It’s Sunday and that means that another hectic week in Australian politics has passed with all its highs and lows, its angry words and policy announcements and legislative discussions. The week was punctuated by two main events, the passage of the Private Health Insurance Rebate means testing, a legislative win at least for Labor and the ALP leadership tensions seemingly heading toward a booming crescendo. Parliament also sat for the week and also proved far from uneventful.
The Gillard Government and its Health Minister managed to negotiate enough votes for the passage of means testing for the Private Health Insurance Rebate. This issue has seemingly split sections of the community and the two major parties no less, with Tony Abbott pledging he would reinstate the rebate for all as soon as possible upon election of a Coalition Government.
Parliament sat for the second week in a row, the first sitting period of the year and has again proved to be a full on affair with some changes affecting the complexion of Question Time. Questions must now be 3o seconds and answers no more than 3 minutes, a helpful change that should be added to as parliament progresses under the new Speaker, Peter Slipper.
Regardless of the changes, the usual bad behaviour continued, with Ministers, including the Prime Minister repeatedly cautioned to be “directly relevant” to the question asked. There was also no let-up from interjections across the chamber and a number of Coalition MPs found themselves having a coffee break during Question Time. A few ALP MPs also faced the same early afternoon tea courtesy of the new lower tolerance for interjections from the new Speaker.
Questions over the Labor leadership also permeated the week and on Saturday reached fever pitch with allegations in the press that senior Ministers were actually testing the waters for a potential Rudd spill in the coming weeks. The longer the speculation goes, the more pain it will cause the ALP and the more terminal the government will become.
The week has undoubtedly been a dramatic one with both legislation and leadership tensions dominating the week in the parliament and outside of it. The leadership tensions are becoming all the more real and almost tangible and they will surely continue to play out over the coming week, even in the absence of the key player, Kevin Rudd who heads overseas again, though this could provide opportunity for supporters to do their work. The parliament has risen after two weeks, but there will be little cooling of the political discourse which has only really just begun for the year and don’t forget, the Gonski review into education funding will also be released this week, but likely overshadowed by terminal leadership tensions.
You get the feeling that the coming week will not be like an ordinary non-parliamentary sitting week and that doesn’t bode well for the Labor Government.
The last day of Question Time for the week in the House of Representatives is upon us and promises no less than has been delivered over the last two sitting weeks in Canberra. Both sides have firmly dug themselves in to their respective attack and defense positions and have not let up except to vary their posturing within those areas. This does not look set to change at least for the day with positions so set in stone that if budged their positions may shatter into countless shards.
The Coalition has been heavy in its attack on three fronts, two of which fit into the broader narrative of economic management which both sides of politics seem intent to capture ground in this area, a traditional strength of the Liberal and National Party Coalition. Over the last two weeks the interrogation of economic matters has centered around the carbon tax, with the mining tax taking somewhat of a backseat for the moment. There is no doubt this line of questioning will continue today, being a central tenet of a future Abbott-led Coalition Government.
The Opposition has also been brutal in its pursuit of Craig Thomson and the Fair Work Australia (FWA) investigation that has been looking int0 allegations involving Thomson and the Health Services Union. In the recent sitting days questions on the matter have tended to focus on the length of the investigation rather than the MP who is a subject of the investigation. Estimates yesterday showed that the case may be drawing to an end but there is little doubt that the Coalition will want to continue its pursuit of the matter despite the angry and frustrated words of the Prime Minister in Question Time yesterday in relation to the saga.
There is also another possible line of enquiry in Question Time which the Coalition may take and that is to ask questions of the Government in relation to the passage of the Private Health Insurance Rebate means testing which passed the House of Representatives yesterday.
The Government will undoubtedly continue to try to paint themselves as the better economic managers, not for the budget position, but for the funds that they hope to raise through their new taxes to provide for Australians in different areas. As I have also repeatedly said, the Gillard Government will also focus on the economic position relative to other nations.
The Government will also surely direct some Dorothy Dixer’s toward the means testing of the Private Health Insurance Rebate which, as already noted has passed the House of Representatives.
The Speaker looks set to continue using Standing Order 94a for rowdy Opposition MPs without let-up, though we have seen Government MPs being booted from the House for one hour, particularly in recent days.
The real interest as far as the Speaker goes will be how much of a leash Mr Slipper will give the Treasurer who has tested the patience of Coalition MPs and supporters with repeated infractions this week particularly.
You know the drill, 2pm today on the TV and on the radio or in the wee hours of the morning for a replay on your TV. Enjoy the show!
Parliament resumes today for the second parliamentary sitting week of the year and the same areas of debate are set to continue but other policy areas will be added to the the mix. As well as the economy, Craig Thomson and Fair Work Australia (FWA), the carbon tax and Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) you can expect the Private Health Insurance Rebate means testing and the introduction of two bills on gay marriage will spark debate.
The Opposition will certainly continue to focus on the FWA investigation into Craig Thomson which has taken too much time to conclude. The Abbott led Coalition will also likely focus questions around the Private Health Insurance Rebate means testing, the carbon tax and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, the latter two in the prism of an economy which could be in strife were Europe to collapse again this year.
The Government will again focus the deployment of the Dorothy Dixer to prosecute what they view as their strong-point, the economy. These questions will undoubtedly focus on policy measures which have provided or will provide in the near future for the electorate rather than on the budgetary situation itself, unless in comparison to the world.
Marriage equality is not likely to result in a question from the Opposition or the Government, with both sides not fully behind the idea, but we may see an Independent MP, likely Andrew Wilkie or the Greens MP Adam Bandt if they are allocated one of the questions for Independent MPs in Question Time today. This comes on the back of two different bills being put to the House today on marriage equality, one from Adam Bandt and Andrew Wilkie and the other a Private Members Bill from ALP MP Stephen Jones.
The unknown factor is, as always whether there will be any ejections during Question Time, especially since the warning has been removed by the Speaker, Peter Slipper, though if last week is an indication, there will not be a large number warming the parliamentary cafeteria seats early.
The one thing we do know is, like always Question Time will be loud and even though there isn’t supposed to be, likely also debate. We will look to about 3pm AEDT to see if the Abbott censure motion creeps in just in time for the end of Question Time. That is also a distinct possibility.