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.
Henry Alfred “Harry” Jenkins entered the federal parliament in Canberra representing the electoral division of Scullin from February 1986. He replaced his father, Dr Harry Jenkins who served in the electorate from 1969 until his son replaced him in office. Today Mr Jenkins announced that his now 26 years in the parliament would be coming to an end at the 2013 federal election, one the ALP is almost certain to lose.
Harry Jenkins’ father after 14 years in the parliament rose to the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives under the former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke, serving in the role for 3 years from 1983 until his retirement in 1986 when his son took up the role of MP for Scullin.
It (the Speaker’s chair) appeared a place that Harry Jnr was destined for. Seven years after becoming the member for Scullin, Harry Jenkins, in 1993 under Prime Minister Paul Keating was Deputy Speaker for 3 years until the 1996 election when John Howard won government from the longest serving Labor administration of Hawke and Keating.
After the election of the Howard Government, Jenkins enjoyed the support of the lower house to become the 2nd Deputy Speaker during John Howard’s government, a role he stayed in until the end of the Howard Government in late 2007.
When Kevin Rudd was swept to power in a crushing defeat for the Howard Government, in office for over a decade, Harry Jenkins was elected by the house as Speaker, the role his father had enjoyed. He stayed in this role under both Prime Minister Rudd and his successor, PM Julia Gillard. The MP for Scullin served in the role until he left under interesting circumstances, suddenly one morning late in 2011 informing the parliament he would resign from his role to become a regular everyday MP.
It is widely acknowledged by both sides of parliament, Labor and Liberal alike that Harry Jenkins was a good and fair practitioner in the role of Speaker, helped along in the later years by changes to the Standing Orders, the rules that dictate how House of Representatives process is undertaken and policed.
Manager of Opposition Business and Liberal MP for Sturt, who enjoyed a run-in or two with the long-serving Speaker Jenkins said today that Mr Jenkins’ retirement would be “our loss, but his family’s gain”.
In acknowledging the bipartisan respect for the role Mr Jenkins played as Speaker, Mr Pyne also said “I always found Mr Jenkins a fair Speaker. It is a tough job and he did his best to perform with dignity.”
Mr Jenkins was also a Speaker known to take little nonsense from misbehaving MPs, with a healthy appetite for the usage of Standing Order 94a which allows for naughty MPs constantly interjecting or calling other MP’s names among other things to be sent from the chamber for one hour in what should become known as the “coffee order”.
Life largely away from politics beckons, about a year from now should all go to plan, for an MP who is the longest serving Labor MP in the House and the second longest serving MP currently in the parliament, behind Phillip Ruddock.
May his future be bright and his future dealings be with slightly less boisterous individuals than the MP’s he presided over.
Last night former New South Wales Premier and current NSW Opposition backbencher provided some interesting advice to the ailing federal Labor Government headed by Prime Minister Julia Gillard. That advice, given on a political program on Sky News last night by the once Premier of the state of New South Wales was for the federal parliamentary party to completely revoke, or at least water down the controversial carbon tax which is set to come into force from the 1st of July this year after passing both houses of parliament.
The intervention and advice in this is as surprising as it is late, coming well after the passage of the carbon tax bills through the parliament and just months before the legislation takes effect and well after the political damage has been done.
In the first instance, the political damage inflicted by the instigation of the carbon tax has already been achieved with the broken promise after the August 2010 election which delivered a minority government that has been a source of much political drama.
Secondly, the political woes of the Gillard Government certainly started and are based in a significant way on the carbon price legislation sprung on unwary Australians thanks to the minority government situation in Canberra. However, since that time, the woes of the ALP Government have extended well beyond just the broken promise on the carbon tax package.
They now include other scandals involving the ALP including the Health Services Union scandal that has enveloped the Member for Dobell under a cloud of allegations, as well as the recent allegations against the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, Peter Slipper, the former Liberal Party MP and Labor choice to replace Speaker Harry Jenkins.
The Prime Minister has over the weekend made moves to distance the government from Mr Thomson and Mr Slipper, with the former agreeing to being suspended from the ALP, to sit on the crossbenches until the allegations have been resolved and the latter agreeing to stand aside longer, until allegations have been dealt with fully.
But these alas are just paper fixes. They will make very little difference to the functioning of the tiny government majority, with it reduced by 1 but still with Mr Thomson admitting that he will vote with Labor on the floor of the parliament.
But back to the calls from Kristina Keneally.
Were the Gillard Government to remove the carbon tax fully they would willingly open themselves up to further attacks from the Opposition similar to attacks being made now over the legislative package,
By moving to not implement the Clean Energy Future package in full, the Prime Minister would in effect be arguing that the Opposition attacks were all correct, that the costs are too extreme and damaging to Australia.
The second option offered up by Ms Keneally would likely cause the same arguments from the Opposition. That is, by offering more compensation and making the tax less severe in other aspects, the government would again be acknowledging that there is much pain within the policy a matter of weeks away from fruition.
The Greens in this whole affair, were it to take place would be in a very difficult position. They wouldn’t support it being watered down, let alone removed altogether before it even started but at the same time, they certainly wouldn’t be getting anything remotely like the current package under the Coalition if they were to become government.
In all this, the government has come out and said that they will not be pursuing the pathway that the NSW politician Kristina Keneally has suggested would help. They are wedded to it.
Changes to the package or its non-start may save some big scalps from humiliation next election night, but alone would not prove enough to reverse the electoral fortune that continues to be told month after month.
In all this, the simple fact remains that the Gillard Government would have to perform an amazing feat on top of removing the carbon tax to get close to winning government, including reversing history which might just prove quite difficult for the ALP to achieve.
Normally the weekends are a very quiet affair in terms of politics, whether it be local, state or federal developments. Saturday and Sunday are usually the domain of our newspapers in the realm of politics, debating and discussing the major events of the week, as well as the occasional under-reported event that doesn’t make the headlines on any given day. This weekend, as with a few over the term of the 43rd parliament at the federal level has been the exception to the rule. Couple that with council elections across Queensland and a by-election in the seat of a former Premier and you have all the trimmings for digestion of a full political meal in the 48 hours that are usually relatively free of politics and the political process.
On Saturday night the LNP, fresh from an astonishing win at the March 24 state election, where they won 78 seats of the 89 seat parliament and Labor just 7, the LNP Lord Mayor Graham Quirk and his team fought a campaign to remain in the mayoralty and to keep a majority of councillors in the City Hall chamber.
Last night Graham Quirk and his LNP Council colleagues did just that, winning both the race for mayor in Brisbane and the contest to maintain a majority of wards won by former Lord Mayor, now Premier Campbell Newman.
The LNP Lord Mayor of Brisbane City in two-party terms has achieved nearly 70% of the votes on offer against just over 30% for ALP mayoral hopeful Ray Smith. This result means approximately a 2.5% swing to the LNP Mayor on top of the previously strong vote for the very popular former Lord Mayor Newman.
In terms of winning wards, the LNP last night won an additional three seats in the council chambers with their victory last night to now control at least 18 of the 26 Brisbane City Council areas, a strong majority.
Elsewhere, the South Brisbane by-election, for the seat occupied by former Premier Anna Bligh was also run last night, but as yet has not been won, or at least not yet conceded. The contest sees Labor’s Jackie Trad ahead at present with just over 52% of the two-party-preferred vote compared with Clem Grehan of the LNP on just under 48% of the vote. The Labor leader in the parliament last night claimed victory for the ALP, but as yet Mr Grehan of the LNP has not conceded defeat.
It appears that the ALP will reclaim the seat, a normally very safe Labor seat, with a margin prior to the March state election of 15%. But it should not provide for much celebration in Labor circles. The LNP have come very close, albeit in a by-election which are notorious for going the other way, to claiming a sensational victory.
But if that was an ordinary night for Labor electorally in Queensland, Sunday for the federal ALP has been extraordinary in the saga that is the Craig Thomson and in the realm of the recently emerged allegations against the Speaker, Peter Slipper.
Today, weary Australians awoke to the news that there would be a press conference where Craig Thomson, the member for Dobell subject to a Fair Work Australia investigation which has now concluded would announce that he would ask the ALP to temporarily suspend his membership of the party and he would move to the crossbench as an Independent MP.
This move came after over 3 years of investigation in the matter and just as much time spent by the Prime Minister and the ALP putting their support behind the MP from NSW.
But just how much will the temporary move, meant to clear some air for the Prime Minister and her party actually mean? The answer frankly is none. The MP, for as long as he can remain in the parliament will undoubtedly continue to fully support the Gillard Government in every policy and political move it makes and importantly also for the Labor Party, in matters of supply and no confidence motions.
As if that wasn’t enough drama to base an epic political drama on, or comedy as you could just as easily argue, the Prime Minister also indicated that now, after days of saying the opposite, the Speaker, facing criminal and civil allegations should remain out of the chair until all the allegations have been resolved.
This move will see Anna Burke, the Deputy Speaker of the parliament and ALP member sitting in the Speakers seat when parliament resumes on May 8th for the handing down of the budget by Treasurer Wayne Swan
These two moves were just mere political opportunism, a smokescreen, a reactionary decision in the face of what seemed more and more likely to be a permanent loss of the Speaker if the matter went unresolved until parliament resumes on budget day.
Labor federally and in Queensland will certainly be hoping it can all be up from here, but as they have proved, that is far from certain to the extent that it is extremely unlikely.
A new Speaker is in the chair and by Thursday will have completed three weeks in the big chair of the House of Representatives this coming Thursday. This Speaker, Peter Slipper has brought in some small, but welcome changes, shorter questions and shorter answers, the scope for more supplementary questions and a shorter Question Time for those whose health is at risk from too much exposure to the stressful event which takes up just over an hour of the political day. However, Ministers still struggle to be “directly relevant” to any question, even Dorothy Dixer’s involve a major focus on the Opposition. The motion to suspend Standing Orders to censure has also become a bit of a joke, being used too often and knowingly to no avail.
The parliamentary reforms of the Slipper Speakership add to those agreed to between the Gillard Government, the Opposition and the rural Independent MPs. They were an improvement on business as usual, seeing questions limited to 45 seconds and answers to 4 minutes, rather than being unlimited as they were prior to this minority government.
Questions under the new Speaker are limited to 30 seconds, a fifteen second drop on the previous agreement and answers to 3 minutes, a further one minute drop on the original reforms, but still the bullshit that turns people off continues.
The new Speaker has done a fair job of attempting to bring Ministers into line, to try and at least get them in the same postcode of “direct relevance” to the question, short of jumping out of the chair and strangling offenders. Many Ministers continue to be in defiance of these rules and today the Prime Minister was sat down for being irrelevant to the question asked, a very positive development indeed.
Answers also continue to be full of vitriolic rubbish attacking Coalition policy more than outlining why their policy is the preferred option, maybe because they aren’t so confident of directly defending their own.
Wayne Swan is one of the main offenders, reprimanded for making the same old, unoriginal and flat “jokes” about the Coalition economic team being the “three stooges”. Perhaps if he quit with the nonsense, people would not have been advocating today for his removal from the Treasury portfolio because of an inability to sell the economic message of the government.
The sad but true fact is that people would probably have the time of day for Question Time if the stupidity was dispensed with and the government focused on selling their policies, sans hyperbole and without so much name-calling and stuff that primary school kids would be envious of. Along with that goes the shouting across the chamber during answers of contention , though that has been a fixture for as long as the parliament has existed and would always occur to some extent.
But that is not all that is grating and making Question Time become redundant and in the interest of fairness, the suspension of standing orders to debate why a censure motion is essential, is becoming a too regular occurrence.
It is not becoming ridiculous because the Abbott led Opposition are using it to try and highlight the failures of this government and the discord and disunity that has been rife since mid 2010.
The censure motion is becoming ridiculous because of the amount of times it is being used to pursue the ALP Government, who are admittedly failing badly at being relevant at most times and making Question Time an almost redundant farce.
There is one real reason why it is a pointless exercise and that is because two of the rural Independents, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor are so wedded to this Labor Government, along with the Greens MP Adam Bandt, that it would probably take a Government MP committing murder before they were willing to consider supporting the need for a censure motion. Unlikely…
S0 can we please dispense with all the rubbish in Canberra, our health has suffered enough as mere observers of the Canberra zoo. I would like to be able to increase my “Bio-Age” again. My government must be held to account in the strictest of ways, with the Speaker continuing to be strong and building on that. Ministers and their counterparts must also take it upon themselves to dispense with some of the theatrics, thinking less about getting on the news for 15 seconds and more about trying to develop and sell good policy and while I understand the merits of suspension motions, let’s cool it on this.
It’s Sunday and that means that another hectic week in Australian politics has passed with all its highs and lows, its angry words and policy announcements and legislative discussions. The week was punctuated by two main events, the passage of the Private Health Insurance Rebate means testing, a legislative win at least for Labor and the ALP leadership tensions seemingly heading toward a booming crescendo. Parliament also sat for the week and also proved far from uneventful.
The Gillard Government and its Health Minister managed to negotiate enough votes for the passage of means testing for the Private Health Insurance Rebate. This issue has seemingly split sections of the community and the two major parties no less, with Tony Abbott pledging he would reinstate the rebate for all as soon as possible upon election of a Coalition Government.
Parliament sat for the second week in a row, the first sitting period of the year and has again proved to be a full on affair with some changes affecting the complexion of Question Time. Questions must now be 3o seconds and answers no more than 3 minutes, a helpful change that should be added to as parliament progresses under the new Speaker, Peter Slipper.
Regardless of the changes, the usual bad behaviour continued, with Ministers, including the Prime Minister repeatedly cautioned to be “directly relevant” to the question asked. There was also no let-up from interjections across the chamber and a number of Coalition MPs found themselves having a coffee break during Question Time. A few ALP MPs also faced the same early afternoon tea courtesy of the new lower tolerance for interjections from the new Speaker.
Questions over the Labor leadership also permeated the week and on Saturday reached fever pitch with allegations in the press that senior Ministers were actually testing the waters for a potential Rudd spill in the coming weeks. The longer the speculation goes, the more pain it will cause the ALP and the more terminal the government will become.
The week has undoubtedly been a dramatic one with both legislation and leadership tensions dominating the week in the parliament and outside of it. The leadership tensions are becoming all the more real and almost tangible and they will surely continue to play out over the coming week, even in the absence of the key player, Kevin Rudd who heads overseas again, though this could provide opportunity for supporters to do their work. The parliament has risen after two weeks, but there will be little cooling of the political discourse which has only really just begun for the year and don’t forget, the Gonski review into education funding will also be released this week, but likely overshadowed by terminal leadership tensions.
You get the feeling that the coming week will not be like an ordinary non-parliamentary sitting week and that doesn’t bode well for the Labor Government.
It’s Wednesday and another day of Parliament and the requisite Question Time is upon us and it promises to bring much of the same drama, shouting and laughter we have come to expect, particularly during Question Time. Today’s session also promises to bring much the same line of questioning from both sides of politics, but likely not the cross-benches. This means parliament is set to continue debate on the economy, carbon tax, Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT), Private Health Insurance Rebate and the Fair Work Australia (FWA) investigation into Craig Thomson. A further event past that is likely to attract attention is the Australia Day protest which overnight saw a new development with footage of a key player, Kim Sattler being brought to light.
The Coalition is likely to continue its attack with a three prong mix of the carbon tax, FWA and Craig Thomson and the means testing of the Private Health Insurance Rebate. It is also now likely that the Opposition will pursue, with renewed vigour, the events of Australia Day. The questions will likely pursue the same lines of inquiry that have been displayed so far this parliamentary year.
The Government are also likely to continue on the same line of attempting to establish a narrative as good economic managers which is failing to cut through if the latest poll is any indication as far as team performance goes. Once again, Government questions, or Dixer’s will focus on the strength of the economy related to others and on the spending that is occurring under this Government.
Again the Speaker will have a tough time controlling the parliament with members likely becoming more raucous as the time flies by and the likelihood of the 94a being utilised is high. The reforms to the lengths of both questions and answers does not seem at all to have changed the tenor of the debate with much of the same nonsense, just less time to fit it in.
The rundown complete, you know have the tools to follow Question Time a little more closely, beginning at 2pm AEDT on both your radio and your television. I won’t be missing it, will you?
Parliament resumes today for the second parliamentary sitting week of the year and the same areas of debate are set to continue but other policy areas will be added to the the mix. As well as the economy, Craig Thomson and Fair Work Australia (FWA), the carbon tax and Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) you can expect the Private Health Insurance Rebate means testing and the introduction of two bills on gay marriage will spark debate.
The Opposition will certainly continue to focus on the FWA investigation into Craig Thomson which has taken too much time to conclude. The Abbott led Coalition will also likely focus questions around the Private Health Insurance Rebate means testing, the carbon tax and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, the latter two in the prism of an economy which could be in strife were Europe to collapse again this year.
The Government will again focus the deployment of the Dorothy Dixer to prosecute what they view as their strong-point, the economy. These questions will undoubtedly focus on policy measures which have provided or will provide in the near future for the electorate rather than on the budgetary situation itself, unless in comparison to the world.
Marriage equality is not likely to result in a question from the Opposition or the Government, with both sides not fully behind the idea, but we may see an Independent MP, likely Andrew Wilkie or the Greens MP Adam Bandt if they are allocated one of the questions for Independent MPs in Question Time today. This comes on the back of two different bills being put to the House today on marriage equality, one from Adam Bandt and Andrew Wilkie and the other a Private Members Bill from ALP MP Stephen Jones.
The unknown factor is, as always whether there will be any ejections during Question Time, especially since the warning has been removed by the Speaker, Peter Slipper, though if last week is an indication, there will not be a large number warming the parliamentary cafeteria seats early.
The one thing we do know is, like always Question Time will be loud and even though there isn’t supposed to be, likely also debate. We will look to about 3pm AEDT to see if the Abbott censure motion creeps in just in time for the end of Question Time. That is also a distinct possibility.