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Five Things to Consider Before You Vote

In under six months Australians will head to their local school, council building or community hall to vote in the 2013 federal election. Even at this early stage, the Australian Labor Party have been written off – their primary vote has been far too low for far too long. One poll has even suggested that about 80% of voters have already made up their minds about which political party they intend to vote for on September 14. The situation does not leave much hope for the ALP.

It is however very important to think about the impact of your vote and what it would likely mean for both yourself and for the country going forward. There are some absolutely crucial questions which you need to consider before casting your ballot in September and it pays to start contemplating them early.

Chances are that most of the politically engaged have considered at least one or two of these questions. Some have perhaps considered all of these important factors. But there will be some who have put little thought into their choice and why they have chosen to support that party and others who are among the undecided voters who have not yet committed to a decision to vote for a particular party at the election.

Perhaps the first thing to think about, the one question which encompasses all factors in the vote choice process, is which political party is the best fit for you?

That question involves thinking about how you respond to the different policy ideas and themes put forward by the political parties. It is entirely subjective and centred around your own needs and wants, but that is okay. You want to give your preference to a political party you feel comfortable with. You will almost certainly not feel entirely comfortable with all the decisions that political party makes, rather you will feel most comfortable with putting them first on your ballot paper.

Another necessary element to consider is similar in nature to the first and it is to think about which political party is the best fit in terms of the present political situation.

Basically, this asks us to look at the present time and ponder which political party is best equipped to deal, not just with the pressing concerns of Australians, but also which political party is best able to respond to external factors. Again this requires an examination of present policy, but a basic understanding of the way each political party has responded to certain situations is also beneficial.

You will also need to decide which political party offers sustainability.

Some people have probably ceased reading at this point at the mere mention of the ‘s’ word. But sustainability in this sense refers to two different things, depending on what you value the most. If you consider environmental sustainability the most important thing when you think of sustainability then your answer to who to support in terms of this question is pretty obvious. But then there is also budget sustainability. This refers to which political party you think is best equipped to maintain a sustainable budget position. Your answers here will be divergent. 

When we think of whom to vote for at the election, stable government should be something in our minds.

First and foremost, after the last three years, we should consider a stable government to be one where there is not minority government. Thankfully that is an impossible event this time around. Minority government gives oxygen to a scramble for power and that in turn promotes a greater likelihood of less than optimal outcomes from government decisions. A stable government is also one which is not spending its time fighting within itself and therefore provoking uncertainty.

Last and certainly not least is to contemplate which political party will do the most for our freedom.

When we think of freedom it is natural to think of our own freedom. However, we must also think about which party does the most to promote and allow freedom and freedoms for all members’ of society. For some this will mean ‘freedom to’ and others ‘freedom from’ and for some it will mean considering both concepts of freedom.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of questions, but it should give you an idea of at least some of the essential questions which should shape your thinking at election time.

For many, September 14 will be an easy choice – we see that from week-to-week, with the poll results indicating a landslide election victory is well and truly on the cards. For others there will need to be some thinking done.

Question Time Ahead of Time

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.

Slipper Could be Removed to Help Keep the Tenuous Government Foothold

Peter Slipper, the Speaker of the House of Representatives stands accused of both civil and criminal wrongdoing, with claims of sexual harassment of a staffer being aired, coupled with accusations of rorting Cabcharge vouchers. The Gillard Government has moved from trouble to trouble during its short tenure from mid 2010 to the present day but the ALP minority government has rarely looked like it would be allowed to crumble, either by their own actions or by those MPs who have agreed to support it for a full three year term in parliament.

The Prime Minister and her government in the time shortly after the accusations were levelled at the scandal-prone refused to withdraw support for Peter Slipper to continue in the Speaker’s chair in the Lower House. The tenuous situation of the 43rd parliament made it necessary for political survival, whether right or wrong to stand by the man that both sides of politics knew could drag them into trouble.

Shortly after returning from a trip, Mr Slipper did the right thing offered to stand aside while the criminal allegations are investigated by police although he did not extend the self-suspension to also cover the prosecution of the civil proceedings against him by a staffer who alleges sexual misconduct on the part of Peter Slipper. 

After the Speaker stood aside, the Prime Minister on behalf of her party admitted after the fact that Slipper standing aside was the right and honest thing to do, a strange change of heart.

Thanks in large part to the strong support of the two rural Independent MPs, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, Prime Minister Gillard and the ALP have been able to maintain a fairly stable government regardless of the very tight numbers on the floor of the House of Representatives.

However, in recent days, it would appear to the naked eye that cracks in that support are appearing, with Mr Oakeshott, the MP for the electorate of Lyne leaving the door ajar at least for the possibility of a no confidence motion on the floor of the Lower House chamber.

Also trailing closely behind Mr Oakeshott in his thoughts on the matter, Mr Windsor, the Independent MP for the seat of New England has today indicated that he would like Speaker Slipper to stand aside until both the criminal and civil proceedings have been investigated and prosecuted to an exhaustive end.

The distinct possibility of a no confidence motion appears to be growing, hour by hour, day by day in this dramatic period in the history of parliament in Australia with the New England MP appearing to suggest that the besieged Mr Slipper stand aside until both matters are concluded or he would potentially face a vote on the floor of the parliament.

The Labor Government, under a new Speaker, likely Anna Burke, would stare in the face an even more unstable majority of just 1 vote in the House of Representatives chamber.

Theoretically, a vote against Mr Slipper could be used by the government and its supporters, particularly Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott to take some of the focus off the government which is slowly drowning as stagnant polls, hovering around the same numbers for some time seem to show.

A vote of no confidence in the Speaker could be brought by the government or any of those MPs it relies on for support to remove some of the stench that lingers around the Labor caucus, a middle ground of sorts to show to the naked eye, the untrained political eye, that Gillard and her party are willing to take on some of the rot eating away at the parliamentary party.

But alas, the rural Independents are not the great illusionists that they think themselves to be. Any “compromise” move would be as obvious as having a brick strike you in the head.

But it would ameliorate some of the dead-weight that is slowly but surely pulling the government, strapped to its numbers so firmly.

The Opposition obviously, as an other would be in this situation want the government down and out and removed and will put as much pressure on the government as they can, on any issue of contention, to try and make this happen. That’s the reality of politics and the ALP would certainly be reacting to crises in the same way were they in the position the Coalition is.

All the while, the government, by removing Slipper will have deflected some of the attention away from the other major distraction they face, the allegations against Craig Thomson, the former HSU official and now Member for the seat of Dobell. Gillard and her government have continued to support their own MP to the fullest while the allegations have been investigated.

By no means will acting on the Slipper allegations fix the electoral mortality of the Labor Government, but to perform some feat of illusion will serve to nullify one point of contention and in the process keep the Gillard Government on track to go full term, unless and it is entirely plausible, another allegation of wrongdoing or some other unforeseen mishap or misadventure decides to rear its head.

The Sunday Sandwich (That’s a Wrap)

Previous weeks in Australian politics certainly could not be topped, especially against political events in recent decades, but that doesn’t mean that this non sitting week of political debate was dull and boring, it had political debate and action that has been a not unfamiliar feature of this minority government.

The week in Australian politics contained two main events and the wash-up from both provided the most debate during this parliament free period before Canberra is back with a vengeance on Tuesday. They were the release of reports, redacted, some not at all into the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) and ADF culture as a whole and the announcement by Tony Abbott that an incoming Coalition government would hold an audit of all government spending save for the promises that have been made by the current Opposition.

By far the biggest debate was spawned from the details coming out of reviews into defence force culture and the so-called ADFA Skype sex scandal which has landed cadets in court.

The commandant of the ADFA, Commodore Bruce Kafer was stood aside in response to allegations made against him after the allegations of the Skype affair came to light. At the time, Defence Minister Stephen Smith made scathing comments about Kafer’s alleged conduct at the time and one of the reviews released findings this week which cleared commandant Kafer of the allegations, triggering calls for Stephen Smith to apologise, even step aside.

Mr Smith of course did neither, fully standing by his comments and this sent the media into a frenzy, quickly forming into the apologise and/or step aside and the good on ya mate, keep it up camps. Either way it appears that there are divisions between the Defence Force and the Department and its Minister, but this is n0thing new in Defence.

One of the reviews also identified nearly 800 “plausible” allegations of misconduct of varying degrees of illegality and recommended setting up an independent body to investigate the allegations, dating back to the 1950s in a thorough manner. It also recommended the use of compensation and even an official apology from the government to those aggrieved by wrongs committed against them in the Australian Defence Force.

Also this week, Tony Abbott the Leader of the Opposition gave a speech to the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry in which he outlined some of the priorities of an incoming Coalition Government. In this speech Mr Abbott also announced that, if elected, his government would introduce an audit review committee of all government business, save for the priorities of the incoming administration. This announcement came at the end of the political week but did not fail to elicit a response from various quarters in the ALP Government and even the public sector union over the weekend.

Parliament resumes next week and the Gillard Government looks set to continue focusing their efforts on trying against almost all hope to sell a message based on the economy and its relative strength compared to other nations, particularly the US and Europe as the May budget draws near. This has been something that the government has failed to do since the overthrow of Kevin Rudd, combined with the continued deficits and further taxation.

The Opposition are likely to focus on the economy as a whole too, through the prism of the carbon tax and the mining tax and the perceived effects of such policies on the economy and the people. The Craig Thomson saga is also likely to get a look-in, remaining unsolved as it is to date.

It’s not going to be the biggest of weeks ahead as far as political noise goes, but it certainly will not be among the quietest and the return of Question Time we have to thank for that.

Question Time, Suspension of Standing Orders, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

A new Speaker is in the chair and by Thursday will have completed three weeks in the big chair of the House of Representatives this coming Thursday. This Speaker, Peter Slipper has brought in some small, but welcome changes, shorter questions and shorter answers, the scope for more supplementary questions and a shorter Question Time for those whose health is at risk from too much exposure to the stressful event which takes up just over an hour of the political day. However, Ministers still struggle to be “directly relevant” to any question, even Dorothy Dixer’s involve a major focus on the Opposition. The motion to suspend Standing Orders to censure has also become a bit of a joke, being used too often and knowingly to no avail.

The parliamentary reforms of the Slipper Speakership add to those agreed to between the Gillard Government, the Opposition and the rural Independent MPs. They were an improvement on business as usual, seeing questions limited to 45 seconds and answers to 4 minutes, rather than being unlimited as they were prior to this minority government.

Questions under the new Speaker are limited to 30 seconds, a fifteen second drop on the previous agreement and answers to 3 minutes, a further one minute drop on the original reforms, but still the bullshit that turns people off continues.

The new Speaker has done a fair job of attempting to bring Ministers into line, to try and at least get them in the same postcode of “direct relevance” to the question, short of jumping out of the chair and strangling offenders. Many Ministers continue to be in defiance of these rules and today the Prime Minister was sat down for being irrelevant to the question asked, a very positive development indeed.

Answers also continue to be full of vitriolic rubbish attacking Coalition policy more than outlining why their policy is the preferred option, maybe because they aren’t so confident of directly defending their own.

Wayne Swan is one of the main offenders, reprimanded for making the same old, unoriginal and flat “jokes” about the Coalition economic team being the “three stooges”. Perhaps if he quit with the nonsense, people would not have been advocating today for his removal from the Treasury portfolio because of an inability to sell the economic message of the government.

The sad but true fact is that people would probably have the time of day for Question Time if the stupidity was dispensed with and the government focused on selling their policies, sans hyperbole and without so much name-calling and stuff that primary school kids would be envious of. Along with that goes the shouting across the chamber during answers of contention , though that has been a fixture for as long as the parliament has existed and would always occur to some extent.

But that is not all that is grating and making Question Time become redundant and in the interest of fairness, the suspension of standing orders to debate why a censure motion is essential, is becoming a too regular occurrence.

It is not becoming ridiculous because the Abbott led Opposition are using it to try and highlight the failures of this government and the discord and disunity that has been rife since mid 2010.

The censure motion is becoming ridiculous because of the amount of times it is being used to pursue the ALP Government, who are admittedly failing badly at being relevant at most times and making Question Time an almost redundant farce.

There is one real reason why it is a pointless exercise and that is because two of the rural Independents, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor are so wedded to this Labor Government, along with the Greens MP Adam Bandt, that it would probably take a Government MP committing murder before they were willing to consider supporting the need for a censure motion. Unlikely…

S0 can we please dispense with all the rubbish in Canberra, our health has suffered enough as mere observers of the Canberra zoo. I would like to be able to increase my “Bio-Age” again. My government must be held to account in the strictest of ways, with the Speaker continuing to be strong and building on that. Ministers and their counterparts must also take it upon themselves to dispense with some of the theatrics, thinking less about getting on the news for 15 seconds and more about trying to develop and sell good policy and while I understand the merits of suspension motions,  let’s cool it on this.

Question Time Ahead of Time

The second Question Time of the political year is only hours away and if the short affair yesterday is any indication then it will certainly be another rowdy affair. Yesterday questions were dominated by the topic of the ec0nomy, albeit from different angles from either side of politics. Nevertheless the Craig Thomson affair was broached as was a dental scheme in Medicare by the Greens MP for Melbourne Adam Bandt.

The Coalition does look set to continue to focus on the economy in their questioning of the Gillard Government in relation to spending and therefore the NBN as well as taxation, read the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) and the carbon tax. The investigation of Craig Thomson by Fair Work Australia (FWA) should also be featured, likely more than yesterday. Whether or not the questions are about the Gillard Government having faith in the MP or the body conducting the investigation is another story, though for my mind it is likely both would be canvassed, even in the same individual question.

The Government as they did yesterday will also likely focus on the economy as it has been foreshadowed as the issue of focus in recent weeks, the Government conceiving it as a comparative strength. Questions will likely focus on what benefits people will get from the spending and taxation the government has undertaken or has legislated to undertake. The ALP Government through its Prime Minister and Treasurer will also likely focus on the Australian economy with other economies, particularly European ones.

One unpredictable factor is the issues that will be canvassed by whichever Independent MP/s will be given the opportunity to answer a question, though you can be sure that if it is one of the rural and regional MPs, the questions will either be on further regional assistance or a “half-dixer” on issues the Gillard Government agreed to support them on in return for helping deliver the ALP minority government.

Another factor in the boisterous affair that is Question Time, as far as the House of Representatives is concerned will be robed Speaker Peter Slipper who has brought new rules to bear in the conduct of Question Time. From yesterday on, the Speaker indicated that there will be no warning of MPs who are too disorderly, the dreaded 94a now at risk of being used on a more regular basis.

The Speaker also flagged further changes to Question Time in relation to the time length of both questions and answers. This is a very positive development and with a reduction in time out goes some of the mindless rubbish and confected anger that all too often invades Question Time.

The scene is set, the participants in Canberra are ready for the main event that is Question Time in just under 4 hours from time of writing. Will my predictions play out, unlike my Coalition predictions yesterday? Will I be blindsided again, predicting the wrong parliamentary tactics? Be watching or listening at 2pm AEDT to find out.

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