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Question Time Ahead of Time

Day 3 of federal parliament is upon us and will bring with it another rambunctious hour and a half of Question Time from the House of Representatives. We know what the issues will be but not from what angle they will be approached by either side, but the lines are drawn and both sides firmly mired in their respective positions of attack.

The Opposition will again focus on the economy in their attacks of the Government, as they have in the two sessions previous, basing their interrogation around perceived impacts of the carbon tax and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT), to not do so would work against much of the poll gains made.

It is also likely that events surrounding the Member for Dobell, Craig Thomson will be brought into question, again, as they have this week, not so much attacking the man, but attacking the glacial pace of the Fair Work Australia (FWA) investigation. It does so because FWA is the Prime Minister’s baby where under Kevin Rudd Prime Minister, workplace relations was in her portfolio, beginning the post WorkChoices era.

The Government will again focus on the economy from their viewpoint of comparative strength to other economies in relation to jobs, debt and deficit. The overwhelming percentage of Dorothy Dixer’s will focus on these areas from one angle or another.

The Government is also likely to take the opportunity through the Dorothy Dixer to talk about either the perceived benefits of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and the NBN, perhaps even both as they try to establish credibility in delivery, albeit expensive action.

The new shorter questions, shorter answers, shorter Question Time has now been delivered thanks to Speaker Peter Slipper coming to the chair with his own thoughts on the way Question Time and the House of Representatives procedure more broadly should run. The much shorter questions and shorter answers are a good start but could be strengthened further as they have appeared to have little difference on the quality of Question Time, except to herd it into a slightly shorter package.

The final factor to keep an eye on for the final Question Time of the week will be the ever-present spectre of the censure motion being brought to bear by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott or perhaps Manager of Opposition Business, Christopher Pyne. With the almost routine manner  in which we have seen the motion appear it would be remiss of me to not include the eventuality, especially with the Gillard Government failing in so many areas.

Be listening or watching at 2pm AEDT to see what plays out in the theatre that is Question Time. Who will take the upper hand at the end of the first parliamentary sitting week, hoping to convert it into ongoing momentum for the political year?

Question Time Ahead of Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a Year of Decision and Delivery is it the Number of Bills or the Reform Nature of the Bills That Matters Most?

Much has been made of the frankly dreadful year that the Gillard led ALP Government have endured in 2011 against the Abbott led Coalition. The Government has claimed that Tony Abbott is a “wrecker”, but the evidence just does not stack up on that, in fact it points to him having not succeeded in that at all. The only bill shelved so far has been the so called ‘Malaysia Deal’ and that would have been an absolute shame to have seen it go through the parliament.So what matters most when deciding whether the “year of decision and delivery” has been a successful one for the Government? Is it the quantity of bills passed by the parliament (apparently 250 when parliament adjourned for 2011) or is it the quality? In other words depth and reformatory nature of the bills passed.

As just mentioned, no less than 250 bills have been passed by this Labor Government in this sitting year of parliament. A pretty impressive number one would have to admit on the face of it, meaning that a lot of work was certainly done by the Government in the relatively few sitting weeks of parliament.

What the 250 bills passed does not tell is the nature of the bills or the complexity of the legislation that was put before the house. Indeed, the sheer number of bills passed indicates to me that the absolute vast majority were not of a major policy shift or innovation. It indicates that the vast majority were indeed lacking in controversy and by nature, mostly amendments and additions to existing legislation.

So then we must look at the amount of bills of a major nature that made it through both houses of  parliament or those that have gone through the Lower House and are likely to pass the Senate early in 2012.

This year saw the passage of the National Broadband Network (NBN) related bills, the Carbon Tax legislation (all 18 related bills) and the bills for plain packaging of cigarettes through both houses. The Minerals Resource Rent Tax went through the Lower House just last week and will be off to the Senate early next year.

The sheer number and complexity and indeed controversial nature of the major bills passed means some credit should be given for getting them through the parliament at least.

The carbon tax however, is still at this stage a major political problem for the Gillard Government with the public not at all expecting a carbon tax from our current Prime Minister and getting one after a blunt promise was made that Australia would not have one. So effectively, you could cross that off the list.

The NBN is an extremely expensive proposition that will continue to cause some problems but is more popular than the carbon tax and therefore unlikely to see votes seep from the ALP. However, if cost predictions blow out or there are roll-out problems this could cause major headaches the the Labor Government.

The Minerals Resource Rent Tax looks fairly certain to pass parliament, perhaps with further amendments from the Greens in the Senate and is a popular policy with the wider electorate. The Government though will have to watch that the revenue predictions are correct and that a hole doesn’t open up when the Government begins to fund some of the tied in schemes.

The plain-packaging laws are an entirely new proposition globally with the Australian Government being the first to embark upon them. On the face of it, the idea seems to be a very sound one given the immense costs to the health budget from the deadly product. There will be a worry though about trademark infringement which may end up costing the ALP Government significant money.

So the Government you can safely say has completed a fair volume of work in 2011, which if you are of the same ideological bent as me, is not always a good thing, in other words, likely created even more regulation. There are also cautious congratulations due for plain packaging of cigarettes for fear of court challenges and a ‘watch this space’ for the cost and revenue impacts of the NBN. The Carbon Tax and mining tax, well you have heard enough anger about those already.

So clearly it is more about the depth and complexity of bills  far over and above the sheer weight of numbers which are often just a ‘quick fix’ amendment or addition. By any estimation though, the Gillard Government has had a truly awful year, a large blame for that the carbon tax broken promise, but that was not the only thing.

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