Tuesday’s Question Time has come and gone and Wednesday’s hour or so of Questions Without Notice is fast approaching a politically weary public who will be looking forward to the winter recess in two days time. Unfortunately for those in that category who still watch the news there will be little let-up in the loud debate over the long winter break, especially with the carbon price commencing this weekend which means so much to both major parties and their strategies, albeit for different reasons.
Question Time on Tuesday was all about the carbon tax again for the Coalition with little surprise there. For the government Tuesday was just as predictable being almost all about budget allocations for low and middle income earners and families, including trying to sell the compensation package for the carbon price which gets closer and closer. There were other issues too which played a minor role but Questions Without Notice was again extremely predictable for the most part.
Question Time tomorrow will of course most likely continue the air of predictability with the carbon tax almost completely dominating the debate in one form or another.
For the Opposition the majority of questions will undoubtedly be about the price on carbon which starts this weekend. The questions will continue to be based on a combination of the Treasury modelling, what lobby groups, companies and other organisations are reporting may be carbon price impacts above and beyond that modelling and perhaps still about the pre-election statement from the Prime Minister on the matter.
As far as the Gillard Government goes, there will also be a large focus again on the carbon tax but from a different angle. The direction the ALP will come at the issue with the use of the Dorothy Dixer during Question Time will be the way they’ve used for some time now and that is to outline the compensation and other benefits that will flow to low and middle income earners and families as a result of the carbon price.
The government, not content with a focus on just one issue could again broaden that out to a wider focus on another area as they have since the budget and that is also about payments and benefits to low and middle income earners. This time we’re talking measures from the budget, of which the Schoolkids Bonus is already flowing to eligible families, but other payments and benefits which include tax concessions are nearing.
It is possible that both sides will mention at some stage the asylum seeker issue though this has been a rather muted subject in Question Time since the tragedy late last week despite the actions and words that have recommenced in earnest outside of Question Time, although the drownings have been raised this week during the afternoon session.
It is also entirely possible that the Peter Slipper case and its developments, particularly over the last 24 hours will get a bit of an airing from the government side again though this will be limited because of sub judice rules as it was when raised yesterday.
That’s likely to be how Question Time will go tomorrow at least as far as the House of Representatives will go. The Senate has more parties and is susceptible therefore to a broader range of topics in the political discourse that is Question Time. One thing is certain: both major parties don’t do surprises particularly well.
The last week of the federal parliament of Australia before the winter recess has swiftly come around and will come to pass just as quickly to the relief of many with the politically inclined the exception to that rule. The sixweek break will mean the news will feature less loud, hysterical grabs for that period of time though the saturation of politics in the media will certainly continue with the carbon price coming into effect at the very beginning of the parliamentary holiday.
The year has so far been dominated by less than a handful of issues: the carbon tax, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT), the Craig Thomson investigation and asylum seeker p0litics.
In recent weeks it has been basically all about the carbon price for both the Coalition and also the government. It would be a completely incredible, indeed miraculous situation if the Coalition did not in the last week before the price begins, continue to use the majority of Question Time in both chambers of parliament to pursue the government on the carbon tax. The Opposition will continue this week, as has been regular practice, to jump on any report by any organisation on predicted price impacts of the incoming price on carbon.
The ALP Government, for its part will also likely continue to focus on the carbon tax through the Dorothy Dixer, the difference here being they will continue to try and sell the message of compensation to low and middle income earners and their families, though if recent poll results are to be believed, that battle for public belief in the compensation package has been well and truly lost.
Late last week and over the weekend another asylum seeker boat tragedy unfolded with a significant loss of life. While the horrific events unfolded debate on the issue was held back. The embers of that debate are now beginning to smoulder again and will likely spark again and become another major element of the Question Time mix for both the Abbott-led Opposition and the Gillard Government as the politics of the issue begins to creep back in after an all too brief let-up. This is the only thing which looks likely to knock the carbon price off its perch in political debate this week.
Environmental issues could creep into Question Time again in a small way with the possibility that debate of the marine reserves may return for the week ahead.
That’s basically the way Question Time is likely to go for Monday, even the week with the major battle-lines having long been drawn by both sides and their approach to just an issue or two, maybe three or four at a time if we’re lucky absolutely relentlessly unless extra topical issues rear their head during the political week.
Yesterday was an abnormally quiet and subdued day by recent parliamentary standards with tempers comparatively subdued and the shoutyness of Parliament House at a more reasonable level. Probably helping the matter was the comparative lack of focus on the Craig Thomson/Health Services Union matter which, while prosecuted during Question Time, didn’t reach the proportions that we have become accustomed to in parliamentary and political debate. The fact that there was again no suspension of Standing Orders motion for the entire hour and ten minutes or so of Question Time today probably served to help quell tempers and give the parliament at least the appearance of a modicum of modesty.
But alas my friends, tomorrow is another day and in this very minority parliament we have learnt that just about any depth will be plumbed and no stone left un-turned. We have also learnt that this 43rd parliament has in it the innate ability to surprise, even if that is rare and surprises cannot be discounted for Question Time today.
But this is probably how it will unfold:
The Coalition have used Monday and Tuesday in Question Time to pursue the matter of the Enterprise Migration Agreement that was struck between the Gillard Government and Gina Rinehart and endorsed today, with further safeguards inserted, by the Labor caucus. They have done so because of the reported divisions and lack of consultation between the Prime Minister and Immigration Minister in the matter so there is a chance that they will continue to pursue this matter in Question Time tomorrow in the House of Representatives, possibly until the end of parliament on Thursday.
A return to an intense focus on the carbon tax by the Opposition is a real possibility, with questions related to the matter rarely being displaced from the main forum of Question Time, especially when the commencement date nears and the compensation has commenced flowing.
It is not unreasonable and indeed completely likely that the Fair Work Australia investigation into Craig Thomson will again be the subject of a question or two, perhaps three when Questions Without Notice commences tomorrow. It is likely that there will be a question or questions related to a memo that was sent three years ago by Fair Work Australia which suggested that the authorities should be called in to inquire into the Health Services Union as there were questions on the matter yesterday.
For the ALP Government the narrative will be just as predictable with it beyond all doubt that the majority of questions tomorrow and on Thursday most likely being all about selling the budget delivered on the 8th of May and also about trying to quell fears about price rises under the carbon tax with the Dorothy Dix being used to outline just what payments particular areas of the population have and will continue to receive as the policy rolls along from July the 1st.
The stage is set, the roles devised and the complexion of Question Time pretty much a certainty except for the exact number of questions focused on each issue and dependent upon there being no left field questions that pretty much nobody saw coming.
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?