoubtedly be about the price on carbon which starts this weekend. The questions will continue to be based on a combination of the Treasury modelling, what lobby groups, companies and other organisations are reporting may be carbon price impacts above and beyond that modelling and perhaps still about the pre-election statement from the Prime Minister on the matter.

As far as the Gillard Government goes, there will also be a large focus again on the carbon tax but from a different angle. The direction the ALP will come at the issue with the use of the Dorothy Dixer during Question Time will be the way they’ve used for some time now and that is to outline the compensation and other benefits that will flow to low and middle income earners and families as a result of the carbon price.

The government, not content with a focus on just one issue could again broaden that out to a wider focus on another area as they have since the budget and that is also about payments and benefits to low and middle income earners. This time we’re talking measures from the budget, of which the Schoolkids Bonus is already flowing to eligible families, but other payments and benefits which include tax concessions are nearing.

It is possible that both sides will mention at some stage the asylum seeker issue though this has been a rather muted subject in Question Time since the tragedy late last week despite the actions and words that have recommenced in earnest outside of Question Time, although the drownings have been raised this week during the afternoon session.

It is also entirely possible that the Peter Slipper case and its developments, particularly over the last 24 hours will get a bit of an airing from the government side again though this will be limited because of sub judice rules as it was when raised yesterday.

That’s likely to be how Question Time will go tomorrow at least as far as the House of Representatives will go. The Senate has more parties and is susceptible therefore to a broader range of topics in the political discourse that is Question Time. One thing is certain: both major parties don’t do surprises particularly well.

Question Time Ahead of Time

We’ve had two weeks reprieve from shouty parliamentary soundbites and nasty exchanges but tomorrow the show rolls back into town in the nation’s capital with a two week sitting period before the long winter break commences and we get some sizable respite from the major arena of political hostilities. The two week period ahead will be the last parliamentary sitting before the carbon price appears on July the 1st and that very subject is almost certainly going to dominate that daily hour of screaming back and forth that we refer to as Question Time.

For the Opposition in Question Time for the next two weeks we can expect well beyond all reasonable doubt that the majority of questions to the Gillard Government from their side will be around the impending carbon tax. This has been the case off and on for some time in the parliament with it dominating the parliamentary debate most of the time when either the Minerals Resource Rent Tax or the Craig Thomson case weren’t the flavour of the day.

It is possible that some of the National Party members or Shadow Environment Minister will get to ask a question or two of the Environment Minister following the announcement on Friday of a swathe of new marine reserves around the Australian coastline. This also could be relegated to a question or questions in the Senate.

The government itself will also focus most of its questions in both chambers of parliament on the carbon tax too after it shared the spotlight with budget commitments since the May 8 fiscal statement. For the government it will be about continuing to sell the compensation package that has begun to roll out and the other associated sweeteners mean to blunt any impact that the price will have and even overcompensate many.

In what may well mirror the Coalition it is almost certain that the Dorothy Dixer will also be used to sell the proposed changes to marine reserves that Tony Burke announced last week, especially since environmental issues, like the Murray-Darling Basin plan have had a minor airing during Question Time in recent sitting periods.

Emotions will be running high again with so much political energy thrown into and burned by talking about and introducing the carbon tax so it can be expected that the 94a will get a workout or multiple MPs will get a stern talking to from the Acting Speaker, Anna Burke as the parliamentary battle rages and perhaps descends into the sad depths it has in recent weeks.

 

 

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