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Question Time Ahead of Time

Question Time for Monday has now passed. A wide array of issues were examined in general. But first, the parliament spent the first half of Questions Without Notice expressing their condolences for the loss of six Australians since parliament rose for a short break. Those who died were 5 soldiers across two incidents in Afghanistan and the Prime Minister’s father who passed away suddenly at the weekend while Prime Minister Gillard was at the APEC Summit in Russia.

But just after 2:30pm, questions began in the lower house with spending priorities and the federal budget the main focus of the Tony Abbott led Opposition as well as asylum seekers early on.

The Gillard Government, with Wayne Swan as Acting Prime Minister breached a wider selection of issues including the economy as compared with the world, infrastructure and education.

Tomorrow of course presents the the very high possibility, indeed certainty of exactly the same kinds of issues being brought up during Question Time, with perhaps slight differences in the amount of time dedicated to each issue. But nonetheless, the same general formula and topics will be used to frame questions for Tuesday’s session of Questions Without Notice from Canberra.

Again, the Coalition will probably focus a large part of Question Time on the new and existing big spending items that the Gillard Government has announced. This includes the NDIS, the new dental health plan and the as yet undisclosed contribution to be negotiated with the states and territories to fund the Gonski recommendations in education.

The Liberal and National Party Opposition too, could decide to return to asking questions of the government over the carbon tax which recently saw the floor price dropped by the government as well as plans to purchase five power stations, crucial to combating polution, being scrapped last week.

In fact, it was quite a surprise given these developments and the fact that attacking the price on carbon has been a long-term strategy of the Coalition in and outside of the federal parliament. Perhaps the Opposition Leader did heed the words of Malcolm Turnbull last week, though the variety of issues that questions were asked on did remain narrow despite the slight change.

The ALP through the Dorothy Dixer will continue the strategy of examining a wide selection of government policy areas. That is likely to again include a mix of at least some of the following including carbon price compensation, the economy compared with others around the world, health, education, infrastructure and workplace relations.

We were blessed with comparatively improved behaviour, though a few MP’s did manage to test the patience of the Acting Speaker, the usual suspects really. Will they be as lucky tomorrow?

Question Time Ahead of Time

Everyone grab your HAZMAT suits, batten down the hatches, go out an purchase earplugs or earmuffs. Yes, after a month and a half break that institution we call Question Time returns to our television screens and radios on Tuesday. The winter break has flown by and as promised by our politicians, there has been little let-up in the political to-and-fro with the carbon tax and asylum seeker issues dominating the debate during the winter recess.

That seems the way that things will play out in Canberra this week during Question Time with carbon tax and asylum seeker politics set t0 be responsible for most of the noise during Questions Without Notice.

Power prices have been the debate over the last week with both the federal government picking a fight with the states over power bills which also brought in the federal Opposition with varying contributions from different MP’s to the debate, but the main ones being tied back to the carbon price.

It’s hard to see that electricity prices as they relate to the carbon tax will not be the major political battleground this week from the Coalition. The Abbott-led Opposition have dug in on this issue and will likely continue to prosecute the case of electricity related to the carbon price.

It’s also just as likely that, failing an electricity price specific attack on the Gillard Government related to the carbon tax, that other price rises associated with the price on carbon will form the basis of Coalition questions to the government.

The Labor Party too, through the use of the Dorothy Dixer will likely continue to try and hammer home the message of compensation for the price on carbon which commenced just weeks ago.

The Opposition, fresh from a fairly wide victory over immediate asylum seeker policy recommendations will likely turn up the heat on the Prime Minister and her government over the issue with the recommendations arguing the need to establish processing on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea as soon as possible.

The government will likely be fairly silent on the issue having been told by the expert panel on asylum seekers that their deal with Malaysia requires further work, so questions from the government benches on policy in this area will probably be scarce, perhaps non-existent.

The only major opportunity the government would have taken to get on the offensive over this policy area would be if the Opposition were going to oppose the legislation to be introduced into the parliament during the Tuesday sitting.

It will be interesting to see just how fired up both sides of parliament are after such a long break and whether or not this leads to the Speaker sending out one or two MP’s for an early coffee and cake.

Rest assured it won’t be such a quiet affair.

Foreign Investment and the Coalition With the National Party

Foreign investment has been in the media a lot recently. Increased talk about foreign investment as part of the Australian political discourse has amped up over the last few years in particular with reports of particularly Chinese-based companies buying up farmland, chiefly across New South Wales. It’s prompted raised concerns from some in Australian politics. The interesting thing is that most of the questioning of foreign investment in Australia, again mostly in relation to farmland has come from the conservative side of politics. What is not so surprising  is that most of the scepticism around foreigners buying up and investing in our country from the right side of politics has come from the National Party, the party traditionally of the farmers.

But what is very interesting about this and different from previous times is the willingness of the National Party’s major coalition partner, the Liberal Party to indulge the National’s in the debate with a proposal to examine more deeply, at a lower threshold, more of the proposed investments of companies from outside of Australia.

There’s been much mixed messaging from the Coalition, from National Party Senator Barnaby Joyce openly questioning the appropriateness of too much foreign investment at any opportunity, to Tony Abbott in China appearing to talk down to China about their investing in Australia whilst overseas as a guest in their country. Then just in the last week or so we had Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott both talking down the prospects of a change in foreign investment rules and scrutiny by the Foreign Investment Review Board.

Then today, flanked by Joe Hockey and Leader of the Nationals, Warren Truss, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott announced a discussion paper which flags a lowering of the purchase price of agricultural land and businesses at which the Foreign Investment Review Board will examine purchases.

The paper proposes that the FIRB look at purchases of agricultural land valued at over $15 million dollars and purchases by foreign companies of agriculture businesses valued at $53 million. This is way down from the current threshold at which injections of funds of $214 million and over are examined by the review board.

The change in policy has copped criticism from both sides of politics, with the ALP jumping at the chance to have a dig at the party of the free market for wanting to lower the scrutiny threshold.

But there’s also been criticism from their own side of politics, with not just conflicting words in the lead-up to today’s decision from Liberal and National Party politicians, but also from former Coalition MP Peter Reith who launched an attack on Twitter today. Mr Reith in comments today on social media said that the move was “crazy, stupid politics.”

Reith also said that the decision “is just a quick fix to satisfy the Nats, but which will come back to bite the national interest”. Peter Reith, in saying this is not far from the truth, perhaps even spot on with his comments.

The Nationals, in an incoming Coalition Government, which now appears a certainty, would have much higher influence within the joint party-room than they do at present in the current parliament. So this announcement today can easily be seen as a move to placate the National Party ahead of the next election. Tony Abbott and the Opposition leadership undoubtedly realise there will be much more competition of ideas and much more competitive and vigorous debate from two contradictory standpoints within the Coalition caucus.

But what about the decision itself and what Tony Abbott says it will mean for the future of foreign investment in Australia?

Well, for his part Mr Abbott says he wants to “make it absolutely crystal clear that the Coalition unambiguously supports foreign investment in Australia.” Further, he says “we need it, we want it, it is essential for our continued national prosperity.” He also said, “what’s very important though is that the public have confidence that the foreign investment we need and want is in Australia’s national interest.”

Well, it seems pretty ambiguous the level of support there is on one side of the Coalition for further foreign investment in Australia. The Liberal Party are undoubtedly all for it, with the current level of examination likely deemed more than sufficient, perhaps too much for a number in the Liberal and National Party room. But the National Party, particularly given the words of its loudest member, Senator Barnaby Joyce, is certainly far from sure about people from overseas investing in Australia.

The Coalition for its part says that the move is all about increased “scrutiny” of foreign investment decisions as they relate to agricultural land. But this standpoint, is actually to be taken as read and believed, has unintended consequences at best.

If it’s just about a ramped up level of scrutiny in foreign investment and every investment decision that applies to this lower threshold is given the tick of approval, then there’s just unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape for inevitable decisions.

But more likely, with the same “national interest” test applying, albeit at a lower monetary level, then smaller purchase decisions, much smaller ones in fact, will be denied if the national interest test requirements are not met.

Could this and other recent decisions and thought bubbles or proposals of a similar protectionist nature be a sign of things to come?

This Next Election Who Are You Dissatisfied With the Least?

Politics at the federal level in this country is at a low ebb, no doubt about that. That’s not to say that Australian politics has been or ever will be as popular as MasterChef. But politics under this 43rd parliament and the first minority government since wartime. These woes for politics certainly have a lot to do with broken promises and relentless aggression.

The lack of desire for the leaders of both sides of politics, despite the clear election winning position of the Abbott-led Coalition means, in terms of the Prime Ministership means it will not be the usual “who do you trust”, with trust so clearly lacking in politicians, but “who do you trust the most”.

More interestingly, in terms of party leadership it looks more and more certain every day that the equation will be “who are you dissatisfied with the least?”

Now of course in Australia we don’t elect our Prime Minister directly, the political party that takes government does that for us and as such, it doesn’t particularly matter what the electorate think so much of a leader, they’re almost always from a very safe seat for their own party. But when it’s close in the vote that’s a clearly different story with the leadership position all the more important. Ordinarily it can be expected that the choice of and performance of leader does have an impact of some repute on which party voters choose at the ballot box.

At the next election, it’s basically certain, pretty much lock it in Eddie, that the Coalition will win with Tony Abbott becoming the next Prime Minister of Australia and the Liberal and National Party coalition seizing the government benches.

In terms of voter dissatisfaction with the leaders, Newspoll has seen the Prime Minister languishing at levels of unhappiness with her performance in the Labor leadership at around 60% or thereabouts for many months.

The news regarding this same measure for Tony Abbott, despite being very competitive, even ahead at times in the preferred Prime Minister stakes is not a whole lot better with dissatisfaction in his performance as leader of the Coalition at levels consistently in the mid to high 50s on percentage terms.

Consistent Nielsen poll results show very high levels (over 50%) of voter dissatisfaction with the performance of both leaders. The last four Nielsen poll results show Prime Minister Gillard not having moved from a level of dissatisfaction in her performance of 59-60%. Again, that’s more than half saying they are not happy with the way things have gone.

Again in the Nielsen poll results over the same period Tony Abbott enjoys (though that’s quite the oxymoron because the results are still extremely poor) a lower level of unhappiness with his performance than that which the Prime Minister has experienced. For those same four Nielsen polls, Mr Abbott has seen a dissatisfaction level which has moved between the low 50s to the mid-to-high 50s, that’s again over 50% who aren’t too pleased with his performance as leader of the Opposition.

We are likely to see these trends continue until the next election with voters not particularly liking either leader in terms of their performance. But after all, in our two party system we ultimately pick between two political parties and at the next election, the voter disdain at the performance of the Opposition Leader will not count for much when such a large swing is on the cards. All in all it will surely be a case of who do you despise the least.

Question Time Ahead of Time

We’ve had two weeks reprieve from shouty parliamentary soundbites and nasty exchanges but tomorrow the show rolls back into town in the nation’s capital with a two week sitting period before the long winter break commences and we get some sizable respite from the major arena of political hostilities. The two week period ahead will be the last parliamentary sitting before the carbon price appears on July the 1st and that very subject is almost certainly going to dominate that daily hour of screaming back and forth that we refer to as Question Time.

For the Opposition in Question Time for the next two weeks we can expect well beyond all reasonable doubt that the majority of questions to the Gillard Government from their side will be around the impending carbon tax. This has been the case off and on for some time in the parliament with it dominating the parliamentary debate most of the time when either the Minerals Resource Rent Tax or the Craig Thomson case weren’t the flavour of the day.

It is possible that some of the National Party members or Shadow Environment Minister will get to ask a question or two of the Environment Minister following the announcement on Friday of a swathe of new marine reserves around the Australian coastline. This also could be relegated to a question or questions in the Senate.

The government itself will also focus most of its questions in both chambers of parliament on the carbon tax too after it shared the spotlight with budget commitments since the May 8 fiscal statement. For the government it will be about continuing to sell the compensation package that has begun to roll out and the other associated sweeteners mean to blunt any impact that the price will have and even overcompensate many.

In what may well mirror the Coalition it is almost certain that the Dorothy Dixer will also be used to sell the proposed changes to marine reserves that Tony Burke announced last week, especially since environmental issues, like the Murray-Darling Basin plan have had a minor airing during Question Time in recent sitting periods.

Emotions will be running high again with so much political energy thrown into and burned by talking about and introducing the carbon tax so it can be expected that the 94a will get a workout or multiple MPs will get a stern talking to from the Acting Speaker, Anna Burke as the parliamentary battle rages and perhaps descends into the sad depths it has in recent weeks.

 

 

Coalition Asylum Policy: I’ll See Your Malaysian Solution and Raise You Denying Refugee Claims

Policies on people coming to live in Australia, whether in desperate circumstances or as migrants hoping to make the most of opportunities that Australia has to offer continue to veer toward the insane and abhorrent, even appealing to the xenophobic in some cases. Under the Prime Ministership of Julia Gillard the ALP veered even to the right of the Liberal Party on asylum seeker policy, thankfully failing in getting through the so-called ‘Malaysian Solution’ because of two disparate political parties, the Greens and the Liberal/National Party Coalition.

In roughly the same period of time, we have also been reminded that the Coalition would also like to see asylum seeker boats turned around if safe to do so, slammed by many.

But today we have had the Liberal Party remind us again that temporary protection visa’s, TPV’s for short would be reinstated under a future Coalition Government.

The granting of TPV’s was used as part of the Howard Government ‘Pacific Solution’ which saw boat arrivals dramatically reduced in the early 2000’s until the government lost power in 2007.

The announcement went even further too with a new policy announcement by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and his Shadow Immigration Minister Scott Morrison.

Today it was announced at the press conference held by the two representatives of the Coalition that asylum seekers arriving without identity papers or a passport should not be given refugee status in Australia. The exact wording being that there would be a “strong presumption” that people arriving in Australia without any form of identification would not be given refugee status.

The stance on TPV’s and on the denial of refugee status to people arriving without documentation is problematic.

Visas granting temporary protection assume that in the event a conflict ends within a nation where a refugee has come to Australia from that they will no longer face persecution in that country and in many cases this is just not the reality, persecution of particular ethnic groups can still continue even when broader tensions have ceased.

Of course though, people who wish to return to their country of origin, if they feel it safe to do so, should be able to make that journey home of their own volition.

There too are problems  with denying refugee status to asylum seekers that arrive in our waters without papers which will make them more easily identifiable to Australian authorities assessing their claims.

The first is that in many cases their papers are confiscated by the very people who are plying this horrific trade in human misery, the people smugglers themselves.

Second, where will these asylum seekers be sent when there claims are denied by the government because of having no papers? They cannot be refouled simply because they didn’t have papers, they would need to be sent to another country where they would be free from persecution at least until the veracity of their claims was able to be properly assessed even if made much harder by the lack of documentation.

Put simply, this policy takes the Malaysian asylum seeker deal and says, “Hah I have a stronger hand. So much stronger that it will make yours look like child’s play”.

Very few people deny that the trade of people smugglers needs to be broken, it sure does. But this is simply not the way to do it, using people in this situation as a political football. Both the asylum seeker deal with Malaysia and this increasingly strengthened Coalition policy are und0ubtedly deterrents, but they are the wrong kind of deterrent that could see people needing protection denied that.

What is needed is global action as well as a regi0nal solution where the processing of refugee claims in countries of origin are sped up through concerted global action involving all nations and the agencies charged with assessing refugee claims.

More countries in our region too need to urgently sign and ratify the Refugee Convention so that asylum seeker numbers can be shared around the region more while we still do our fair share.

Indeed an Australian solution is also needed where we increase the numbers we take directly from conflict hot spots and from camps in our region before people get on incredibly shoddy vessels putting themselves at risk of perishing at sea.

It’s a tricky situation but the one-upmanship has to stop and solutions which help vulnerable people and convince them against making expensive and unsafe boat journeys simply have to trump policies which above anything punish these people and put them in further danger.

Question Time Ahead of Time

They say that politics is unpredictable and of late you could not disagree more with that statement, especially when talking about the Question Time strategy employed particularly by the Tony Abbott led Opposition, but also the plan of attack of the Gillard Government. But that all seemed to change for at least yesterdays hour or so of Question Time where the usual focus of the Coalition was turfed out for the most part and the issue of importing overseas workers for a mining project took centre stage in the political debate during Question Time in Canberrra.

This issue came to the fore because of the leadership tensions which it apparently stoked and will likely fizzle out as a story fairly quickly and as a major point of attack for the Coalition who will probably return to the usual suspects of topics if not today, then tomorrow or maybe later this week.

The Coalition may continue to attempt making some political mileage out of the leadership issue tomorrow in relation to the deal struck between Gina Rinehart and the ALP Government, but it will almost certainly be less of a focus than it was during Question Time today.

What seems more likely is a return to the script which has been performed to within an inch of its life and that is the Coalition returning to focus on the carbon tax which will play front and centre of the political strategy and be the major election issue that the Liberal and National Party will fight on during the (presumably) 2013 election campaign.

There might also be somewhat of a focus on the Craig Thomson/HSU debate which despite not being particularly evident yesterday, except for during Senate Estimates still bubbles along as an unresolved issue for the government even though they have ditched the Member for Dobell from the caucus. Pretty much every avenue of parliamentary attack and then some around this issue has been utilised.

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan which is currently being debated in Canberra may also be a subject of parliamentary debate in the House of Representatives, though this is much more likely to occur in the Senate and come from Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce.

The government will likely again focus on the economy with the post-budget message still needing to be sold to the groups targetted in the fiscal statement just weeks ago.

The ALP will also focus the use of the Dorothy Dixer on the Household Assistance Package which will provide compensation for the carbon price which will commence in just over a month on the 1st of July, with initial payments hitting the accounts of pensioners already this week ahead of the introduction of the controversial policy.

It could also be legitimately expected that the Labor Party focus their questions too on a wider range of issues with one or two questions possible about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and other issues not canvassed by the Opposition in which the government thinks they can get a good message out on.

Whatever tomorrow holds, you can be certain that it will be the start of a return to business as usual after some ever so brief respite from the one issue politics that has seemed to dominate political discourse in Australia in recent years and accelerated under this minority government.

All the Question Time action begins at 2pm though you will be forgiven if you decide it’s best to give it a miss.

Question Time Ahead of Time: Post-Budget Day

The budget we all knew was coming and was practically announced before it was formally read out in parliament last night has now passed and today is the day when the Gillard Government will sell the package as a a whole and the Opposition forensically analyse the detail. Question Time will play a big part in that sell for the government and for the Coalition it must be a time to test the government on both spending priorities, cuts and those sneaky deferrals that have been made overnight.

The Coalition will almost certainly not focus all its questions on items from the budget papers, but put up a mix of previously broached subjects as well as mixing those with questions on the budget.

To that end, the Coalition will almost certainly place a focus on the Craig Thomson issue which, despite the budget, continues to be a feature of the day, thanks in large part to the Fair Work Australia report findings that Mr Thomson must answer to a  list of allegations.

The Liberal and National Party Coalition would quite possibly also ask questions on the allegations surrounding the Speaker, Peter Slipper, especially after attempts yesterday on the floor of the House of Representatives to replace him in the chair with the previous Speaker, Harry Jenkins.

However, the budget will probably be the major focus of the Opposition during the session of Question Time today. Expect to see questions on the purported surplus, the spending and deferrals which cast doubt upon the forecast surplus actually achieving its real end.

The lack of business assistance will likely also be put to the government.

For the ALP Government, the focus will be on the social spending programs that have been announced as much as it will be trying to convince the public that the budget will actually finish in surplus by the end of fiscal year 2012-13, a slightly easier task than convincing the parliament.

Undoubtedly, as previous statements have done, the government will focus on talking up the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which now has a monetary figure attached to it: $1 billion over 4 years.

A further focus will also likely be other social spending areas in the budget which includes education payments which will now be directly paid into the accounts of eligible families, a new aged care allocation and an increase to some families in Family Tax Benefit A.

Today will also be the second day with Deputy Speaker Anna Burke occupying the Speaker’s chair during Question Time and looks set to be a noisy one for all involved and Standing Order 94a will probably get quite a workout.

It all begins from 2pm AEST.

More Bad Reading For Gillard Labor

It has become a regular event for some months to see consistently bad poll results for the federal ALP, lagging behind the Coalition, with the occasional uptick sparking hopes among Labor circles that it might lead to a long-term trend toward taking a poll lead on a two-party-preferred basis. For Labor of late that hasn’t been the case, with the polls hovering around the same low mark and even in recent weeks, getting even lower and this week’s Essential Poll fits in with that trend downward.

The primary vote for the Liberal and National Party in the latest Essential Poll remains unchanged from last week, with Coalition support sitting on 50%. By the same measure, the survey has the ALP primary vote on a grand total of 29%, well below the so-called “death zone” and two percentage points down on last week’s primary vote numbers of 31%

On a two-party-preferred basis, the Coalition has a commanding lead in the polls, sitting on 58% versus 42% for the ALP, a result in itself just above the primary vote “death zone”. The 2PP vote count for Labor is 1 down on last week’s count which had the two sides at 57% to 43% respectively.

In somewhat of a double-edged positive/negative, Essential asked respondents how they thought the Australian economy was travelling compared to other countries.

A total of 66% of those surveyed stated that the Australian economy was performing better when measured against those of other nations as opposed to just 15% who said that the economy is worse than those overseas.

This indicates that even though many think the economy is performing better, there are still worries for Australians when they think of the economic performance of the nation. This appears to correspond with a further question asked by Essential Media which shows that 46% of those asked think that the economy will get worse over the next 12 months as opposed to just 23% who think it will get better.

In the same questionnaire, Essential Media also asked which party respondents thought would best manage another Global Financial Crisis, with 42% saying that the Coalition would manage the economy better during another GFC and just 25% indicating that the ALP were capable of managing the economy better than the Opposition.

The Coalition have tended to be referred to by voters as better economic managers, but these results, combined with the continued historically low poll numbers, staying around the same dreadful mark will continue to cause great worry for the ALP.

Bounce, Bounce, Come On Bounce

The latest Newspoll continues to outline the grim and growing reality facing the Australian Labor Party, that barring a major fiasco tainting the Opposition, their hopes for winning the next election, due in 2013 are sinking further and further past the already toxic level it appears they have reached. The commentariat, including those that often are sympathetic toward an ALP Government seem to have roundly deserted praising and supporting the party in the press. This has been particularly the case since the events of the weekend when Craig Thomson and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Peter Slipper, both facing allegations of wrongdoing, were encouraged to appear to ostracise themselves.

The primary vote for the Coalition in the latest Newspoll has hit over 50% of the votes on offer if the polls are to be believed to indicate and mirror electoral reality exactly, now sitting at 51%. The Labor primary vote in the Newspoll released overnight now sits on 27%, close to half that of the Abbott-led Coalition and well into the electoral “death zone”.

In two-party-preferred terms the results could barely get any worse for the Gillard Government, with the 2PP vote now being 59% for the Liberal and National Party Opposition compared to 41% for the government, a result in itself which barely sees the government outside the zone for electoral disaster on two-party terms.

Even in the measure where the Prime Minister could draw at least some form of optimism if not for the hopes of the party, but for her leadership as compared with that of Tony Abott for the Liberal Party provides less cause for optimism. In the preferred Prime Minister stakes, Prime Minister Gillard has dropped 3% to sit on 36%  as opposed to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott who now sits on 41%, a 5 percentage point lead.

Surely the ALP will be saying internally to the polls to “bounce, bounce, come on bounce”, particularly after the budget is delivered on May 8th and after the announcement yesterday that the NDIS, which is projected to help over 400,000 families will commence a year earlier at 4 “launch sites” across Autralia, initially helping 10,000 Australians, but with a “tough budget” supposed to occur, that will likely not turn into a political reality.

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