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Moving On is the Hardest Thing

The votes are in and the Liberal leadership spill has been averted. Tony Abbott remains the Prime Minister after a party room meeting at 9am confirmed his leadership. The Liberal Party voted 61-39 against a spill of the Leader and Deputy Leader Positions. Just how far into this story are we? Is it a novella or a saga which will continue to play out before our already astonished eyes? Australian politics since 2007 has certainly been an epic tale and will likely continue to be a volatile environment for all of the players, from the voters to the politicians.

The first point to make is both an obvious and not so obvious conclusion. On the face of it the vote of the Liberal Party caucus was an emphatic one. More than half of the MP’s gathered voted at the very least to give the Prime Minister more time.

On the other hand, 39 members of his parliamentary team – over 40% of them and likely multiple ministers – delivered a vote of no confidence in his leadership. And it is a point made by many observers that this is an untenable position. Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke did not save his leadership from a very similar vote to that which the Liberal Party delivered today. And Julia Gillard did not recover from a much better position than the one furnished to Tony Abbott by Liberal MP’s.

It can easily be argued that the Prime Minister would not be able to recover politically if he received as little as 25 or more votes in today’s ballot. The public have largely switched off and that is largely because of Tony Abbott, but also Joe Hockey. It is not the fault of any backroom figures and any move to shift the blame to them is just ridiculous. Politicians make the final decisions and while it is the job of staffers to persuade against particular directions, it is not their fault if good advice is not heeded.

There can be little doubt that Tony Abbott’s leadership will continue to further implode. Prime Minister Abbott has had months to stop making mistakes, without the threat of a leadership spill and has not done so. In recent times he has even appeared to be making fun of his penchant for ‘captain’s calls’. Tony Abbott should be solemnly proving by his actions, at every opportunity, that he is no longer going to make these unilateral decisions. He has not.

The PM can continue to talk about getting himself and the party out of this invidious position, but it will likely be to no avail.

If there was any small skerrick of a chance of Tony saving himself and the Coalition, then the government would have to change or dump some of the policies. The overall narrative simply has to remain, and the public will accept that. Voters accepted the debt had to go under John Howard and Peter Costello – for 12 years. At the very least, the co-payment idea and knights and dames must no longer be countenanced, even at arm’s length or in consultation with others. Recent history shows any changes will be cosmetic.

The current Treasurer’s commission has to be terminated too, regardless of whether Tony Abbott wants to stay in the job or not. Joe Hockey has gone from a pretty good Shadow Treasurer to a hopeless and abrasive embarrassment in the Treasury portfolio. Mr Hockey lacks the temperament to be able to deal with difficult negotiations. He has been far too stubborn. The trouble here is that the best candidate for the job is also the ideal replacement to Prime Minister Tony Abbott – Malcolm Turnbull.

The Treasury portfolio does deliver a difficulty in terms of the leadership equation. If there is no change of the leadership of the Coalition and at the same time, the Treasury portfolio, within a month, any new economic team after that would have less than two months to prepare the budget.

If the Liberal Party were to give Tony Abbott a further 6 months as leader and keep the Treasurer, as has been reported, then problems would arise on that front too. An incoming leadership team and their likely new bean counter would have to sell or quickly dump elements of a budget delivered by a politically compromised team.

Obviously the situation is absolutely dire. The Coalition will be in an even worse position if a likely transition to a new leader is not handled well. Another spill would not look great, even thought it would almost certainly deliver a new Liberal leader. The Liberal Party will need to be mature and know that the best way forward, whether it be almost immediately or after 6 months, is an orderly transition. Tony Abbott will have to swallow his pride and resign when it gets to that point.

This is not an easy situation to be in. But it is a situation cultivated by less than a handful of people and allowed to continue by dozens more. The actions of a few in that handful of people could determine how the next 18 months plays out.

Where’s That Button?

Calendars have only just been flipped over to February and already so much has happened in Australian politics this new year. In just a few weeks the government’s standing has gone from bad to worse. Many of the government’s woes over the last 18 months have been as a result of difficult policy decisions made in response to the less than ideal budgetary position. A lot of the government’s troubles are also down to Tony Abbott’s leadership and the style of governance he has allowed to linger. So far in 2015 all the missteps are down to Tony Abbott – and only Tony Abbott.

That brings us to today, the 2nd of February, 2015. The Prime Minister made a rare appearance at the National Press Club today in a bid to give the public a taste of a government finally engaging with the public and proving that they have begun to listen to voter concerns.

Election night in Queensland drew our attention to the address in spectacular fashion, with Jane Prentice nominating it as a forum at which the Prime Minister had to perform some kind of miraculous recovery effort – setting out a way to escape the doldrums.

Unsurprisingly, Prime Minister Abbott was unable to perform this feat. There were ever so slight slivers of hope that the speech might give some kind of direction. At best it was a tired, spent leader trying to conjure up a final burst of energy, sprinting a bit, but wobbling at the crucial moment. At worst it was a display of arrogance and disdain for voters. Actually, it was probably a mix of the two.

The Prime Minister started by making some broad statements about what government should do and followed that with what his government had done and what it could both do, and do better.

In reality, what the Prime Minister should have done first was to move pretty swiftly into apology mode. Almost the whole speech could have been one long mea culpa, with a little bit of what he and the government were going to do for the next 18 months thrown in at the end.

Making broad statements about what governments should do is irrelevant when you have already achieved government. You draw attention to the fact that you are not doing those things if you need to spend time talking about them. Furthermore, it is the talk of an Opposition Leader and that is not a good look 18 months into office.

In other words, Tony Abbott had his speech in completely the wrong order.The resulting display was at least one-third waffle and two-thirds slight improvement.

The arrogance sprang from the way the Prime Minister took so long getting to what everyone was made to believe was the point of the speech – an apology for taking voters for mugs and a new way forward. In the case of a new way forward, we only got a brief glimpse of that, but again it was all vision and no substance. Again, something expected of Oppositions early on in a political term.

Shockingly, the Prime Minister also implied that voters were stupid and had encountered a “fit of absent-mindedness” in the Victorian and Queensland elections. Even a rookie politician knows that this kind of thought must not be put into words publicly, regardless of whether it is a correct observation or not.

It was tired precisely for the reasons mentioned above, in that there had been little thought and substance woven into the speech. And the Prime Minister looked tired too. There was very little energy put into the delivery, except when the PM mentioned the few things his government has actually done. The fact that came so early gave the address a valedictory feel.

Tony Abbott has spoken multiple times of hitting the reset button. On each occasion he has instead forgotten that the metaphorical button ever existed in the first place. Today was another one of those days for the struggling leader.

Today could have been Tony Abbott’s last chance to save his leadership and he did a very poor job of fighting for it . Or perhaps he knows that he is a spent force and today’s speech was simply going through the motions. He did however imply that his colleagues would have a fight on their hands to unseat him.

It is pretty clear from some of the facial expressions of his colleagues, captured on film throughout the hour, that they had noticed his suboptimal performance too.

Applying a Key Policy Rule to Kevin’s Bid to Change Labor

The last three years in particular have been a time of much discussion and soul-searching within the Australian Labor Party. A little over three years ago a first-term PM was deposed with the aid of powerful factional forces and replaced with his deputy. The party vote plummeted not long after the 2010 election and after three years of internal chaos and division the vanquished Kevin Rudd was returned as Labor leader and Prime Minister by more than half the ALP caucus.

Upon his return – and leading up to it actually – the revived Prime Minister promised change. Kevin Rudd promised us that he had changed. He was no longer a micro-managing, frantic and overbearing leader of the Labor Party. Rudd also promised a slight policy shift in certain areas.

By far the biggest, most publicised element of Rudd’s change agenda is the internal reform proposals he has put forward since he was returned as Australia’s Prime Minister. These matters’ of Labor housekeeping include proposed changes to how the party selects and disposes of a leader and how a future Labor ministry will be picked.

There are of course changes which have been proposed as a result of the events in New South Wales, but this piece is not concerned with those proposed changes.

People in policy know of one basically universal rule which applies to policy decisions, and that is that there are almost always unintended consequences – pros and cons of almost every choice made. There are possible unintended consequences and negative outcomes from the ALP renewal proposals which Prime Minister Rudd will put to the party on July 22.

On the potential plus side, a PM free from the knife-wielding wrath of backbenchers with intense factional loyalties would ensure leadership stability and promote a feeling of certainty across the electorate at large – most importantly with the swinging voter who might have backed the party in at the ballot box.

On the face of it, it may not appear that there are downsides to Kevin Rudd’s announcement that a Labor Prime Minister elected by the people will not face the knife of backbenchers, except under extraordinary circumstances.

But there is a downside. A leader who becomes toxic to the party in an electoral sense would be next to impossible to remove as the criteria for removal is set pretty high. A leader would only face removal after having brought the party into disrepute according to 75% of the caucus.

It is also rather difficult to argue against the idea that the rank-and-file members of the Australian Labor Party have a fifty percent say in the election of a leader for the parliamentary arm of the party. The move is quite democratic and fair and rather unique in the Australian political environment, though whether or not it will result in more people rushing to join the ALP is less than clear.

On the downside, the process will be potentially expensive and would leave the party effectively leaderless for 30 days after a wrenching defeat.

With regard to the ideas put forward by Rudd on the leadership side of the equation, there have also been fears that branches will be stacked by unions trying to gain more influence under a slightly less union-friendly environment within the party organisation if these changes are successfully passed.

In terms of parliamentary reform, the other thing Rudd has proposed, which has been flagged for some time, is a restoration of the ability of the ALP caucus to decide who wins coveted ministerial positions.

With caucus able to determine the frontbench, there is the potential for less division within the caucus. Only those with majority support would be successful, leading to a stable team. At least that’s the theory.

With caucus again able to elect ministers, the factions are as important as ever. The powerful factions will dominate the ministry. Those with little factional loyalty, and even those more suitably qualified, may miss out on roles altogether, though the latter will happen regardless of the model for choosing the frontbench.

Kevin Rudd has probably moved as much as he could. What caucus decides will be keenly watched by political observers, though the whispers appear to indicate that the changes will be agreed to by the party room when it meets in a couple of weeks’ time. What the broader union movement feels and how they react will also be a point of interest.

Whatever the outcome, there are potential consequences, good and bad.

What to Look Forward to in Australian Politics This Year

Okay, so for some the title of this post will perhaps be a bit of a misnomer. There will be some that are really looking forward to what 2013 means in terms of Australian politics, and there will be others that have greeted the start of 2013 with a sense of dread. Regardless, it’s going to be an epic year on the frontline of the political battle, with the coming months a winner takes all period in politics.

So why will some think of politics in 2013 with a sense of foreboding, and others with a feeling of political glee? In short, it’s because of an event, an 8 letter word starting with ‘e’. Give up? Of course you don’t. You’re thinking, well duh, he’s clearly talking about the federal election. And you would be 100% correct.

Coalition supporters and those swinging voters that have long switched off Labor are itching to have their say at the ballot box. On the other side, you have some Labor supporters that think the job can still be done, who are relishing the contest. Then you have others who feel the election is lost- and it almost certainly is.

The election year will bring something that was conspicuously absent in 2012 and that is serious policy announcements and refinement of existing policies. The politics of personality will still be played and pursued with the same level of vim and vigour as it was last year, but at least there will be a much more positive side to the political discourse as the election- likely sometime from August, approaches.

But with the good of an election year also comes the not so good. Promises will be made and most kept. However, some will inevitably be broken. In years gone by, we had ‘core’ and ‘non-core’ promises, but this has been replaced. We still have policies readily announced, to be implemented as soon as possible, but now in the political lexicon we have a little something called ‘aspirational’ policies. The latter are policies that are usually big commitments and worth implementing, but because of fiscal concerns will be flagged as something for the future. But like non-core promises, surely some will never, ever be introduced.

This election year, do not expect big-spending promises- well, at least not new ones anyway. Expect the Opposition, as they have since the early days of the Labor Government, to spend a significant amount of time focusing on the budget position. According to the polls, good economic management is something strongly associated with the right side of the political spectrum, so why wouldn’t the Coalition take every chance to prosecute this?

Election years also bring carefully targeted spending commitments from governments struggling to maintain their grasp on power and that will not be any different, despite the poll result appearing to be a fait accompli.

Aside from the budget, expect taxation, chiefly the carbon price and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, to continue to be a major feature in the political to-and-fro. According to the polls, the former is becoming less of an issue for the government, though still it still at this stage presents a problem.

Budget and taxation aside, the election campaign, which feels like it has already been going for some time will largely be a case of both sides of the spectrum trying to position themselves as stable and able to provide effective government.

Like any given year, whether there is an election pending or not, parliamentary sessions take place. Expect the commonwealth parliament to be a slightly different beast, but not altogether foreign to those of us who observed parliamentary politics in 2012. Undoubtedly there will be much more substance in the parliamentary debate this year, but the same noise and antics will be an ever-present feature, with the theatre that is parliament convening for the first time this year in early February. But of course, the election is all that just about anyone in the general public cares about.

It’s only early January and things are yet to heat up, apart from the weather. But do not let the relative silence fool you, because 2013 is set to be one frenetic year. The election is the event to look forward to this year. Then again, maybe not.

Old Lessons Still Proving Hard to Learn for Confused Labor

Labor had been in the doldrums for a long time and then along came a Newspoll, probably errant, but buoying the ALP nonetheless. That pleasant feeling must not have lasted for long. Another Essential Media poll this week put the lead Coalition lead at about where it has been this year, 55% for the Opposition and 45% for the Gillard Government. As if the realisation that things were likely nowhere near as good as they seemed last week, along came Lindsay Tanner today to make unpleasant feelings a whole lot worse.

The former ALP MP and Finance Minister under the leadership of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd again sparked the flames that Labor probably felt had been extinguished, or at least brought under control after the February leadership vote which Mr Rudd lost so comprehensively. But far from just rubbing salt into the slowly healing Labor Party wounds in relationship to leadership matters, Mr Tanner also ventured deeply into criticisms of the ALP, questioning whether or not they still hold any values.

The former frontbench MP today said of the decision to dump Kevin Rudd for Julia Gillard that it was a “poll-driven panic” which of course even the most casual of political observers, even the uninformed, would say is an accurate classification of the circumstances and events that saw Kevin Rudd so ruthlessly dumped by the Labor Party.

He goes on to say that the factional bosses have learnt from the shockingly stupid and incredibly premature move in mid 2010. That is almost certainly the case too. While now actually faced with little to no prospects of re-election for a long period of time, the Australian Labor Party have remained strongly attached to the leadership of Julia Gillard.

Again covering old territory, though slightly more recent, Tanner said that the strongly vitriolic criticisms directed at Kevin Rudd, just prior to and during the February leadership brouhaha were silly then an would have lasting consequences for the electorally troubled party.

But where the dismay at the ALP from Lindsay gets more interesting, though no less dated, indeed, arguably much more long-term than the Rudd leadership coup and internal party ructions around that, is whether there are any Labor values anymore. He says that “the Labor Party is ceasing to be an incubator and a driver of reform.”

This is not far from the truth. Despite what you think about the costs and benefits of the National Broadband Network, which are both high and highly questionable, it is essentially a Labor reform and one that would have historically been recognised as such.

There are other Labor reforms, like the NDIS and the recent Gonski and dental health announcements which would be recognised as Labor reforms. But these have tended to be grand announcements which the ALP has little or no intention of funding, nor would they think that their administration would have to fund them, though part funding has been allocated to both the National Disability Insurance Scheme and oral healthcare changes. In the case of the NDIS too, Tanner says the design and development was outsourced to the Productivity Commission and would not have been in the past.

Tanner goes on to say that the Labor Party is becoming “a reactor, a passive political player that sits there responding to circumstances and pressures rather than being the driver of where our nation heads.”

This suggests that Tanner believes the ALP is becoming more conservative in nature, that is not tending to engage in change because it might be the smart thing to do in certain policy areas.

The use of the word ‘reactor’ by Mr Tanner also tends to bear out this argument as conservatives too, when actually engaging in change tend to react well behind the curve.

It has become clear, through actions too, particularly post-Rudd that the plea of the former ALP PM in 2010 to not swing to the right, has fallen on deaf ears. Almost immediately the new Prime Minister swung to the right on asylum seekers, a move that probably resulted in a wry smile on the face of former Prime Minister John Howard.

But again, this is old news. The party of the right, the Liberal Party swung farther to the right, from social liberal mixed with some religious conservatism to almost full-blown conservatism with a little liberalism mixed in from time to time. This probably occurred earlier than Labor began their evolution into a party that doesn’t particularly represent their traditional values.

Uncomfortable for some, this could be largely down to political realities which appear to show that some form of conservatism suits the people, those going out to vote. But both sides of politics could lose more true believers of the ideologies that are supposed to dominate the core thinking of the two major political parties.

These lessons from Tanner are in no way new, apart from the fact that this is really the first time he has publicly directed both barrels at the party he once served in government. What his words do is bear out some truths in the shift that has occurred in ALP politics both after Kevin Rudd and more broadly over the political history of the ALP, the last 15 to 20 years in particular.

Tanner’s words, repetitive as they are, also prove that these lessons, though repeatedly taught are proving hard to learn from.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Parliament and Question Time are back after just a weekend break. It has been a rather eventful weekend, with tensions exploding from within elements of the Islamic community of Australia in response to a lame video by an American individual. The government here and most across the Western world, including the United States of America, were quick to condemn the video when it became known. These events seem likely to change the complexion of Questions Without Notice early in the week at least as the government seeks to explain their position and possibly answer questions on the matter from the Opposition.

Last week, like the previous sitting week, was all about the Opposition asking questions about the spending priorities of the Gillard Government, especially in relation to the budget, which the government is trying to say, will return to surplus.

The carbon price was next in line on the list of priorities of the Coalition, with a number of questions on the issue throughout the week. But unlike many previous weeks in this, the 43rd parliament, it actually took a backseat to something else on the political agenda of the Liberal and National Party Coalition.

Of course too, it would not have been a parliamentary week, or even a week in politics in general, without the Tony Abbott led Opposition asking the government some questions on asylum seekers and refugees.

The government again continued to have their backbencher’s ask questions on a number of issues including the economy, health, education, infrastructure, the environment and workplace relations as well as immigration.

In the week ahead, not much is likely to change as far as the overall make-up of Questions Without Notice goes. Early on in the week, probably limited to Monday, there is likely to be a question or questions from both sides of the political fence as Australia seeks to make sense of the angry protests which took place at the weekend.

After that, it is likely that the Coalition and the government will return to other issues. But the policy areas considered will likely remain the same.  Only the number of questions on each regular issue will change.

Asylum seekers might well dominate the week, at least early on, as the Opposition seeks to goad the ALP into allowing the re-introduction of Temporary Protection Visas and the turning back of asylum seeker vessels. This comes after the first asylum seekers have begun to head to Nauru

If asylum seekers isn’t the main political game this week, it will again be government spending priorities, taxation and the budget that make up the majority of questions that come from the Liberal and National Party’s.

That small matter of the carbon price will also make an appearance, but it may not be as prominent again as it has been in previous weeks of parliament.

The Labor Government for their part will also aim to respond to the events of the weekend during Question Time, with Government MP’s likely to ask a question or questions on the matter, but probably limited to Monday.

After that, attention will again to return to the spending priorities of the government, those announced and half-announced, including health, education and infrastructure in particular. There will however, also be questions on the environment, the economy in general and workplace relations.

The only unknown factors in Question Time are the exact make-up of questions on each issue, whether any other topical issue arise during the week and just how bad the behaviour is and how hammy the theatre.

So the Previous Stupidity from the Australian Christian Lobby Wasn’t Enough?

There’s a big debate going on in Australia about marriage equality. The issue has been elevated in the public consciousness very successfully over the last 5 years. Same-sex marriage has now become so popular as an ideal that it now continuously receives poll support of more than 50%. The recent ALP National Conference voted in favour of allowing a conscience vote in the federal parliament on allowing people in single gender relationships to wed. This was received with congratulations, even though a motion to change the party platform so that the Labor Party could pursue the issue as a party bloc failed. There is still much pressure on the Liberal Party to allow their MP’s the same courtesy when the legislation comes to a vote in Canberra.

In light of these developments it was odd that Julia Gillard, one was asked to speak at the Australian Christian Lobby, given that her party would be able to use their consciences in a vote on the legislation and two, that she accepted the invitation from the controversial and homophobic lobby group. The Prime Minister is, after all, not even a Christian. For some reason though, and one that’s  proved hard to explain, the Prime Minister is personally against a change to allow for same-sex couples to join in marriage.

But today, Prime Minister Gillard has announced that she will no longer speak at the ACL conference when it takes place. This comes after horrific comments yesterday from ACL head, Jim Wallace which have sparked outrage from supporters of equal marriage.

The PM, in pulling out of her speaking duties at the conference said that Mr Wallace’s comments in a debate last night over the issue were “heartless and wrong”. That’s bang on the truth.

The controversial ACL chief last night said “I think we’re going to owe smokers a big apology when the homosexual community’s own statistics for its health – which it presents when it wants more money for health – are that it has higher rates of drug-taking, of suicide, it has the life of a male reduced by up to 20 years”.

Mr Wallace went on to say “The life of smokers is reduced by something like seven to 10 years and yet we tell all our kids at school they shouldn’t smoke.”

So there it is, the head of the ACL compared the health of people in single-sex relationships to that of smokers, a strange journey into the absurd that we’re no stranger to from the likes of the Australian Christian Lobby.

For his part, today Mr Wallace denied that he was comparing the health effects of smoking and same-sex partnerships, but from the comments it doesn’t take a master of the English language to work out that that’s the exact comparison that he was making.

But this isn’t the first case of verbal or textual diarrhoea and homophobic comments from Jim Wallace. Every so often the Managing Director of the ACL lets his fingers or his mouth spew forth ridiculous statements including the incredibly hilarious argument that allowing gay marriage would mean that bestiality and other unacceptable practices.

The fact that this isn’t the first stupid foray into the same-sex marriage debate from Mr Wallace calls into question why Julia Gillard agreed in the first place to speak at the Australian Christian Lobby national conference.

Polls show that even a significant number of Christians support allowing same-sex couples to marry and those attending church on a regular basis are in the minority, so why give so much attention to such a group? Perhaps the Prime Minister thinks that it’s one group of voters that she can manage to hold onto as the Labor Party head towards a likely election defeat in 2013.

It must be said though, that Julia Gillard isn’t the first Prime Minister or Australian political leader to court the attentive ears of the Australian Christian Lobby, leaders previous have done so. So perhaps the organisation does curry more favour than surface examinations show.

But that’s beside the point. The point is that there have been a number of stupid assertions from Jim Wallace and the ACL and the Prime Minister, desperate for attention should not have even considered speaking at the conference unless it was to correct some of the offensive rubbish that has been released.

A New Kind of Question Time for Australia, We’ve Earned It

Question Time, that hour and a bit of politics most sitting days, that Australians despise even more than the broader political discourse itself. Questions Without Notice frustrates everyone, from those who accidentally stumble across it on television or the radio and feel like they’ve had acid poured on them to the rusted on supporters that subject themselves to it freely on a regular basis.

Question Time in particular needs new rules to make it work better.

Some of the following are serious rule changes, the others, clearly not. The point is, that Question Time is still a joke despite changes to the Standing Orders- the rules that govern parliament and Question Time, when Australia discovered they’d voted for a minority government.

The Speaker of the Lower House is a very important position in the scheme of things. There should be a change which sees an independent Speaker, not necessarily an Independent MP, ideally a suitably qualified member of the public, elected to take the chair. This Speaker would ideally be elected by a popular vote of the people, but if an Independent MP or other suitable person were to be elected by the parliament, with at least 2/3 of the parliament in agreement, this would suffice.

Next cab off the rank- questions. Debate is not allowed in questions and questions asked in the House of Representatives are now limited to 45 seconds and to 1 minute in the Senate. This is simply too long.

Questions in the lower house of parliament should be limited to no more than 30 seconds- 15 to 2o seconds would be brilliant. It would be preferable, indeed beneficial, if questions asked in the Senate were limited to the same amount of time. Y0u could call it ‘The Katter Clause’.

The so-called ‘Dorothy Dixer’ should be completely removed as a feature of the parliament. If the government of the day wants to talk about their policies, have a press conference. Question Time should be all about holding those on the government benches to account, not allowing them a public relations exercise.

In addition, as far as questions go, there should be a new rule that business, education and health must be the focus of a certain number of questions every week. In an ideal world, that would mean one question in each area every day that parliament is in session.

Answers to questions asked during Question Time, in fact at any time, by anyone, politician, journalist or citizen during any political discussion involving our parliamentarians invoke very strong feelings. Even with a new ‘direct relevance’ clause our politicians waffle, blissfully aware that they are nowhere near answering a question.

Politicians should, as a matter of course, be ordered to be directly relevant to every single question asked of them from the moment they open up their traps. Any minister not immediately relevant is sat down by the independent Speaker. This will be hard for, well all of them, but if they want our respect they have to be weaned off the bullshit.

Not only that, but the time limit for answers to initial questions should be at least halved- from 3 minutes to at least as little as 1 minute and 30 seconds, but it would be glorious if answers could be limited to just 1 minute.

Ideally too, a device to measure decibels should be installed and if any one politician records more than a reasonable amount of loudness, they are sat down for their screeching. Call it a screechometer if you like.

The number of point’s of order that can be raised should be unlimited.

If in the course of Question Time the Opposition wants to table a document that they say supports their claim, in the interests of openness and accountability this should always be allowed.

Interjections really get under the skin of both sides of politics, they appear to cause the most angst in both chambers. They result in name-calling and can completely destroy the tone of any reasonable debate that exists in the parliament. If someone is overheard making offensive remarks about another politician across the chamber, they should be immediately booted, but only after being asked to withdraw first.

Both the government and the Opposition should have what could be described as a ‘captain’s challenge’. This would be a rule where the Prime Minister or Manager of Government Business on the government side and the Leader of the Opposition or Manager of Opposition Business on the other side can call for a video review by a third umpire when they think interjections are at their loudest on the opposite side. Question Time is then stopped and on the video evidence, anyone found interjecting on the opposite side of the chamber is immediately evicted for an hour under Standing Order 94a.

A bullshit meter was also considered, but frankly, they would cost too much as they’d be broken a number of times every day and our economy simply could not support that kind of spending.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Question Time for Wednesday has come and gone. It was a rowdy affair from the start, but appeared to quiet down towards the end as the variation in Dorothy Dixer’s crept in and the initial boisterous behaviour of both sides over the carbon price questions relaxed just a little at least.

It was a little surprising that the Opposition did not choose to use just one more session of Question Time to have a bit of fun over the half-pike on asylum seeker policy which will see offshore processing return to Nauru and Papua New Guinea in the near future. The House of Representatives passed the amended bill just before Question Time today with the support of the Opposition and is assured of passing through the Senate.

Instead of just one more day attacking the Gillard Government over offshore processing, the Coalition chose to resume hostilities over the recently commenced price on carbon. This returns the debate to the long-term issue which has been the main debate of the 43rd parliament since that August 2010 statement from the Prime Minister just prior to the election that brought us a minority government.

The questions from the Liberal and National Party Opposition were largely centred around price rises and the carbon tax as they have been for some time and will likely continue to be right up until the next election due around mid-2013. Carbon tax questions were also about the broken promise as they have been since it was broken.

The government, for it’s part also chose to have a focus on the carbon price. Again, they too returned to their common strategy on the issue which is to highlight the compensation available to low and middle income earners in an attempt to compensate for associated price rises.

There were also Dorothy Dixer’s on the aslyum seeker bill that passed the lower house, as well as on the National Disability Insurance Scheme and education reform.

And so it goes that this gives us a hint of what is to come during Questions Without Notice on Thursday, the last session for the week.

It is now certain that, barring any last minute topical subjects, that Question Time will be dominated by questions from the Opposition on the carbon price as it applies to price rises as well as that promise.

The government will also likely return to the carbon price fight again with questions from backbenchers based around the payments and tax cuts that will be received in return for the introduction of the policy.

It is entirely possible that in the Dorothy Dixer mix will be questions on the NDIS and education reform as there were in the previous session.

With Standing Order 94a used on Wednesday and the noise in the parliament not abating, will there be more of the same tomorrow? Or will our parliamentarians ease into the weekend after a full-on week? The answer to the former is a definite ‘yes’ and the latter a certain ‘no’

Fitzgibbon Airs the Obvious and Again Opens Wide the Leadership Question

Leadership rumblings: they’re like a perennial thing in politics these days unless it seems you’ve had the same Prime Minister or Premier in for more than a term or so and doing consistently well. Comments last night from Chief Government Whip, Joel Fitzgibbon, whilst not explicitly suggesting or admonishing Julia Gillard to depart from the top job have added fuel to the leadership fire. This fire began smouldering basically on the day Ms Gillard snatched the leadership from Kevin Rudd 2 years ago with the public not taking particularly kindly, especially in Queensland, to the move to oust Rudd from office. Throw in an array of political and policy failures along the way, some neglected under Kevin Rudd and not dealt with or attacked in the wrong way by Julia Gillard and that inferno is now well and truly alight.

The appearance of Joel Fitzgibbon, a key Gillard-backer just months ago during the February leadership spill brought on by the Prime Minister on Q&A raised not just the question of who would be leader at the next election, Gillard, Rudd or a third candidate, but also exactly what qualities and appeal that leader would need to possess to be electorally enticing.

From the outset, it is important to point out that the next election for Labor, despite leadership choice will surely be a lost cause for the ALP. Not only will it be a loss for the government, but on polling numbers for months on end, it has the makings of an epic defeat where the Labor Party could be all but wiped out in Queensland.

To lose an MP or two in Queensland, without gaining any elsewhere would be a big enough worry for the ALP Government so on the nose with the public and enough to seal their fate. But the government also look likely to have trouble saving seats in New South Wales too which due to it’s population has a number of seats on offer that the Coalition failed to grab, but could easily have won in 2010.

Staying with Prime Minister Gillard will almost certainly lead to a massive defeat, with the current Prime Minister seen by the public as the face of the credibility crisis that the Labor Party faces at the present time. Out of the three leadership options of Gillard, Rudd or anyone but Rudd and Gillard it is the one likely to lead to the biggest electoral defeat.

Were Labor to go with the second option, a return to Rudd, they would need to mend the massive wounds caused by the Rudd-Gillard spat which has been continuing even since the PM secured 2/3 support of her party room in the February ballot for the ALP leadership. That would mean countless ministers either resigning their posts and as they said at the time, refusing to serve under Kevin Rudd or it would mean a reconciliation of sorts between these senior figures and the reinstated PM. The latter would be hard for the public to buy with the harsh words splashed across the news just months ago and the former would just add to the electoral rot.

That said, in spite of the immense problems a Rudd return would bring, it would serve at the moment as the best option that the ALP have to at the very least save some of the furniture and perhaps do a bit more than that. But it would also give the Liberal and National Party much more electoral fuel to run with and ultimately likely still end up with a Labor electoral loss.

This is where Mr Fitzgibbon’s comments about populism mattering in politics come to the fore. Kevin Rudd is by far the most popular person in politics in Australian in just about any poll that is realised and that is despite the Opposition under Tony Abbott enjoying such an extensive lead in the race for The Lodge. It is true though that a Rudd return has been shown to translate into a winning position for the ALP but this would have to be accompanied by policy backdowns and reversals at the very least.

The idea of populism mattering in politics doesn’t just apply to leadership too. Populist politics as far as policy development and implementation goes is also smart politically, at least in limited use over ideologically pure politics and is common practice of just about any democratic government anywhere in the world.

A third candidate would probably be the most disastrous option with none of the floated alternatives, be it Stephen Smith, Bill Shorten, Simon Crean or otherwise polling anywhere near competitive in preferred leader stakes. It would be best to save one of these candidates until after the election to lead the Labor Party in a process of rebuilding rather than to waste them on an election they would lose and not admirably.

All in all it looks at least for the foreseeable future that the government will persevere with Julia Gillard as Prime Minister, but you would have to think that Kevin Rudd or a third candidate, regardless of the pitfalls are still options that are being canvassed, surely with electability being foremost on the collective mind of the caucus.

Labor have a lot of questions to ask inwardly of themselves over the next 12 months before the 2013 election but basically every answer will be a completely negative one with the most important question then being “what do we do to help put us in the best position to rebuild in a fast and efficient manner”. Also, a little dose of populism despite the ugliness of the term in politics might just help a little.

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