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A Not So Plucky Swan

Wayne Swan has had a bad year so far and so has the government he is a part of. Just one and a half months into an election year, the Treasurer in the Gillard Government looked uncharacteristically flustered, utterly chastened in Question Time today, especially after another faux pas at the despatch box in the parliament.

This week Mr Swan has copped it from both sides of politics, after late last week revealing that the Minerals Resource Rent Tax has raised just $126 million so far which is just a fraction of the full-year estimate of $2 billion. The opposition has chided the Gillard’s man in Treasury for getting the numbers so wrong and now members of his own caucus are openly pushing for an amendment to the tax. There is no doubt that political damage has been suffered.

Polls show that the tax is popular, so if the government chose to amend the profits-based tax it is unlikely to result in the loss of any political skin. An ugly battle with the mining companies would eventuate though

The problem would not be so terrible had the figures just been ordinary. The political damage has been compounded because the MRRT was supposed to fund a number of initiatives proposed by the government. Now, that revenue has to come from elsewhere and there is just no money to be found in the budget.

The mining tax problem gave rise to claims of another possible tax problem, but the confusion and uncertainty appears to be all the making of a Treasurer stung by the last couple of weeks in politics. Asked if the government would increase the personal income tax rate, Swan initially refused to rule it out on breakfast radio and this provided more than enough fodder for the opposition. Later in the day, the matter was cleared up, but the verbal diarrhoea had already done its damage.

The Coalition should however tread very carefully around the matter of tax increases. Perhaps they should not even bring it  up. There is a tax on the cards unless the Coalition ditch their expensive paid parental leave scheme or radically amend it before the election.

But Wayne Swan’s day did not end there. In Question Time the Treasurer miscommunicated the unemployment rate, falsely stating that it was 5.1% when it is in fact standing at 5.4%.

Such a mistake is relatively common in politics. But when a simple error like that comes on top of a couples of weeks of political hell, a small problem is easily magnified. And he was not helped by the lethargic performance he gave in correcting the record. He was not his usual overly confident, often cocky self. He looked downtrodden.

There have been calls for Wayne Swan to resign. This will not happen and it should not happen. Neither a resignation or a sacking would help the situation for the government, which has already subjected the voting public to enough confusion in the six weeks or so since the start of the year. A new face in the Treasury portfolio would not make a difference.

Anything the government does wrong now just feeds into the narrative of a government in chaos, hurtling toward an electoral drubbing. The best thing that they can do is try to appear as stable as possible and that will be very difficult, nigh on impossible.

Not So Taxing Times

The Minerals Resource Rent Tax has commenced and it’s causing problems for the Gillard Government, including in particular, the Treasurer. What most people would not have expected is the way in which it is causing trouble for Wayne Swan. Instead of having to defend a huge tax grab, the Treasurer today was forced to respond to reports in newspaper The Australian that the MRRT failed to raise any revenue in it’s first quarter of operation. This is a circumstance few would have seen coming, though tumbling commodity prices should have provided somewhat of a warning to the pundits.

You see, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, the renegotiated version of Kevin Rudd’s Resource Super Profits Tax was designed in an interesting way. Even though the name was changed, the new iteration was still a tax on profits. Therefore, when profits were high, the tax would be paid and when they were low, it would not.

Budget papers, released earlier this week in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook showed that the government believed the tax would still raise $2 billion this financial year.

A failure to clearly sell the way the tax works is the main reason that the response today was as it was. Too little time was spent saying that the tax would not raise revenue in bad times, but would in good times.

It is also a failure of design. If the ALP wanted to be sure of revenue then pegging the new tax to profits as they did was not the way to achieve a certain stream of revenue, especially one so easily impacted by poor commodity prices. To make matters worse, the new mining tax is not to prop up revenues with proceeds put away for future benefits. No, the tax revenue raised was to pay for promises made by Labor.

Clearly the turn of events this week, including the broader revenue shortfalls announced as part of MYEFO, make the prospects of returning to surplus extremely unlikely. Commodity prices for one would have to not just get back to where they were, but likely higher to make up for the time when the price was below expectations. Those prices could yet stay low for some time.

But the tough week, more accurately the tough day today did not end there for Mr Swan.

Speaking to reporters in Brisbane today, Treasurer Wayne Swan twice made a mistake when saying how much revenue the Minerals Resource Rent Tax would provide to the budget bottom line. Twice the Treasurer said that the tax would make $9 billion this financial year.

Actually, the resource rent tax is set to make $9 billion, not over the first year, but over the forward estimates, the next four financial years. It was a case of third time lucky for Mr Swan.

Ordinarily a simple gaffe like that does not mean much. It happens to politicians from time to time. However,for a Treasurer battling for a surplus and not having the numbers add up, it adds to a perception of confusion and uncertainty on the part of Wayne Swan and the Gillard Government.

The Opposition of course were crowing, enjoying a day where again, the Treasurer has been squirming over economic issues. But the celebration should also have been a tad on the difficult side for them too. The tax raised no revenue, so it was not doing the damage to the economy and businesses that the Coalition had warned about.

Federal Labor are seeing any remaining hope they had of returning the budget to surplus, which was delusional in the first place, evaporating before their very eyes.

But it is not the surplus the ALP should be most worried about the most. It is a worry, but the least of them. What they should be worried about the most is how much they might have to borrow to pay for the spending promises associated with this new tax of theirs.

The Sunday Sandwich (That’s a Wrap)

By far the biggest political action in Australia this week occurred in the state of Queensland, which overnight saw its majority eviscerated at the hands of a unified Campbell Newman led Opposition. But alas, this blog is about Australian politics and aside from some electoral implications for the federal Australian Labor Party and the change in complexion of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), the events of the week in Queensland have little relevance when examining the events of federal politics over the past week.

Yes, the result is in many respects another stake in the heart of federal Labor which on results tonight would be all but wiped out across Queensland if swings were uniform statewide. When the Gillard Government is already in a minority government situation, the trend toward the Coalition in Queensland alone, if it were borne out at the next federal election would see the government fall easily, before even adding in New South Wales where there is potential for catastrophic losses.

An incoming Newman LNP Government means that another Coalition Premier has a seat at the COAG table, along with the Premier’s of Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. This probably will not have a major impact as COAG in recent years has tended to be fairly tame and “cooperative federalism” has reigned supreme. However from time to time issues may present themselves where the Liberal Premiers feel the need to join together in opposition to something that the ALP Government chooses to pursue. It would appear that the carbon tax is in the sights of the Premier-elect, so this and the MRRT appear to be at least two exceptions to the rule.

Julia Gillard and her government saw the passage of their Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT), by the Senate this week which was alone in major events in Canberra for the week in Australian politics, the last sitting period before the budget is handed down by Treasurer Wayne Swan in May. Tony Abbott and the Opposition have vowed to continue to fight the tax after its implementation and to repeal it in government and their parliamentary strategy over that and the carbon tax in recent months have echoed those words.

The parliament shared its focus  in Question Time between the carbon tax, largely as a result of Opposition questions and the newly passed mining tax. The Opposition focused on perceived effects of the carbon tax on business and households and the revenue projections of the mining tax and the effect the tax  may have on the economy.

The government focused on the spending associated with the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and the tax cuts to small and big business which the Coalition opposes because it opposes the tax.

Also this week, Canberra descended into gaggles of laughter which transcended political boundaries after a very strange speech from mining magnate Clive Palmer who has since tried to put distance between himself and his comments. Mr Palmer claimed that the Greens were funded by the CIA to wreck the Australian economy by destroying the mining industry which helped keep the nation afloat during the GFC.

As Australia continues to meander toward the May budget, the focus outside of the parliament will be on Treasurer Wayne Swan and the ability he and his government have to deliver the surplus they promised for fiscal year 2012-13. The focus  of the media will be on trying to get a picture of the extent of the task before confirmation of the severity of any further cuts and just how much the effort will rely on the sneaky deferral of spending priorities for the budgetary year. There promises to be much political fodder over the coming weeks and the political discourse will certainly not be dull.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Today marks the last sitting day of the parliamentary week and the last day of parliament before the budget is announced in Canberra on Tuesday May 8 by Treasurer Wayne Swan. Consequently economics will continue to be the focus of the day in Question Time and the energy of our politicians will be at an almost anxious high as they try to get attention on their programs for Australia and the Opposition throw everything at the Gillard Government in trying to hold them to account.

The focus of the Opposition will continue to be on the two or three key areas that the Coalition have pursued for some time now  in their Question Time and broader political strategy. The two main focal points of the Abbott-led Opposition questions today will continue to be both the carbon tax and the mining tax which have had varying degrees of focus since both have been announced. They have both now been passed by the government and the Coalition will continue to pursue them as they come into force and for any negative impacts they have.

The Coalition also may ask some questions of the ALP Government about Fair Work Australia and its investigation into Craig Thomson, a long-running affair which has provided much political and parliamentary material for the Liberal and National Party Coalition.

The Opposition is likely to also ask questions of the government about the deal announced today to keep Holden producing cars in Australia for the next 10 years at least.

The government, as has been its strategy all parliamentary year will be to focus on their big programs, at the moment the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) and how the revenue from it is projected to benefit the community, including low income individuals and small and big business. Some Dorothy Dixer’s, as has been the case this week may be devoted to other topical or even less discussed policies, like the Murray-Darling Basin Plan which received questions in the House of Representatives yesterday.

The Gillard Government will certainly use some Dorothy Dixer’s to ask ministers associated with the car industry about the deal with Holden to keep car production in Australia for at least 10 years and to highlight the benefits of this for the local and national economy.

The usage of the motion to suspend Standing Orders is another eventuality that cannot be discounted, particularly as we head toward a grand total of 50 of them for this the 43rd parliament of Australia. The motion however is less likely to occur as the topics discussed have been the focus of the motion in the past.What may work in favour of a suspension of Standing Orders is another topical issue presenting itself before Question Time today, likely not the Holden issue, or the fact that it is the last session of Question Time until the parliamentary week beginning the 8th of May.

Look for fireworks and restless pollies slanging remarks across the chamber today in the Lower and Upper House. Expect to see a high number of ejections from both sides and even Ministers sat down by the Speaker for not being “directly relevant” to questions asked by the Coalition and even their own side as they attempt to use Dixer’s for having a go at Coalition policy rather than explaining their own. Get your last fix for over a month from 2pm AEDT today

Question Time Ahead of Time

There are only two more days left in the last parliamentary sitting period before the budget is handed down by Treasurer Wayne Swan on behalf of the Gillard Government in May. As a result, the ALP Government will be competing hard with the Coalition for the remaining two days in Canberra this week to try to create momentum going into what will have to be a very difficult fiscal tightening if the government are to reach the surplus they have promised. All this and more points to a big two days of Question Time before parliament rises late tomorrow.

The Coalition look set to continue pursuing the government over questions about the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) and to significantly focus on the already passed carbon tax which comes into force in just a matter of months. Both the carbon tax and the MRRT look like they will focus of a High Court challenge and this will play out in the coming months.

The Opposition may also decide in small part, to continue to pursue matters related to Craig Thomson and the Fair Work Australia investigation into alleged improprieties at the Health Services Union which have already seen a recommendation that 3 former officials in Victoria face Federal Court action.

The government look set to continue to focus on the economy specifically through the revenue raised by the MRRT and how it will fund programs and tax cuts for business.

There looks set to be less and less “Opposition bashing” during the answers to Dorothy Dixer’s in particular but also in responses to questions from the Coalition thanks to very strict policing of the “direct relevance” Standing Order which saw the Treasurer kicked out of the parliament under 94a for one hour yesterday and others effectively warned to become relevant.

The noise, with two days in parliament to go will surely be at a high, with temper tantrums flaring up from time to time throughout the hour and ten minute session of Question Time. A number of MPs will surely be removed for an hour under Standing Order 94a. Who will they be and just how entertaining or frustrating will Question Time be? Find out at 2pm AEDT.

Question Time Ahead of Time

It’s Tuesday in the last parliamentary sitting week before  a short recess leading into our politicians meeting in Canberra to hear what the May budget will bring. Debate is set to continue to be vigorous through the rest of the week with the of the conflict determined for some time now and redrawn from time to time when topical daily or weekly issues have been uncovered.

There are three main subjects on which Coalition questions during Question Time today could be based, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT), Craig Thomson or the carbon tax. The former, the MRRT was passed last night by the Senate and so is most likely to dominate Coalition questions in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The Craig Thomson affair was in the news again yesterday because the Coalition demanded a more explanatory medical certificate than was provided in order to grant him a pair for the rest of the week. A specialist has provided advice on the health of Craig Thomson and the Coalition have since granted him a pair. Therefore it is less likely that the Craig Thomson story will play a role in Question Time, except perhaps a question or two on the investigation itself.

Like it has been for some time, since the broken promise and before and after it was debated and passed by the parliament, the carbon tax could also play part in the Coalition strategy.

There is one last possibility for questions and that is any issue that arises in the media today that is very topical which the Coalition may choose to run with for the day in Question Time. It would appear that the mining tax is the most topical issue of the day and that there are no other topical issues that the Coalition will use for its questions in the parliament from 2pm today.

The Gillard Government will focus the use of the Dorothy Dixer on the spending involved with its tax on miners and what this will mean for different constituent groups. The government will certainly too use part of each answer on the Minerals Resource Rent Tax to attack the Coalition for opposing the tax cuts which are funded by the MRRT. Questions on the broader economy are also likely if government questions are not completely dominated by MRRT statements.

One a broader front, the usage again of the motion to suspend Standing Orders cannot be discounted as we head toward its utilisation 50 times some time surely in the near future though it seems less likely to be invoked today due to the fact that all the likely issues to be interrogated today have extensively been used for such motions before.

So it should be a fairly predictable Question Time from 2pm AEDT, though the exact mix of questions is still open for debate and determination at this stage. It cannot be discounted that there will arise, between now and the commencement of Question Time a topical issue that will supersede questions on issues that have already been canvassed for a prolonged period of time.

To watch all the action and theatre, if you’re a politics wonk or just a sucker for punishment, tune in to Question Time from 2pm AEDT on your television or your radio.

Question Time Ahead of Time

The day is Thursday, the last day in a sitting week in the Parliament of Australia in Canberra and that usually means fireworks as parliamentary politics winds down for the week. Yesterday it was the unexpected topic of customs and their role in gun control which stole the show in Question Time in the House of Representatives. Today the proverbial battle lines should be much clearer with the Fair Work Australia investigation into the Victorian branch which has just concluded the sure focus of Coalition questions to the Gillard Government.

The Fair Work Australia Investigation into Victoria Number 1 branch has reached a conclusion and was reported yesterday and will see 3 former officials from the union seeking possibly pecuniary penalties as a result of their alleged actions in the Federal Court of Australia. The officials will not be subjected to criminal prosecution.

At the same time the Commonwealth Ombudsman has commenced an investigation into the actions of the General Manager of Fair Work Australia, Bernadette O’Neill over the 3 years of the investigation into the Health Services Union. The complaint seeks an imminent end to the investigations into the Member for Dobell, Craig Thomson, in addition to answers over the snail-like pace of the overall investigation into the union

The Coalition, likely led in the questioning by Tony Abbott and key front-bencher’s like Christopher Pyne, Joe Hockey and Julie Bishop will continue to pursue the government over the issue focusing on the length of the investigation and seeking help to draw the remaining examinations to a close in the very near future.

The Opposition may follow up with a few questions following on from yesterday where it launched an attack on the Government over the importation of firearms and government cuts to customs.

The ALP Government will certainly continue to highlight the spending that is associated with its mining tax, the MRRT in particular, but also the carbon tax. The government is also likely to draw attention to the Coalition and the Greens blocking the big business tax cuts, albeit for different reasons with the Greens blocking it because big business in their mind shouldn’t receive cuts and the Coalition, because the cuts are associated with the mining tax which they say they will rescind.

There is a high likelihood that the tensions which have been exhibited all week, including yesterday when more than a handful of Coalition MPs were booted for an hour under Standing Order 94a will continue today. This would likely see a comparative number of MPs booted, again heavily expected to be from the Coalition side.

A motion to suspend Standing Orders is also a high possibility, likely in relation to the Fair Work Australia investigation into the HSU and Craig Thomson, a focus of Opposition questions for some time now.

All will be revealed and debated with nothing held back from 2pm AEDT

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.

Question Time Ahead of Time

That wonderful institution that we know as Question Time returns today with a vengeance in both chambers of Parliament House in Canberra today for a two week sitting period before the much anticipated budget gets handed down in May. This sitting period promises much of the same that we have been exposed to for some time as far as behaviour and content goes, with both parties likely focusing on much less than a handful of topics for  the Opposition to pursue and the Gillard Government to attempt to highlight in a positive manner. The Senate will be a focus this week with a very interesting addition.

Question Time this week in the Upper House will be the focus of much political attention with the newly confirmed Senator for New South Wales and Foreign Minister designate, Bob Carr entering the federal parliament for the first time as part of the federal government. For Question Time today the former NSW Premier will warm the backbench, being sworn in this afternoon.

The Tony Abbott led Opposition are set to continue their attacks on the economy through the prism of the carbon tax, nearing commencement and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) which the government will aim to get through the Senate before parliament rises in anticipation of the budget to be announced in May.

The Opposition will also likely decide they need to continue to pursue the Craig Thomson saga and Fair Work Australia over recent allegations of the independent body stonewalling, even flatly refusing to cooperate with police attempting to investigate claims of wrongdoing.

The Government will certainly continue to utilise the “Dorothy Dixer”, that wonderful free kick opportunity to spend more time talking about the Opposition than their own policy on also talking about the economy. This will continue to be about the comparative strength of the economy versus that of other major developed nations rather than the individual circumstances of the Australian economy. Dixer’s from the government benches will also focus on the economy, as they have done for some time, on perceived benefits of government spending packages, particularly related to the MRRT.

Another regular feature of Question Time that cannot be ruled out, in fact, that the good money would be on, is the high likelihood of the Opposition pursuing a suspension of standing orders to debate a censure motion.

How many MPs will be booted under Standing Order 94a? Will any government minister be sat down for “irrelevance”? How much noise will there be? Will Bob Carr ask a Dixer before hitting the front bench tomorrow? All questions will be asked and answered at 2pm AEDT. Will you be watching?

 

Question Time Ahead of Time

It’s Wednesday and another day of Parliament and the requisite Question Time is upon us and it promises to bring much of the same drama, shouting and laughter we have come to expect, particularly during Question Time. Today’s session also promises to bring much the same line of questioning from both sides of politics, but likely not the cross-benches. This means parliament is set to continue debate on the economy, carbon tax, Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT), Private Health Insurance Rebate and the Fair Work Australia (FWA) investigation into Craig Thomson. A further event past that is likely to attract attention is the Australia Day protest which overnight saw a new development with footage of a key player, Kim Sattler being brought to light.

The Coalition is likely to continue its attack with a three prong  mix of the carbon tax, FWA and Craig Thomson and the means testing of the Private Health Insurance Rebate. It is also now likely that the Opposition will pursue, with renewed vigour, the events of Australia Day. The questions will likely pursue the same lines of inquiry that have been displayed so far this parliamentary year.

The Government are also likely to continue on the same line of attempting to establish a narrative as good economic managers which is failing to cut through if the latest poll is any indication as far as team performance goes. Once again, Government questions, or Dixer’s will focus on the strength of the economy related to others and on the spending that is occurring under this Government.

Again the Speaker will have a tough time controlling the parliament with members likely becoming more raucous as the time flies by and the likelihood of the 94a being utilised is high. The reforms to the lengths of both questions and answers does not seem at all to have changed the tenor of the debate with much of the same nonsense, just less time to fit it in.

The rundown complete, you know have the tools to follow Question Time a little more closely, beginning at 2pm AEDT on both your radio and your television. I won’t be missing it, will you?

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