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.
The Newman Government in Queensland is less than two months old, but already the hysterical claims of a return to the Bjelke-Petersen era have emerged. These loopy claims started just days a matter of a week or two before the election, when it became clear a landslide was on the cards, which did eventuate and was above and beyond the expectations of just about anyone, serious pundit or not.
Alas, these claims have again been unearthed over the last 24 hours with a furore over a tent embassy, this time in a Brisbane park- it’s certainly been quite a year for those types of establishments/protests.
The tent embassy, based in Musgrave Park has been established for just a couple of months and was began as a protest for the sovereign rights of the indigenous people
Today, Queensland Police were dispatched to the park in West End to evict the demonstrators who ignored an eviction order that was put forward by Brisbane City Council ahead of the Greek Panyiri Festival which has regularly been held in the same park that the protesters have occupied.
It is unclear what stance both parties are taking over the matter, the protest group and the festival organisers, with conflicting claims being aired over whether or not the Panyiri Festival administration were happy for the indigenous protesters to remain in the park while the festival goes ahead this weekend.
Like the protest on Australia Day, the demonstration, this time involving a short-term protest, compared to the decades long Tent Embassy in Canberra raises some questions about rights in Australia and whether or not they are or should be limited.
But first to the hilarious claims of a return to Bjelke-Petersen era politics in Queensland. This is utterly ridiculous and should be laughed at. In the Bjelke-Petersen era protesters were barely even allowed to organise before they found themselves the victims of completely abhorrent laws that were so draconian that Queensland, because of its history, has a terrible reputation around rights and freedoms.
Why are the claims of a return to the dark days of the Bjelke-Petersen era ridiculous in this case you ask? Well that has a lot to do with the fact that protesters in this case were free to commence their protest and have been allowed to since March. The protesters were also able to march on parliament, a n0-no under Sir Joh that would’ve attracted arrest.
What is different about this protest is that an eviction order was issued by the Brisbane City Council and this was flouted, regardless of what you think of the rights or wrongs of the lawful direction asking people to move on from the park facilities. Those involved defied those orders, again whether or not they are right or wrong.
This then still raises the question of whether or not rights should be limited.
We have found, particularly in recent years that freedom of speech in this country, an implied, not legally or constitutionally expressed right does have its limits and is at the whim of a subjective test in the courts.
There are many people that have supported the limited right to freedom of speech that we have in this nation. In this stand-off today, what we have are the same people who supported limiting freedom of speech, protesting against a limited right to freedom of assembly.
What this debate requires is some consistency across all fundamental human rights, whether they have been expressed in law or have been implied. If one right is limited, then we should not be surprised if others are too and should allow all to have limitations.
However, rights and freedoms should ideally be absolute or, where practically possible, with little or no limitation which impedes the rights and freedoms of the individual.
One right should not take precedence over, or be held to a different standard as other basic rights and freedoms accorded to the individual in a democracy. Can we please have some consistency on rights across all groups please?
For some months now we have been hearing reports that the Gillard Government have asked the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, better know as ASIO, to send agents out into the field to spy on coal protesters around the country. These revelations have drawn the ire of the Australian Greens, with whom anti-coal protesters would in many cases have a close allegiance or at least some of the same political aims at least as far as environmental protection goes.
These revelations appeared in Fairfax newspapers this morning following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the media outlet which was directed to the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism. The application was said to be rejected because it involved a confidential document from an “intelligence agency”.
Senator Bob Brown, leader of the Greens has called on the minister responsible for the department, Martin Ferguson to agree to the release of the documents so that the extent of the involvement of Mr Ferguson in organising the surveillance of the protesters can be brought to light.
Revelations of security agencies, be they state or federal police or higher spying on protesters have been around a long time in Australia and indeed many states, notably Queensland in the mid-to-late 1900’s have been clearly observed to have actively participated in the surveillance of protesters. Queensland too came down hard on protesters who marched the streets in contravention of draconian laws during the Bjelke-Petersen era in Queensland, arresting and charging many.
At university, it was also said that ASIO were involved in spying on certain protesters, particularly those of the loopy left who are supporters of groups like S0cialist Alliance and the like, the sort of groups against any use of intelligence services in the first place, be it for peaceful purposes or otherwise.
On occasion when observing protests during my student days, aside from the boys and girls in blue coming onto campus to ensure that protests didn’t get too rowdy and that the targets of protests and university property didn’t have damage inflicted upon them I could have sworn I saw besuited men snapping the protesters getting rowdy.
These were men adorned in black suits, with tell-tale sunglasses with mobile phones raised every now taking happy snaps of the not so happy revolutionaries engaging in chanting incantations, sometimes into the atmosphere and sometimes at the objects of their collective ire, university administrators, public figures and even the police. But then I could just be paranoid with an overactive imagination.
Is it really such a bad thing to have security services engaged in spying on groups in society that are causing a bit of noise, sometimes a bit of damage or even a lot or perhaps even engaged in acts as serious as eco-terrorism?
Perhaps if ASIO are engaged in observing your everyday kind of protest gig where a bunch of people are just getting loud and boisterous and not really causing harm to anyone or property then their attendance would be complete overkill. This is relevant if there is no particular person or group that is being targeted and it is just an issue is being prosecuted by a march of a small group with a few signs.
That all changes when there is someone or a group of people who police or intelligence agencies have identified as being a direct threat to a particular person or persons or the interests of an organisation. In that case, it is entirely justifiable for high-level intelligence agencies to be involved in the investigation and oversight of such militant people or groups.
In all other cases the men and women of our state police would more than suffice as security and surveillance, with the ability to arrest protesters disregarding lawful directions or committing criminal acts.
Surveillance of people in most cases is not a necessary evil, but it is a reality that we have to get used to in some situations, particularly if we have been a bit on the naughty side.