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A Gradually Building Election Campaign

The Leader of the Opposition has launched the Coalition’s so-called “mini campaign”, the setting being the outer western suburbs of Sydney. That western Sydney is the focal point so early in an election year should come as no surprise given just how crucial the area is in any election. A mix of polls have shown that the Liberal Party could pick up a number of seats in the area. Lindsay, McMahon, Barton, Reid, Parramatta, Greenway, Watson, Werriwa, Fowler and Banks are all in play for the Coalition according to internal Labor polling from November last year.

The new year in politics has already been conducted at a frenetic pace. Amid natural disasters, we’ve already had a number of issues play out. But it is the election that matters. The election is due any time from August onward, but the tactical moves and campaigning, sound or otherwise, have started early. That’s what we have come to expect from Australian politics.

Looking at the mini campaign itself has the right move been made tactically? And in terms of the election campaign as a whole, what are the political realities and what is required from the opposition now, and as the election day hurtles toward us?

In an election year, it’s too early even for a short, but clearly forensic and politically calculated bombardment of electorates. The week ahead is clearly about trying to reverse the negative perceptions of Tony Abbott. That is fine, but it is too early for a political blitzkrieg. It gives off the wrong vibes. A short burst of campaigning is usually something associated with the final days of a campaign, especially when there is a late surge required.

Instead, what should be favoured is, at the present time, a similar yet different campaign method to the one deployed almost from the 22nd of August in 2010, the day after the surprise election result. What should be similar is the constant campaigning. However, it should be different in that it must have less of a campaign feel about it. The campaign should be much more muted – campaign fatigue has well and truly set in.

This short burst of election campaigning too, because of how early in the year it is, must be more about Tony Abbott listening to the concerns of voters than preaching to them. Yes, broad themes must be sold, but now is still a time for Tony Abbott to lend his ear to the voters of Australia rather than chew it off. Both leaders have been doing a lot of the latter.

From a public relations perspective, it might well have been better too, if the term ‘mini campaign’ was jettisoned. To have rephrased it as a listening tour would have been better, though in politics, both have negative connotations.

In the prism of the broader campaign, there have been complaints, as their has been throughout Mr Abbott’s leadership, that he has not released much policy. In any case it is still too early to release a broad range of fully-costed policies. But there must be a drip feed of policies and the refinement or jettisoning of existing ones – think paid maternity leave.

There is another reason why complaints about dearth of policy should not hold much weight. Because of the nature of the budget, a campaign lacking in major policy commitments, other than pre-existing ones, is a political reality. So the Opposition Leader can be forgiven in that sense too. The election will be one where a measure of austerity is the norm, even though Labor have been trying to frame it as otherwise in order to try to dent Coalition prospects.

The campaign will continue to evolve over the coming months. It will be testy and it will be tough. You can expect that there will be further campaign fatigue suffered by the community and that’s why the mini campaign and the early part of this year needs to involve more listening to the voter than speaking at them. It needs to build gradually.

And ultimately, because of the fiscal situation, there won’t be much in the way of substantive argument dominating the political discourse.

Channelling ‘The Boss’, But Still Bashing the Bosses, Well Some of Them

The rich person bashing seems to be coming in waves. First we had the phase of talking down the likes of Clive Palmer, Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest and Gina Rinehart. This first particular episode of the politics of envy came from the moment Wayne Swan’s article in The Monthly made its way into the public eye.  The second wave, which we’ve been pre-emptively warned about will commence this evening with renewed attacks highlighted by the Treasurer as coming our way when he gives the annual John Button Lecture in Melbourne tonight.

Let’s be honest, it’s not about all billionaires and other extremely rich people, if it was Mr Swan would have targeted the likes of Frank Lowy, Kerry Packer, Harry Triguboff and others. He hasn’t, it’s all about the mining billionaires, the ones who’ve spoken out against the Minerals Resource Rent Tax. The others don’t even rate a mention. Does Swanny think that they pay enough tax? He clearly does, there’s no additional profit tax being proposed for them.

While we’re being honest, who wouldn’t complain about having to pay extra tax? Let’s face it, we’re all self-interested individuals, well most of us at least. I’m pretty sure that just about anyone, from the richest among us to the poorest among us would be uncomfortable having to pay extra tax. This is especially the case when the services provided with the money people already pay in tax aren’t exactly all glowing examples of efficiency and the smart use of money.

Is it really smart for the Treasurer of our nation to be publicly knocking someone for having an opinion? Why not knock the countless individuals that don’t want to pay more tax and in many cases want to pay less tax? We all know that happens too.

Let’s get serious again for a minute. Clive Palmer employs an estimated 3000 plus people across his businesses. Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest through his company Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) employs over 2000 people. Not only that, but Mr Forrest, through his Australian Employment Covenant has reached his target of finding 50,000 jobs for indigenous people a massive and very worthwhile initiative. Gina Rinehart, for her part employs and will seek to employ in the future a not insignificant number of people either.

Do we really want to bash Australians that create so many jobs? Do we really want to attack those at the head of companies which are involved in an industry which has played a major part in saving us from recession? Those who own companies in an industry that is currently still saving us from very poor economic results? I don’t think so.

Is Wayne Swan’s claim that these particular individuals are having too much of an influence on democracy actually true? Well actually no it isn’t. Pretty sure the Deputy Prime Minister has actually gone ahead with both the carbon tax and the mining tax despite the protestations which spawned the spending of millions of dollars on advertising campaigns against the two taxes.

The reality is they’re still going to pay them. That is, they’re still going to pay them until a Liberal Government takes power which you’d say is a dead certainty on the back of continued poor poll figures for the Labor Government. Yes, Clive Palmer is involved within the LNP in Queensland but at the same time I’m pretty sure a central tenet of liberalism is lower taxes and well isn’t that the result? Wouldn’t that play a part in making it easier to do business?

All this lunacy from a man that takes his inspiration from Bruce ‘The Boss’ Springsteen. Springsteen is a guy who’s made millions of dollars from a music career in which some of his song bash the rich, all in the name of making himself feel better about his own substantial wealth, estimated at about $200 million. But hey, his music is brilliant.

None of the Political Players Are Blameless in the NDIS Political Game

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has been seen since the Productivity Commission recommended its establishment last year as the best hope that people with a disability have had for their unmet needs, needs that are almost impossible to reach for some, through no fault of their own. It was received with great fanfare by the Gillard Government, with Bill Shorten a key instigator in the Productivity Commission examination of such a policy move. The hope was raised further when the Coalition outlined bipartisan support for the very important initiative.

But alas, as swiftly as the idea of an NDIS has come around, so has the impression that the solid ground the idea was built upon, the unanimous support,  is now cracking beneath those who have a disability.

Th major political players in this are threefold. First there is the commonwealth government, then there is the Opposition and finally the state governments who at present provide many of the services that would be involved in the running of the future scheme and who have been a part of the political discussion of funding for the important new policy.

In the uncertainty that now clouds the future of a NDIS roll-out no single political player, be it state or federal government or the Opposition is without blame for what looks at the moment to be a shaky future for the not yet realised scheme.

From the outset, the Gillard Government ignored the Productivity Commission recommendation that the NDIS be fully funded by the federal government, the whole $13 or so billion dollars of it. This leaves it to the Council of Australian Governments to squabble behind closed doors and also apparently in public quite openly over just how much each state can or are willing to contribute to the implementation of the program.

The second major player, the states must also take their fair share of the blame for the growing concerns being raised over the future of an idea that has has not even began operating yet.

Even though the ALP Government should have stuck to the recommendation emanating from the Productivity Commission report regarding the commonwealth being the sole funder, the state governments are not, regardless of what they say, without the capability to contribute to the establishment and commencement of the scheme, particularly in combination with the $1 billion over 4 years that has been stumped up by the federal government, no matter how meagre that sum of money is.

The Labor Government sticking to the Productivity Commission timetable for the construction, implementation and operation of the insurance scheme would also help relax some of the long-term funding concerns which look to be playing their part in destabilising the entire process.

The state governments are surely able to funnel some of their funds allocated to delivery of services that would be covered under the scheme into the funding pool for the National Disability Insurance Scheme so that this essential project does not fall before it even has a chance at operation. That’s not asking any state to search for any extra funds that have been difficult to find for many state governments in recent years, it’s just asking for an amount of existing funds to head toward a new idea and only when the services will start being delivered in their respective states.

The other player that is crucial, particularly for the long-term success of the NDIS, the side of politics likely to be in government and needing to oversee the full introduction of the scheme is the Coalition.

Things started well when the Coalition were quick to signal bipartisan support for a long-needed but not yet delivered policy response to the immense and fragmented costs and services that people with a disability have had to endure. But from time to time support has appeared to go up and down like a yo-yo.

Just yesterday at the National Press Club, the Shadow Treasurer appeared to be backing away on behalf of the Coalition from guaranteeing the future funding of the National Disability Insurance Scheme despite assurances from others in the Opposition previously that the NDIS will continue to have bipartisan support. This statement casts some doubt on whether the Coalition are fully committed to contributing to the NDIS including from late next year when all indications are that they will be occupying the government benches.

It is understandable that the Coalition will be cash-strapped through a combination of factors, but they have indicated from the outset their bipartisan support for the NDIS and must make it a reality. There are no shortage of options for achieving the aim of a fully-funded NDIS, even if they cause minor short-term political pain, think a small levy and/or removing some of the wasteful garbage spending that the government simply needs to get out of doing.

The Opposition must continue to commit to the implementation and operation of the scheme which they were so swift to support. If it means returning to the original timetable to make it easier, then so be it, at least then there might be certainty over the future of a sorely needed policy.

What is clear is that all the players need to reach a compromise, make sacrifices and work together better, though with so many competing needs at the table this is already a very hard task, but people with a disability cannot miss out again.

Budget Announcements and Half Announcements are Outdoing Possible Leaks

It is a regular feature of Australian politics that in the days and weeks leading up to the delivery of the budget by the Treasurer of the day budget leaks and rumour generally abound from the Australian political centre that is Canberra. This year however, announcements of budget items seem to have outdone the whisperings about possible spending allocations and cuts that followers of politics are used to leading up to that Tuesday in May when the Treasurer steps up to the despatch box to inform the country of their governments fiscal priorities.

There has been, for some days now a rumour abounding in Canberra and fuelled by the heightened interest of politicians in ensuring it does not occur, that the Gillard Government is set to announce cuts to the foreign aid budget.

This follows a promise by Labor, under former Prime Minister, now humble backbencher, Kevin Rudd that the Labor Government he once led, would increase foreign aid spending to a total of 0.5% of Gross National Income (GNI) by financial year 2015-16.

The belief around Canberra and the aid sector seems to be that the government are set to scrap their commitment to head toward spending on foreign aid of 0.5% of GNI.

The rumour mill surrounding this has almost exploded from being overworked and it would appear, with the strength of the political backlash to the simple report of this possible move that there has to be a real element of truth in it, without any real details having been leaked on the matter. So this item, almost alone in specific and credible rumours will be one to keep an ear out for confirmation of or otherwise from 7:30pm next Tuesday, May 8th.

But for this one real virulent rumour there have been more confirmations of and half announcements of both cuts and new spending to be allocated in what the Labor Government hopes will be a budget that returns to surplus in 2012-13.

Aged care is set to be overhauled in the 2012-13 budget to be delivered by Treasurer Wayne Swan on Tuesday. Back in April it was announced that the government would commence, on the 1st of July 2012 a ten year plan costing $3.7 billion to transform the way aged care is delivered, allowing more people to seek care in their own homes and making the cost of aged care homes easier to bear for the most financially vulnerable.

The Australian Government, via Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Monday at the NDIS rally in Sydney half announced that there would be an allocation of funds toward starting the National Disability Insurance Scheme a year earlier, commencing at 4 different launch sites from July next year.

But it was only a partial announcement from the PM, albeit a very welcome development for Australian’s with a serious and permanent disability and their families and carers. Prime Minister Gillard announced that next year these 4 launch sites would assist an initial 10,000 Australians with a disability and double the next year to provide help to another 10,000 people.

What this announcement lacked was detail, including most importantly, the estimated cost of the program rollout, but also what parts of Australia would be given the opportunity to be covered by the Medicare-like framework. The PM said we must wait until the budget for the details, a real tease, if not a hope building one in this important area of government policy.

In a budget where the expectations were for savage spending cuts, a new spending initiative is a very interesting element in the budgetary discussion which is ramping up five days from its announcement.

Today too, the government have announced $214 million toward the planning of 12 new submarines to replace the Collins Class fleet which had their troubles, particularly in the initial stages of development and operation.

Again though, for these not insignificant spending allocations, the Labor Party have also flagged ahead of May 8, areas where they will seek to slash or defer public spending.

The government today also announced in the area of defence spending that there will be both cuts and the deferral of spending in the area of purchasing defence materiel.

It was announced today that the planned requisition of self-propelled artillery will be scrapped altogether and this alone would save the budget bottom line a total of $250 million dollars.

The trouble-plagued delivery of the F35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) will be delayed two years from the previously expected date of receipt, moving our acquisition of this defence capability into line with that of the US. In doing this $1.6 billion will be saved from the budget from this measure by itself.

In announcing the cuts to defence spending, both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith assured Australia that defence cuts would not impinge on or include cuts to spending related to our operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere overseas.

The leaks and rumour mill have been almost non-existent over the budget-planning period and look set to remain minimal with only three full working days left before the final announcement of spending priorities occurs in Canberra. This could be put down to the poll woes that have faced the government for a prolonged period of time, trying to get some messages out early to cloud what is supposed to be a difficult budget, according to the warnings repeatedly given, no matter how unbelievable.

Nevertheless it has been an interesting exercise to observe the seemingly comparative lack of rumours as we hurtle toward the 2012-13 budget.

The Keneally Solution Emerges

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.

Another Example of Getting Things Done Wrong

The Prime Minister often remarks, particularly in the parliament that her Labor Government are “getting things done” and the number of bills passed obviously does bear out this argument, although this does equal more regulation and “red tape” for business and the individual. It can also, by implication mean that policies and programs are being rushed and established processes not being followed correctly as has been alleged on a number of times over the period of both the Rudd and Gillard Government’s.

This argument is also borne out in the case of the Australia Network tender process which was deeply flawed, rushed, changed and awarded to the ABC in perpetuity despite recommendations to the contrary.

Today the Auditor-General released a report into the botched tender process which does not make for good reading for a government that is trying to gain a foothold to climb the gap that exists in the polls just under 18 months out from the next federal election.

The tender for the Australia Network was for a $223 million contract to broadcast news content overseas, an important form of what is termed “soft diplomacy”- in short, displaying through various media the Australian culture, values and policies which we think will make our nation an attractive place to continue to visit and conduct business with.

Initially, the process was under the purview of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and its minister at the time, Kevin Rudd, with departmental recommendations saying the government could extend the ABC contract or put the contract out to tender, with the department arguing to keep the contract with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs subsequently decided that the contract should be put to tender, with the winner of the contract granted a long contract to provide the news service.

The audit found that before the tender was awarded, that both the Prime Minister’s office and that of the Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy were aware of which party would win the tender.

Then the weirdness escalated- the government began seeking advice as to whether the final nod of approval could be transferred to the Communications Minister from the DFAT Secretary Dennis Richardson and it was.

The tender then underwent significant changes and the leaks began in earnest. These leaks revealed that twice the tender board recommended Sky News be awarded the contract. They were not.

The Government walked away from the tender process after the leaks were reported in the press and then proceeded to award the contract permanently to the ABC which had previously been the broadcaster of the Australia Network.

This flawed process could legitimately be seen as both a symptom of a government in trouble politically and electorally, floundering in the polls and trying to rush to “get things done” and also as a result of a toxic relationship between Prime Minister Julia Gillard and former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kevin Rudd, whose department should have had the final say on the award of the sizeable contract.

As a result, the government have had to pay compensation for a failure in managing a process and even managing internal relationships between MPs who should be seeking to achieve the same ends regardless of conflicts in personality. Not only that, but the ALP Government have added another failed process to the list of mistakes only adding to the poor perceptions of Prime Minister Gillard and her MP’s.

Costello Gets a Gong That Will Make Him Feel at Home Even Though it’s in Queensland

In politics, not many come any bigger than Peter Costello, long-service Treasurer in the Howard Government and despite their personal relationship, one of his strongest political lieutenants. His political stature above all else is what he is known for. He and Howard were confronted with a budget in deficit in 1996 and $96 billion in government debt accrued by the Labor Government before them. He did that and did that well delivering surplus after surplus in the decade-plus of the Howard Government. He was a big-hitter with a big ego that was matched by big performances in his portfolio, in the parliament with his stinging attacks on the long-term Opposition, and also outside of it against the same team, his humour often dry and biting when in full flight.

But yes, aside from his personality it was his performance as Treasurer that won him and the government he represented the most support from the Australian people. Just recently against advice he was knocked back as the next chairperson of the Future Fund that he created in the later years of the Howard-Costello partnership to fund future costs of the public sector superannuation.

Costello missed that gong just a short period of time ago and with an incoming LNP Government under Premier Campbell Newman and Treasurer Tim Nicholls in Queensland, which was swept to power in such a dramatic fashion on Saturday night, has found himself in a position to do what he does best. The former Australian Treasurer will chair a Commission of Audit to recommend a path or paths forward for a new LNP Government looking to take the Queensland economy forward after 20 of the last 22 years under the Australian Labor Party.

At the end of the year it is projected that Queensland will find itself in $62 billion dollars of debt as reported by the new Queensland Treasurer, Tim Nicholls in his statement today while announcing the appointment of Mr Costello as commission chair. Looking at the state of the books and how to reduce this  debt so LNP promises can be delivered will be part of the task ahead for the audit committee where he will be joined by Dr Doug McTaggart of QIC and Professor Sandra Harding, former Under Treasurer of Queensland and now Vice Chancellor of James Cook University.

The former economic manager in the Howard Government will also, through charting possible ways of cutting down debt and inefficiencies in the government spending, hopefully plot a course back to a AAA credit rating with Queensland, despite its mineral resources and the wealth they create, being the only mainland state without the full credit rating.

The cuts look like being deep and hard, with some programs already being dismantled by the newly sworn Premier Newman and his Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney and Treasurer Tim Nicholls. Tomorrow the other ministers responsible for government departments will be named and will get to work after being sworn in by the Queensland Governor early next week, doing the same to already identified programs in their respective gambits of responsibility.

One thing is for certain, Mr Costello will be at home examining the Queensland economy and government spending and the budget priorities of the current and past governments and just where they fit in terms of efficiency and priority and helping to navigate Queensland to a better fiscal position along with the rest of his team and with the LNP Government who will make the final important decisions after being provided with the learned advice.

Question Time Ahead of Time

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.

The Campaign That’s Almost Over Before it Has Begun Has Now Begun

Ladies and gentlemen of voting age that time once every three years where we rock up to a school or a community centre hoping to get a park and wishing not to be stuck in a cue for half an hour is now here. That’s right, Queensland Votes 2012 has now officially been launched with the Premier paying the Governor of Queensland a visit today to ask that the parliament that copped an earful this week now be dissolved. From this begins the most promising official campaign period for the LNP in many years.

If the last week is anything to go by, the campaign will certainly top the list of dirtiest campaigns in the history of the state and perhaps up there with the dirtiest Australia has seen. This year the attack ads hit many weeks ago, a lot earlier than usual which is clearly an indication of the magnitude of the task for Labor though it seems it would take more than a handful of Olympic sized swimming pools of mud flung to get even close to a reaction that would warrant another 3 year term for Labor. Not only that it goes further to prove that the Bligh Labor Government is tired and has put character assassination above policy creation.

On the policy front it appears from the length of the campaign so far and from the state of the budget, that there may not be too many policies to be revealed during the campaign itself. Rather, there will likely be more detail added to recently launched policies from both sides and perhaps one or two big announcements likewise. This is where other parties, like Katter’s Australian Party and the Greens will find more of their policies being examined as has seemingly occurred, particularly those of Katter’s Australian Party.

This campaign also does have, along with the strong leadership and policy focus an “It’s Time” factor about it which it seemed was the case near the last election, but will almost certainly play out that way this time around.

The leaders will undoubtedly be targetting the marginal seats, including Ashgrove, which while at a margin of over 7% is by the nature of the contest involved a “marginal” seat a and must win for a Campbell Newman LNP Government. The LNP will need to focus on winning many inner and outer suburban Brisbane seats and taking back many of the regional city seats held by MPs of the Bligh Government.

Another focus for the LNP will surely be targetting those seats where defectors have either become Independent MPs  or Katter’s Australian Party MPs and candidates for the party at the March 24 election.

For the Bligh Government the election campaign will almost certainly be about loss limitation, particularly in the key seats around Brisbane and regional cities where even margins considered safe look able to be easily surpassed in many cases if the polls are near an accurate indication of statewide voting intentions.

Now to the party that is getting a lot of attention from the media but probably will not live up to the hype surrounding it and certainly not up to the expectations of its leaders. Yes, I am talking about Katter’s Australian Party.

Bob Katter and his new party are clearly suffering from delusions of grandeur as has been borne out by all polls in recent weeks and months showing the party lucky to achieve single digit poll results. As the campaign bubbles along this may hit closer to 10% but that would be the absolute plateau for voter numbers.

Katter’s Australian Party may cause an upset or two in regional seats, the only real area where they would possibly gain any seats, but the likelihood of a Katter’s Australian Party Government or even a major force are completely and utterly non-existent.

It is the Greens that are likely to end up in third place at the end of this 5 week election campaign with a vote hovering around double digits and it will be interesting to see how this translates into individual seats, but again, like the Katter’s Australian Party, is unlikely to convert into seats.

So the campaign has begun and over the next five weeks we be door-knocked, come across many street stalls and many and various party members waving signs hoping we honk to acknowledge our vote for their candidate. The campaign will be robust and it will be widely reported. The only question left is how exactly will it play out and for that, we have to wait with baited breath until March 24th, somewhere after 8pm one would think.

A ‘New Paradigm’, But a Better Question Time?

It is over a year since the so-called ‘new paradigm’ came into force in Australian political life. It promised more open parliamentary debate, with less rhetoric, a better deal for the Opposition and cross-bencher’s and more. The question that is now asked and which I have asked recently is: Has the level of parliamentary debate and discussion and accountability been heightened or remained much the same?

To begin we must go back to the reason why we were endowed with this ‘new paradigm’. As a part of the 17 day negotiations, a list of essential parliamentary reforms was put together for all both major parties to agree to, they largely did, though some reforms were more welcome than others but it would have been nigh on impossible to gain support of the Independents without agreeance.

First we start with the ‘moderator’ of parliamentary proceedings, the Speaker. The proposal called for an independent Speaker, but not necessarily an Independent as Speaker although Rob Oakeshott put himself up for a time for the role. If the Speaker were to come from a major party, traditionally the Government, and they did, then they would excuse themselves from all parliamentary meetings and caucus. The Labor Government put forward Mr Harry Jenkins, Speaker of the previous parliament and it was agreed to by a majority.

The question then is: Has the independent Speaker in this case, as a member of the ALP, been the most beneficial outcome? The answer is yes, it has worked quite well under the conditions set out in the agreement. The Speaker has been fair-minded, a point reiterated at times by Coalition members who do not appear to be simply paying lip service to him under the unusual circumstances of this parliament.

A further question could be asked and that is: Would a truly independent Speaker be a worthwhile journey in the future? The answer to that is yes, it would be beneficial to trial that idea in a future parliament. Everyone does have an underlying political bias, that is granted, but somebody away from the political process and not a member of any political party, if vetted well, may prove to be a good addition to the Speaker’s chair.

Another beneficial change has been the fairer allocation of questions to all members during Question Time, including the ability in the House of Representatives to ask a supplementary question. This has allowed for cross-bencher’s to get a better share of the questions.

Furthermore, in addition to the better allocation of questions, the limiting of questions to forty-five seconds and their answers to 4 minutes is a welcome change from previous parliaments where, particularly the ‘Dorothy Dix’ would lead to long-winded and self-serving answers which did nothing to further democracy.

There is scope to call for questions and answers to be made even shorter, perhaps say 30 seconds for a question and no more than 2 minutes to questions from the Opposition. Personally, I do not like the Dorothy Dix and think it should be banned as it does nothing to expand democracy and is simply a short campaign speech on a particular issue where the Opposition, whatever hue gets bashed. In any case, the Dixer should at least be given a much shorter response time, say perhaps a minute and a half maximum. Further to that, any reference to alternative policies should be ruled out of order.

The next port of call on our journey through the ‘new paradigm’ is the ‘direct relevance’ part of the Standing Orders. This calls for Ministers to be directly relevant in the answering of the question. However, the ‘direct relevance’ clause does not truly compel a Minister to be directly relevant, sure relevance has been policed somewhat better but it does not herald enough power to the Speaker or Opposition who often perceive and see Ministers going off on tangents.

The ‘direct relevance’ rules being further strengthened may be one area in which the reform could lead to more people becoming interested in or at least paying attention to politics, because being economic with the truth is probably the principal reason why so many feel disenfranchised from politics.

Finally onto the big show itself, Question Time and has it really changed much since the last election? It has changed in structural areas such as question times and answer lengths yes as well as a few other procedural ways. However, it has not become quieter, bearing in mind Newtons law, “every action leads to an equal and opposite reaction”. Opposition MPs and the occasional offending Government member are still being thrown out for unruly beaviour, a lot of which, though silly, perhaps can be traced back to the way a Minister answers the question.

The reforms we have had as a result of the hung parliament have been a welcome addition to the parliamentary process. They are broadly positive changes, with nothing in parliamentary process going backwards. However, there is scope for and a need for further change, focused on Question Time which may result in some of those who feel disaffected from the political process actually being able to comfortably begin to show an interest again, if at least a cautious one, because lets face it, other areas of politics are sick too.

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