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To Tinker or Cut?

Just last week at the National Press Club came an announcement one of the first confirmed and specific funding cuts. Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, in his address flagged that the Coalition will dump the Schoolkids Bonus, a policy change made by the Gillard Government. The upfront payment replaced a tax refund, which required the provision of receipts before the payment was made. To date, the government has made payments to more than 1.2 million families, totaling $588 million dollars.

This decision caused some debate, but, in as important a policy area as education, there can always be more attention focused on the impacts of political actions.

In announcing the decision, Tony Abbott remarked that the Schoolkids Bonus was, “a cash splash with borrowed money”. Is it really that simple? Or should we be looking a little more critically and thoughtfully? And in conclusion, was it right for the Coalition to make the decision to dump the payment altogether?

In politics, every single decision, often every phrase, even almost every word is subjected to the political spin cycle. And politicians love to engage in hyperbole, even if they do not know how to pronounce it. And not much is different here.

The change made by the Gillard Government, in that sense, is open to being called exactly what Tony Abbott referred to it as. The timing of the move and new mode of delivery for the payment are questionable, at least on appearance. It’s an election year and probably close to 9 out of 10 people would expect the government to lose at the September 14 poll – the opinion polls have been saying so and even the betting has the Coalition as stark favourites. So the payment of course could be painted in a way as an electoral bribe. It is also borrowed money.

But on closer inspection, the payment itself is actually of the utmost importance. It’s to be used for the education of Australian children – our nation’s future. The Coalition will have you believe that the payment will not be used for education purposes in all cases and they may be right in some cases. But that way of thinking is very illiberal for a supposed Liberal Party. Conservatives see human nature as flawed, and not liberals. Liberals have a largely positive view of human nature.

Scrapping the payment altogether, apart from being illiberal, is also a bad thing for education and equality. For ‘equality’, read equality of opportunity – that should be the main game in education policy as equality of outcomes is a completely unattainable and unreasonable aim in the area of education policy.

We should be ensuring that absolutely every child and young adult has access to an education. It must not be a one size fits all approach, but access to education tailored to meet the needs of those engaged in it must be without roadblocks. That includes assisting families with the cost of school-related supplies.

What the Coalition should have done, rather than deciding to scrap the payment altogether, was announce that they will seek to reinstate the old Education Tax Refund. But of course the budget is in a bit of a mess and they have instead planned to cut funding in an area of policy-making which should be quarantined from cuts in most circumstances.

The decision is not an electoral game-changer, but it’s not a good choice of policy.

Question Time Ahead of Time

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.

Question Time Ahead of Time

We’re just a day away from the end of another political week in Canberra and it has been a very predictable one as so many have been for as long as can be remembered. It’s also been a fairly tense week with the political tension building as the carbon price nears commencement and both sides dig in for what has been and will be the biggest political battlefield regardless of each sides respective reasons for fighting it. The week has even seen breakouts again of visible vitriol above and beyond the normal cut and thrust of politics and that is a shame.

It’s certain that the carbon tax will continue to be the main game until it is introduced on July the 1st and will continue to be at the top of the political agenda and discourse right up until the 2013 election in one form or another.

The Coalition as they have this week will continue to focus on reports from different organisations which point to differing cost burdens which happen to be above and beyond the Treasury modelling of the carbon price. Their questions will likely again cite reports from these different groups which include peak bodies and lobby groups as well as councils.

As it has since the announcement last Friday, the planned marine reserves announced by Environment Minister Tony Burke is also likely to draw at least a little of the focus of the Opposition, with the member for Dawson in Queensland having asked questions this week on the matter, citing a long list of groups unhappy with the moves.

Immigration matters around Cocos Island after recent arrivals as well as the case of ‘Captain Emad’ have crept into the parliamentary debate again over the first three days of this parliamentary sitting week and could again in some small part during Questions Without Notice.

For the government too it is almost all about the carbon tax, but for them of course it’s all about the compensation payments to low and middle income earners which are to make up for the expected price rise impacts around the carbon tax and the government are fighting a losing battle just trying to get that message out despite the specific focus during Question Time recently.

The ALP Government have also been focusing this week on the Schoolkids Bonus handout which removes the need to keep receipts for tax time and instead provides eligible families with a lump sum payment meant to help with the costs of education. This program has just commenced rollout so likely will result in some questions during the hour and a bit of questions.

The economy in a broad sense, both domestic and comparatively against other nation worldwide has also been a broad theme of Question Time for a while now and that broad theme will continue in an overarching narrative.

As it’s the end of the parliamentary week our politicians will either be too tired to cause much of a fuss or wanting to make waves at the end of a parliamentary week by being the loudest they possibly can, my money’s on the latter and that would be pretty smart money.

Question Time Ahead of Time

We are screaming, both literally and figuratively toward the end of another week of federal politics, or at least our politicians are. Tuesday was rather noisy and vitriolic after somewhat of a reprieve on Monday when Question Time lacked at least some of the bluster we’ve become accustomed to during this 43rd parliament.

In a sure sign that the derp still exists in Australian politics a Coalition MP was forced on Tuesday to withdraw the term “bullet-head”, made in relation to a Government Minister toward the end of Question Time, a very silly and immature interjection indeed.

On top of the level of immaturity creeping back up to a higher level of visibility, the Tuesday session of Question Time again went according to plan except for the government returning some of the political discourse to talking about the education payments announced by the Gillard Government in the May 8 budget.

The Gillard Government are still trying to cut through in relation to the carbon price/carbon tax, call it what you will. In particular the Labor Party are trying to assuage fears that the carbon tax will cost many families more than they have received and/or will get in compensation from the government. This will again be the dominant focus of questions from their own side of politics during Questions Without Notice today.

A second major focus, as it was yesterday will be the schoolkids bonus education payment which was one of the major elements of the budget delivered by Treasurer Wayne Swan just over a month ago. Other packages to families and low and middle income earners from the budget could also make an appearance in Dorothy Dixers.

A further feature, albeit smaller will be the marine reserves announced by Environment Minister Tony Burke last Friday, with the government wanting to parade the announcement both domestically and internationally even though it hasn’t exactly been received well at home.

The Coalition will again mirror the government on at least one count, quite likely two, with questions on both the nearing carbon price and quite likely one or two, perhaps more on the announcement of new marine reserves by Tony Burke.

Tuesday saw a marked increase in volume from the Monday session of Question Time, with Standing Order 94a used on more than one occasion, including to remove the Member for Mackellar, Bronwyn Bishop from the House after she stood to withdraw and said “I withdraw the term bullet head”, one of the more unfortunate interjections of recent times. This kind of behaviour looks set to continue right up until the winter recess, even if it comes in different levels of severity and will probably result in a number of hour-long sin bins over the next 5 sitting days.

Now a sufficient picture of how Question Time will play out exists in your mind you can avail yourself to other opportunities rather than sit through the hour and a bit of mere theatre, though I suspect most of you reading this may have already worked out better plans. If not and you don’t already know, it all kicks off from 2pm.

 

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