Just as quickly as federal parliament rose, so it has come by just as fast. Our federal MP’s will return to Canberra this week after a brief break from the federal capital based hostilities, read for another parliamentary sitting week. Much has happened during the last few weeks in federal politics. In the last couple of weeks we’ve had a major new dental plan announced, the Gillard Government wanting to proceed with the Gonski reforms but not without COAG negotiations and of course the ever-present asylum seeker and carbon price debates, with the floor price now gone on the latter. Sadly too, over the weekend, the Prime Minister lost her father and won’t be present while her family grieves.
In light of the tragic passing of Prime Minister Gillard’s father, hopefully, in her absence we can expect to see a more subdued parliament that more than likely will pause briefly to reflect on the passing of John Gillard. Mr Gillard migrated to Australia with his wife and daughter whom he saw become Prime Minister of her adopted country.
One question that does remain, but will probably be answered in the negative, is: will the Tony Abbott led Opposition heed the words of their former leader, Malcolm Turnbull and diversify their Question Time strategy, becoming more subdued and asking questions of the government in a wider array of policy areas than in recent times.
The Opposition will more than likely stick to familiar territory, the carbon price, Minerals Resource Rent Tax and perhaps asylum seekers from time to time. Of late too, the Coalition has asked questions of the Treasurer, Wayne Swan about budget forecasts and priorities given new spending commitments like the dental health changes announced, all $4 billion worth, as well as reforming education which will also cost in the billions of dollars.
It might be reasonable to expect maybe a question or two on education, but that will more than likely be in the prism of how will the government fund it and/or work with the states to achieve the implementation of such a big reform.
The ALP Government as has become their practice particularly this year, will again use the Dorothy Dixer to canvass a wider variety of policy areas than the Coalition. So far this has included the carbon price, infrastructure, health, families, community services, disability reform and education in particular.
It is likely that both health and education will be a major focus of the questions that government back-benchers ask of their ministerial colleagues in light of the dental and education reforms announced over the past weeks.
It is also a distinct possibility that the Immigration Minister will be asked to update the parliament on the progress towards re-opening the immigration facilities on Nauru and Manus Island.
Question Time, as always begins from 2pm and can be seen live on your television or on the radio. Let’s hope its a more respectable week of parliament ahead.
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.
The life of this tense, predictable and too unpredictable 43rd parliament enters another week as it screams even closer to the long winter recess with this week and then another two week sitting period left in June before over a months break. But for now there is still another 3 weeks of sitting before the parliamentarians and viewers of it get some respite from the rowdiness and almost formulaic approach to Question Time that has emerged over a period of time. Our parliamentarians might be having a winter break from parliament, but they won’t be going into political hibernation, the thirst for power and political momentum precludes that.
As always there is a small combination of areas which the Coalition will use in their pursuit of the Gillard Government during Question Time. It is quite likely to be full-on attack strategy today in the hour and a bit of Question Time, though shock and awe it will not be because the subjects of focus have been discussed and debated for some time in the broader political debate.
As has been said previously, the carbon price is nearing commencement, due to come into effect on the 1st of July, pretty much just a month away and will likely be the major focus during Question Time, perhaps, though this is the slightly unpredictable factor, being the matter of the focus of most Opposition questions.
Events surrounding Craig Thomson, the MP for Dobell are also likely to bear some focus during Question Time from the Coalition despite the fact that the subject and avenues of action around it have been exhausted and this goes to the very nature of this minority government with power being the main game in the halls of Canberra.
Leadership and confidence is also quite likely to enter the Question Time debate with whispers flaring up over the weekend, thanks to a policy announcement by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen on Friday which has brought divisions in the caucus out into the sunshine again.
There were also reports over the weekend in relationship to the leadership issue that Joel Fitzgibbon, the Chief Government Whip, a Gillard supporter had openly been counting numbers for a Rudd return to the Prime Ministership, a post he lost so unceremoniously.
Further to these areas of debate, a question or two, perhaps more to mix things up and keep them slightly different may well be on the believability of the predicted budget surplus and the spending contained within the budget.
A question or questions from the Abbott-led Opposition in relation the operation of the Fair Work Act, as well as Fair Work Australia, not in relation to the Craig Thomson/HSU matter will also be a distinct possibility.
The ALP Government, for its part will almost certainly continue its effectively sole focus since the budget and that is, selling the budget. The government will use the Dorothy Dixer to attempt selling aspects of the budget that will provide low and middle income earners with extra money for educating their kids and for their families.
The Government may choose to talk about the Clean Energy Future (read, carbon tax, carbon price) but this is likely to have much less of a focus given the controversial nature of the policy and is likely to focus on the compensation package provided in an attempt to blunt the inevitable costs of such a policy.
Events will be borne out from 2pm today and they are not for the faint-hearted. Indeed only the masochistic political wonks around this fair rock of ours should delve into the frustrating wonder that is Question Time. But seriously, politics is really cool.
The Independent MP for the electorate of Lyne, Robert Oakeshott has a plan, a plan that he thinks in his infinite wisdom will end the deadlock over the over-hyped asylum seeker issue which plagues our political debate all too much for the scale of the problem that it actually presents in political reality.
Since the Government announced it had reached an agreement with Malaysia over an asylum seeker/refugee swap agreement, parties have been united in opposition against the policy, even the Australian Greens and the Coalition saw eye-to-eye on this since the first time in, well a long time frankly.
Not only this, but the High Court saw fit to decry Malaysia and offshore processing as inconsistent with Australian law and our international obligations, throwing all offshore processing policy into legal doubt.
The Member for Lyne has now decided to enter the asylum seeker debate with this bill which amounts to nothing more than the “Malaysian Solution” in both theory and practice.
The bill put forward by Mr Oakeshott would allow for the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen to form an agreement with any nation that is a member of the Bali Process, any one or more of 50 nations in the region. Surprise, surprise guess which country is a member of the Bali Process? It starts with “M” and it ends in “a”. Any further hints needed.
As if any further clarification was needed that this bill would lead to the implementation of the Malaysia deal then they only need to refer to the words of the Immigration Minister who confirmed that he would ask the Labor caucus to support the bill when it comes to a vote.
Did Mr Oakeshott really think that it wouldn’t take all of a first glimpse to work out that he was doing the bidding of the Gillard Government’s Malaysian asylum seeker swap policy? That simply surrounding it with other options would lead to the Government not picking Malaysia?
Coming from a man who wasted 17 minutes of our valuable time just to tell us what we already knew, we have another waste of time in a policy which has already been roundly defeated without even the need for a vote to confirm just how disliked the policy was. This time though there is far more time than 17 minutes to be wasted on a stealth policy dud from someone who would like to think he is a canny political operator.
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.