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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

Today marks the last day of budget week from the hallowed halls (yes, a stretch at times I know) and is set to be another full-on day in Australian politics where the predictable has of late been met with just as much unpredictability. The budget is now out and the government in a flutter trying to sell it in order to gain back the key constituencies they have managed to shed like fur and the Coalition are trying to shoot holes in it. But the week hasn’t been all about the budget, the Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper issues continue to hang around like that guy you don’t really like but are too afraid to say “bugger off”. Oh and then there’s also the carbon tax and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.

In the last hour and ten minutes (or thereabouts) of Question Time for the week the Coalition will likely focus on a combination of budget items, the carbon and/or mining tax and quite possibly the allegations surrounding Peter Slipper, though that is far from certain given that the Speaker issue has in a way been mollified with Mr Slipper standing aside.

It is also much the same case with the pursuit by the Liberal Party of Craig Thomson, the temporarily Independent, but still unashamedly Labor MP who is also facing allegations of wrongdoing after being under investigation for over 3 years. The matter was rather spectacularly and completely unexpectedly brought to a head during a motion to force the Member for Dobell to make a statement to the House of Representatives, giving him the ability to use parliamentary privilege to tell his side of the story.

The motion failed, but the Member for Dobell leapt up toward the end of the motion to inform the parliament that he would, in the next sitting week make a full statement to the House on the allegations against him that were investigated by Fair Work Australia. This will probably mean that the Coalition will at least hold back the dogs on the matter, but perhaps not call them off completely.

The Gillard Government will be continuing to try to sell the budget, both for its social spending and for its purported surplus, even though the latter claim is incredibly dubious, especially given the small number of the projected surplus, $1.5 billion dollars.

As always the tantrums and name-calling are set to continue, after all it wouldn’t be Question Time without them would it? The tolerance of the Deputy Speaker seems low and Standing Order 94a may well get a good workout.

As always, it starts at 2pm AEST tomorrow and you can catch it on television, the radio or your computer, but don’t expect to win too many friends if you choose to view it somewhere public.

Farewell Speaker Harry Jenkins, Even the Ideologically Opposed Will Miss You

This morning as I was out and about I learnt over Twitter that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Harry Jenkins had resigned his post. His reason, to sit as an ordinary Labor MP and again be involved in partisan politics with the ALP.In my relatively short time observing politics, Harry Jenkins the Member for Scullin as I have observed, has been the fairest Speaker of them all.

Compared to the noise of the MP’s he was tasked to keep in order, Harry Jenkins is and was as Speaker a relatively softly spoken umpire who had the ability to bite and bite back and be assertive as his tough role required.

His, at least in his second term as Speaker, was a job made even more difficult by natural party allegiances which in this ‘new paradigm’ had to be cast aside swiftly to fit into the new role and definition of an independent Speaker of the House.

As much as some of those on the right will hate to admit, ‘our Harry’ was one of the best of them all, giving a ‘long leash’ when required and ‘cracking the whip’ when the situation dictated it a necessity. I cannot speak for all of us unfortunately, but I wish you luck in your renewed career as an MP. I look forward to the possibility of the new Speaker calling you to order for interjections across the chamber and hope you are not the victim of too many 94a’s.

Hi, It’s Bob Katter, from Queensland and I’m Here to Help

Today, Bob Katter, former National, then Independent, now leader of Katter’s Australian Party formally announced a merger with the Queensland Party, started by former LNP Queensland parliamentarian, Aidan McLindon.

The new Katter’s Australian Party will take on its first electoral task at the next Queensland state election, presumably some time early next year.

It can certainly be said that the task of winning seats at a state election for a minor party is easier than at a federal election. It still cannot however, be seen as a very likely outcome. It can be seen as even less likely because there is almost certainly bound to be a big swing on against the ALP at the next election and it will not deliver to the minor parties, but the other major party, the LNP.

Aidan McLindon, you would think, would retain his seat of Beaudesert at the next state election, but that may be less certain as a result of the merger. You would have to think though, that Mr. McLindon, in considering the merger, had an eye on internal seat polling.

Finally, regardless of what ‘surprise’ candidates the party will be unveiling over the common months, their policies are based on ideologies which are too much a mish-mash of right and left on the political spectrum. This would likely see the party not get the right votes where it counts.

But I could be wrong…

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