It’s almost curtains for Question Time this week. We’ve been through Questions Without Notice for Wednesday without much of the ridiculously over-the-top behaviour we’ve almost grown to expect from our politicians. It wasn’t great though, there was still loud interjections and points of order that continued a little longer than they should have. But that’s Question Time and some level of misbehaviour will seemingly always be tolerated, no matter who occupies the Speaker’s chair.
There was a bit more variety than usual in the hour and ten minute session today, but only just.
The Coalition of course continued to ask questions of the Gillard Government on the carbon price during the Wednesday outing. They again focused around businesses in a number of Opposition MPs’ electorates. Again the attacks were largely over power prices applying to small businesses who are not compensated under the ALP’s price on carbon. At the very start of Question Time, the Shadow Treasurer rose too, in order to ask about business confidence, profit and investment under the carbon tax.
The Coalition also asked, again through Joe Hockey at the start of Question Time, just how the Labor Party propose to pay for their recent big spending commitments without raising taxes and with less revenue than during better economic times.
There was also time from the Coalition devoted to asking the government about union rorting and that topic was breached toward the end of Questions Without Notice.
The Labor Government were again varied in the number of topics they chose to highlight during Question Time. Backbenchers asked questions on the economy, infrastructure, carbon pricing, families as well as education and health.
So what’s to come during the last day of parliament for the week? Well, to be honest, much of the same from both sides of the political fence.
The Liberal and National Party Opposition have hitched themselves to the carbon price wagon and it would be laughable to suggest that the parliamentary attacks over this policy are not set to continue. The only question here will be which businesses take the focus on Thursday? We do know that it will be centred around small businesses who are not compensated for carbon price cost flow-ons.
We know first it was fruit and vegetable producers and related businesses, followed by meat producers and associated businesses and then on Wednesday, a variety of small businesses. So the indication is that it’s probably the latter, though you get the impression that the Olympic Dam project, now not going ahead will be co-opted into the debate.
It is quite possible, indeed almost certain, that the Shadow Treasurer will stride to the despatch box, early in Question Time to ask the Treasurer or the Prime Minister just how they plan on funding their spending commitments of late.
As was shown on Wednesday, the unions might just find themselves back in Question Time, courtesy of perhaps one, maybe two questions from the Opposition benches.
The ALP Government will again highlight a number of areas of government action. They’ll still talk about the perceptions and realities of the price on carbon, that’s a given. But they’re also just as likely to visit education, workplace relations, infrastructure, health and families and health.
It will be interesting to see if the National Disability Insurance Scheme is again conspicuously absent or only mentioned in passing.
Question Time for Tuesday has thankfully flown by at warp speed, meaning we’re ever closer to the end of another week of Questions Without Notice, the second week in a row since the winter recess. After the events of yesterday, you could have been forgiven for thinking that much of the same was on the way, comparatively it was tame. That’s not to say it was shouty and screechy, it certainly was. But there wasn’t the same level of ill disciple that saw multiple Coalition MP’s booted for an hour under Standing Order 94a yesterday including the Opposition Leader and Manager of Opposition Business.
Probably tired from the amount of energy burnt yesterday, members of parliament, particularly on the Coalition side, fell back into the rhythm that’s been common since this 43rd parliament commenced in 2010.
Again, aside from Joe Hockey on spending priorities and the prospect of new taxes to pay for those immense spending allocations, the Tony Abbott led Opposition continued on the obvious ground of the carbon tax. Yesterday it was all about fruit and vegetable farmers and businesses, today it moved to the carbon price and meat producers and businesses.
The Gillard Government as they have shown in recent times, were much more varied in the areas of policy that their backbenchers asked questions on. Questions did include the price on carbon, but also education reform, health and workplace relations.
It would be folly to not accept much of the same during Questions Without Notice for Wednesday.
You can expect the Coalition to continue with questions about the carbon tax and any deviation from that would almost be a letdown, perhaps even like living in an alternate universe. The only question is what type of business will be focused on? We know that power prices and small businesses will continue to be the focus.
It would almost be equally as strange to not expect a question at the start of the session from Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey, again on the spending priorities of the Labor Party as occurred yesterday and today.
A question or questions on the Fair Work Australia investigation and Craig Thomson are also likely to make an appearance after the KPMG report into the Fair Work Australia investigation of the HSU was released.
The certain thing about the issues that the ALP Government ask questions of itself on is that there will again be variety. The carbon tax will attract the most questions again, of course.
However, other areas of policy will definitely be highlighted during the hour and ten minutes that is Question Time. This will undoubtedly include, as it has particularly this week, leading up to an announcement, education reform.
Other questions on the economy, health, infrastructure and workplace relations are also likely to appear.
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.
Hello and welcome to the very first Sunday Sandwich at my new blog. We have now endured the first parliamentary sitting week of 2012 with little if any skin taken off. The lines of attack and corresponding defensive moves were played out in the media in the early weeks of 2012, giving us an indication of what the debate will be about for the year ahead. The economy and taxes, Craig Thomson and the events of Australia Day in Canberra dominated the week which saw the new Speaker stamp his own personal mark on the parliament and some policy-specific machinations.
The Gillard Government positioned themselves this week in Question Time in particular to be talking all about the economy in relation to domestic economic policies and with regard to international comparison. The overwhelming number of Dorothy Dixer’s were on the economy for the entire week.
The Opposition also promised to bring on debate and question on the economy and did so. However the Coalition also took to battle in a big way on the FWA/Craig Thomson debate/farce. The economy from the Coalition perspective was approached by questioning the ALP Government on the suitability of introducing new taxes, that is the carbon tax and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) in times of global uncertainty.
Also on the economy, the Abbott-led Opposition came under attack from the Gillard Government over comments this week seemingly showing a back-down from a commitment to a budget surplus in 2012-13. It was probably a good idea for Andrew Robb to come out and be refreshingly honest about budgetary prospects for an incoming government, not least because we do not know where the books will be whenever the Coalition next takes the government benches.
It was also correct for the others in the Shadow Cabinet to be saying that the Coalition would deliver a surplus in their first year in government, at this stage looking like some time in 2013, if the Government were able to deliver their promised surplus.
The disparate responses from senior Coalition frontbenchers did take some of the heat off the Government, and should have been avoided but probably did not have as much of an impact as some commentators are making out.
The new Speaker of the House of Representatives this week brought back some of the traditional style of parliaments gone by whilst at the same time keeping commentators and viewers wondering what the Slipper speakership would bring, particularly for his former side, the Coalition.
Peter Slipper decided to bring back the Speaker’s robe for parliamentary sittings and on the last day a plain white, droopy silk bow-tie. I am quite a fan of following parliamentary tradition so I thought that this was a welcome re-introduction of what has often been missing under recent Labor Speakers.
There is no doubt that there was some consternation, particularly in Coalition circles as to how tough Mr Slipper would be on his former Coalition colleagues prior to this week. A lot of that was borne out wrong with the Speaker only booting a couple of MPs from the Coalition side, when based on events of last year it could easily have been more than a handful or two.
Speaker Slipper brought some welcome changes to the start of the parliamentary year which will apply for the duration of his speakership, or at least until or if they are altered further. This included no warnings before removal under Standing Order 94a for unruly behaviour, 30 second questions and 3 minute answers. All positive developments in a way but areas that can be worked on further.
The other big story of the week was the argument over whether or not the Private Health Insurance Rebate should be means tested for higher income earners. Despite the debate and some of the evidence, it became clear by the end of the week that the Government was able to drum up enough support for the passage of this measure.
So another week in Australian politics flies by at warp speed, with the political noise at times breaking the sound barrier and lucky to not be heard in far off lands away from Canberra. The noise is set to continue with parliament again sitting next week and the same debates likely to be prosecuted by the respective sides of politics, all eyes will be on the tenor of that debate and what other political and policy nuggets that may pop up to be used and abused.
Last year as I was out buying groceries I learnt of an amazing event unfolding in Canberra which seemed to take even the most seasoned political commentators by surprise. This was the resignation of much loved Speaker Harry Jenkins and the subsequent installation of Peter Slipper as Speaker. This event left the Coalition by surprise and many as it did many of their supporters and the general public. It also caused widespread anger from those in the same quarters. Anger at the decision and defection aside, no matter what party it is aimed at, the debate has now moved on to the actions of the new Speaker at the end of the first parliamentary sitting week of 2012.
I must say that I held very low hopes for a fair and balanced Question Time after the events of the last parliamentary sitting day in 2011. Notwithstanding the fact that the events would have caused the loud anger that ensued, it appeared that Coalition MPs would become the subject of a brutal political vendetta.
This seems to have changed this year and my expectations of the Slipper Speakership have subsequently become favourable to the Speakership. I say this as there have only been two ejections of Coalition MPs under the much loved Standing Order 94a during the 3 days of Question Time this week.
The new Speaker has also embarked upon instituting some parliamentary reforms of Question Time which I view with a reasonable level of favourability.
To further shorten the length of both questions and answers, further than those under the agreement beginning the “new paradigm” is a very positive development. This has seen the length of time allowed for answering a question in Question Time down to 30 seconds, 15 seconds shorter than under the previous agreement reached between the Government, Opposition and the rural Independents. Further, answers have been reduced by one whole minute, down to 3 minutes.
Now, those who know me and what I stand for in relation to this area will know that I do not find this ideal, it is true, I think it could be reduced even further to cut down some of the rubbish which can all too often invade questions and answers. However, it must be said this is a positive development and not at all one I expected.
A further change under Peter Slipper as Speaker is the removal of a warning before the booting of an MP being too loud or un-parliamentary. This is neither here nor there. There are some circumstances where I believe more leeway should be granted, such as if a member is plainly being loud on one or a small number of occasions. There are plenty of times under any Speaker where some being loud are caught and others not so it is a bit unfair to them. On the other hand for more serious infractions such as language deemed inappropriate or for defying the Speaker then an automatic ejection is an entirely sensible outcome.
On renaming of the Main Committee, to the Federation Chamber, I see it as just a name change to part of our parliamentary democracy. It is if anything an homage to federation we are and in that way somewhat of a tribute to the founding fathers of our nation Australia.
There is no doubt the new Speaker is growing on me, in the performance of his new role anyway…
Today marks the return of the political juggernaut that some of us love to hate, some of us just downright detest and the select few, like me just love for all the noisy, angry and at times theatrical performances. We are in a unique position for this week seemingly knowing ahead of time who or what policy will be in the political cross-hairs for at least the week ahead. That takes away some of the anticipation but the dramatic performances and the unknown factors, including the new Speaker, Peter Slipper point to a, politically at least, edge of your seat week.
So first we turn to what we can reasonably assume will come as far as the questions go from both sides of the both chambers and the cross-bench MPs lucky enough (for them) to be asking a question.
The Coalition have signalled their intentions over the early weeks of this year to pursue Craig Thomson, the Member for Dobell relating to his time with the Health Services Union. It is no secret that the ruthless intensity behind this is in part because of the tight nature of the parliament and it will continue in Question Time this week.
In pursuing the Government over the handling of Craig Thomson, the questions will likely focus on two or three factors: why Craig Thomson still has the support of the Prime Minister, and on Fair Work Australia and why it is giving the growth 0f grass a run for its money. There are indications too that the Coalition will pursue claims of political interference.
The Government on the other hand has signalled recently that they will aim to highlight what they perceive its strength to be, the economy and the dreaded “Dorothy Dixer” will provide them that opportunity. The Gillard Government will likely not focus on the state of the budget, which looks even more likely to remain in deficit again, but the perceived comparative strength with other global economies.
Now to the comparative unknown factor, the impact the new Speaker will have over the House of Representatives. The main question most in political circles will be asking in relation to Mr Slipper is how many Coalition MPs will be either warned or booted under the Standing Order we all should refer to as the “coffee break order”, the 94a.
Another eventuality in the back of your mind should be a possible censure motion anywhere between 3-3:30pm AEDT with the Opposition Leader stepping up to the Despatch Box to outline the failings of the Gillard Government.
There are only a few hours to go before the sport that is Question Time kicks off and the events play themselves out in some glorious shouting and acting worthy of an AACTA or perhaps more appropriate, a Logie. It will be an eventful week and I for one am intrigued by the prospects of an exciting week, so from 2pm AEDT all I can say is, get watching!