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Question Time Ahead of Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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 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!

Question Time Ahead of Time

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!

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