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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.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Question Time for Monday began almost entirely as predicted, with the protests by some members of the Islamic community in Sydney being the first thing mentioned in Question Time after procedural matters. Both the Acting Prime Minister, Wayne Swan and the Acting Opposition Leader, Julie Bishop rose, on indulgence to condemn, in no uncertain terms, the actions of a violent minority of demonstrators who caused mayhem in Sydney on the weekend. But the actions on the weekend did not result in any questions as predicted prior to the commencement of parliament. There were simply the statements by the two leaders and then Questions Without Notice began for the day.

Question Time on Monday, as far as the Coalition was concerned, was pretty evenly split between two issues. There was the return of the usual prominence of the anti-carbon tax campaign, which has taken somewhat of a backseat and then there was a number of questions in relation to the visa of a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an extremist group, who spoke at a conference here.

The Gillard Government through the Dorothy Dix pursued, as has become their strategy for some time now, a much broader range of policy areas in an attempt to highlight positive differences in policy and perceived shortfalls of the Opposition in these policy areas. There were questions on the economy, taxation, duplication of the Pacific Highway, disability, healthcare and school education, all now regular features in questions from Labor backbenchers.

Question Time on Tuesday looks like it will play out in a similar fashion to Monday. It now seems likely that the Coalition will return to asking questions related to the carbon tax, around power bills quite likely, as it was today. Questions on the carbon price could also centre around the dropping of the floor price as well as the decision to not seek the closure of the 5 biggest coal-fired power stations and the impacts of the policy on businesses not compensated for price impacts.

Questions about the Hizb ut-Tahrir conference matter may continue tomorrow, but if this occurs it seems likely to not be as prominent as it was today.

Another issue which may compete for top billing, but was non-existent during Question Time today during Opposition questions would be matters related to spending priorities and the budget and what services would be cut, or taxes increased to pay for the significant new policy promises from the ALP.

Even more certain is the broad range of areas that the government will ask questions of itself on during Question Time. This will likely included comparative economic performance, healthcare and school education reform and could just as likely include infrastructure. taxation, the environment and families and community services questions.

Nobody was asked to leave the chamber under Standing Order 94a, but that could all change tomorrow as our parliamentarians begin getting back into the parliamentary groove.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Congratulations Australia, we’ve almost made it through another week of parliament, and more importantly, Question Time. It’s not been the most rancorous, loud or boisterous of weeks, but nonetheless, it hasn’t exactly been subdued. We could hope that this is down to the words of caution from Malcolm Turnbull about how poor the parliamentary and broader political debate has been, but it’s more than likely that it’s just been a slightly nicer week of behaviour from our federal parliamentarians.

It’s also been a bit of a strange week in the way of the questions asked by the Opposition. For the most part, the Coalition, led by Tony Abbott has not prosecuted the case against the carbon tax. Most of the focus this week from the Liberal and National Party Coalition has been on the state of the budget. They’ve asked how, with lower government revenues and more high cost promises in recent weeks in particular, that it will be possible for the government to return to surplus in time.

The price on carbon though has repeatedly made appearances throughout the week so far. But the comparative absence of questions on the matter from the Coalition is very surprising, given that it’s been the central plank of Opposition attacks since the government got back in power under minority government.

There has also been a question or two from the Opposition over the week about asylum seekers. This has been in relation to the re-opening of the Nauru and Manus Island immigration facilities recommended by the Houston panel just a matter of weeks ago. They’ve also been centred around pushing the government to adopt other elements of the Howard-era ‘Pacific Solution’ which included Temporary Protection Visas, colloquially known as TPV’s and turning back the asylum seeker vessels when safe to do so.

The government again this week has been all about a broader explanation of government policies and promises. They’ve spent this week talking about education, health, infrastructure, jobs, skills, wages and vulnerable groups of people in the community.

It’s more than likely that the Opposition will continue to pursue the government over the budget and their spending priorities and whether or not new or increased taxes will be instituted to pay for the shortfalls in revenue and existing funds after these promises are funded.

They will likely again have a question or two, perhaps a number of questions, devoted to the carbon tax which no longer has a floor price and now won’t rely on the closure of the five biggest coal-fired power stations in order to reduce emissions.

Just as likely, but perhaps less prominent as has been the case this week, is the possibility of a question or two on asylum seekers and the now almost ready detention centres on Nauru and also the one on Manus Island.

The strategy of the Labor Party, through their use of the Dorothy Dixer has been just as predictable, though the mix of questions slightly uncertain. This however, changed yesterday. With the Queensland budget calling for big staff cuts and NSW also looking to take a slice out of education funding, the government used answers to warn that a Coalition Government at the federal level would do the same. These questions though will likely still cover the areas of education reform, health, infrastructure, communities, families, employment, wages and skills. 

This in some way, shape and form has been the way it has been all week and will likely continue to be until the next big issue comes along to steal some political thunder.

Dental Health Funding Filling Put In But There Could Be an Extraction

Dental care has been a much discussed and debated issue in Australian politics. The sick state of the dental health care system, including the immense and prohibitive costs received increased attention after the 2010 election when the Greens demanded that the Gillard Government provide increased funding for dental care. They wanted Denticare, a fully-funded oral healthcare scheme for all.

Today the Greens got some of what they wanted, millions of children and l0w-income earners will be covered under a new dental plan announced by Health Minister Tanya Plibersek.

The Labor Government will spend $2.7 billion on treatment for children whose families are able to apply for Family Tax Benefit Part A. A further $1.3 billion will be spent, helping 5 million people on a low income as well as those in rural areas. All up, that’s $4 billion extra going into mental health at a time when the budget is under much strain.

The $2.7 billion to be spent on treatment for children will allow for families to claim up to $1000 over a two year period for their child’s dental treatment and is available to approximately 3.4 million children. The $1.3 billion will be focused on early treatment to cut down waiting lists for public dental care. A further $200 million will target treatment in rural areas.

The $4 billion dollar package is added to the $515 million that was allocated in the last budget by the Labor Party.

Providing support for oral treatment and care is extremely important and has positive flow-on health benefits for those that are able to seek and obtain preventative treatment. The devastating effects of poor oral health can affect the overall health of people with untreated dental problems and so in itself should be cheered.

What should not be celebrated is the lack of detail over where the money will be coming from for such a large scheme, a multi-billion dollar allocation in fact. Then there’s the matter of what that does to the budget in the future for both the ALP and the Opposition.

What we do know is that the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, which now costs upwards of $80 million dollars a month will be scrapped by the Labor Government in favour of this new program. That still leaves a substantial amount of savings that the government must find to keep its promise to return the budget to surplus in 2012-13, not that it’s going to happen anyway. We’re still expecting a significant announcement in education funding which could easily go into the billions of dollars.

The Medicare-funded Teen Dental Plan will also be cut to make way for the new allocation for children.

But what else will be cut from the budget for 2014? We know that a significant amount of funds will still need to be cut to make way for this latest promise and at the same time keep the projected, yet likely fantasy surplus in place.

It’s also entirely possible, even likely that the scheme will not start before it’s cut. On current polling, the Liberal and National Party Coalition is set to take government and after comments today, it would seem that this new funding could be set to be trimmed from the federal budget by an incoming Coalition Government.

Another issue that arises, particularly with the $1000 allocation per eligible child over a two-year period is that in some cases that simply won’t be enough over two years. This will be particularly the case when receiving dental treatment from the private sector with treatment at the dentist, even from the most basic care, is a significant cost burden. There could well be a need for further funds here in the future or for people to dip into their own pockets from time to time or again not seek treatment at all and this could be harmful to health just the same.

The struggles and intricacies of minority government and  the balancing of spending priorities for both sides of politics continue with this latest promise, as will the budget woes. However, the overall health benefits are a big win, if it’s not cut by an incoming government that is.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Question Time for Tuesday has thankfully flown by at warp speed, meaning we’re ever closer to the end of another week of Questions Without Notice, the second week in a row since the winter recess. After the events of yesterday, you could have been forgiven for thinking that much of the same was on the way, comparatively it was tame. That’s not to say it was shouty and screechy, it certainly was. But there wasn’t the same level of ill disciple that saw multiple Coalition MP’s booted for an hour under Standing Order 94a yesterday including the Opposition Leader and Manager of Opposition Business.

Probably tired from the amount of energy burnt yesterday, members of parliament, particularly on the Coalition side, fell back into the rhythm that’s been common since this 43rd parliament commenced in 2010.

Again, aside from Joe Hockey on spending priorities and the prospect of new taxes to pay for those immense spending allocations, the Tony Abbott led Opposition continued on the obvious ground of the carbon tax. Yesterday it was all about fruit and vegetable farmers and businesses, today it moved to the carbon price and meat producers and businesses.

The Gillard Government as they have shown in recent times, were much more varied in the areas of policy that their backbenchers asked questions on. Questions did include the price on carbon, but also education reform, health and workplace relations.

It would be folly to not accept much of the same during Questions Without Notice for Wednesday.

You can expect the Coalition to continue with questions about the carbon tax and any deviation from that would almost be a letdown, perhaps even like living in an alternate universe. The only question is what type of business will be focused on? We know that power prices and small businesses will continue to be the focus.

It would almost be equally as strange to not expect a question at the start of the session from Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey, again on the spending priorities of the Labor Party as occurred yesterday and today.

A question or questions on the Fair Work Australia investigation and Craig Thomson are also likely to make an appearance after the KPMG report into the Fair Work Australia investigation of the HSU was released.

The certain thing about the issues that the ALP Government ask questions of itself on is that there will again be variety. The carbon tax will attract the most questions again, of course.

However, other areas of policy will definitely be highlighted during the hour and ten minutes that is Question Time. This will undoubtedly include, as it has particularly this week, leading up to an announcement, education reform.

Other questions on the economy, health, infrastructure and workplace relations are also likely to appear.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Question Time on Monday was a bit of a shock, in a positive way, with the expected debate over asylum seekers not eventuating within the hour and ten minutes in the lower house. Instead we were back on the familiar ground where we’ve been mired for some time with a major focus of questions over a new tax from the Gillard Government, the carbon tax and in a very minor way the Minerals Resource Rent Tax which also made a brief appearance today.

The ALP Government used Question Time again to highlight payments and tax benefits that have been made to and will be made to people as a result of the May 8 federal budget and through the carbon tax compensation package.

It’s hard to imagine that Tuesday will see any change, major or minor in the make-up of the political discourse during Questions Without Notice in both houses of parliament at least as far as the strategies of the major parties go. With the asylum seeker issue having not reared its head during Question Time yesterday it seems highly unlikely that it would become part of the debate in any big way on Tuesday afternoon, but stranger things have happened in politics lately.

The Coalition will certainly continue to focus attention on the incoming carbon price, now less than a week away. They will, as they have lately comb for any report of any company, organisation or government body saying that the carbon price, beginning on Sunday will result in, particularly power prices, but also all other costs rising above and beyond the carbon price modelling produced by Treasury.

The Labor Party for their part, through the use of the Dorothy Dixer will continue to focus on a slightly broader array of policy but all in the form of payments and benefits to low and middle income earners. This has been the case particularly since the budget was delivered by Treasurer Wayne Swan on May 8, announcing payments for education purposes and family tax benefit changes.

But there has also been another message that the government have been trying to break through with and having no success doing so according to recent polls and that is convincing the public that one, many will receive compensation and two, compensation will at least fully recompense for any price effects of the incoming carbon tax and in some cases provide extra funds.

That’s the way the Question Time cookie will crumble.

 

Question Time Ahead of Time

They say that politics is unpredictable and of late you could not disagree more with that statement, especially when talking about the Question Time strategy employed particularly by the Tony Abbott led Opposition, but also the plan of attack of the Gillard Government. But that all seemed to change for at least yesterdays hour or so of Question Time where the usual focus of the Coalition was turfed out for the most part and the issue of importing overseas workers for a mining project took centre stage in the political debate during Question Time in Canberrra.

This issue came to the fore because of the leadership tensions which it apparently stoked and will likely fizzle out as a story fairly quickly and as a major point of attack for the Coalition who will probably return to the usual suspects of topics if not today, then tomorrow or maybe later this week.

The Coalition may continue to attempt making some political mileage out of the leadership issue tomorrow in relation to the deal struck between Gina Rinehart and the ALP Government, but it will almost certainly be less of a focus than it was during Question Time today.

What seems more likely is a return to the script which has been performed to within an inch of its life and that is the Coalition returning to focus on the carbon tax which will play front and centre of the political strategy and be the major election issue that the Liberal and National Party will fight on during the (presumably) 2013 election campaign.

There might also be somewhat of a focus on the Craig Thomson/HSU debate which despite not being particularly evident yesterday, except for during Senate Estimates still bubbles along as an unresolved issue for the government even though they have ditched the Member for Dobell from the caucus. Pretty much every avenue of parliamentary attack and then some around this issue has been utilised.

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan which is currently being debated in Canberra may also be a subject of parliamentary debate in the House of Representatives, though this is much more likely to occur in the Senate and come from Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce.

The government will likely again focus on the economy with the post-budget message still needing to be sold to the groups targetted in the fiscal statement just weeks ago.

The ALP will also focus the use of the Dorothy Dixer on the Household Assistance Package which will provide compensation for the carbon price which will commence in just over a month on the 1st of July, with initial payments hitting the accounts of pensioners already this week ahead of the introduction of the controversial policy.

It could also be legitimately expected that the Labor Party focus their questions too on a wider range of issues with one or two questions possible about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and other issues not canvassed by the Opposition in which the government thinks they can get a good message out on.

Whatever tomorrow holds, you can be certain that it will be the start of a return to business as usual after some ever so brief respite from the one issue politics that has seemed to dominate political discourse in Australia in recent years and accelerated under this minority government.

All the Question Time action begins at 2pm though you will be forgiven if you decide it’s best to give it a miss.

Question Time Ahead of Time

The life of this tense, predictable and too unpredictable 43rd parliament enters another week as it screams even closer to the long winter recess with this week and then another two week sitting period left in June before over a months break. But for now there is still another 3 weeks of sitting before the parliamentarians and viewers of it get some respite from the rowdiness and almost formulaic approach to Question Time that has emerged over a period of time. Our parliamentarians might be having a winter break from parliament, but they won’t be going into political hibernation, the thirst for power and political momentum precludes that.

As always there is a small combination of areas which the Coalition will use in their pursuit of the Gillard Government during Question Time. It is quite likely to be full-on attack strategy today in the hour and a bit of Question Time, though shock and awe it will not be because the subjects of focus have been discussed and debated for some time in the broader political debate.

As has been said previously, the carbon price is nearing commencement, due to come into effect on the 1st of July, pretty much just a month away and will likely be the major focus during Question Time, perhaps, though this is the slightly unpredictable factor, being the matter of the focus of most Opposition questions.

Events surrounding Craig Thomson, the MP for Dobell are also likely to bear some focus during Question Time from the Coalition despite the fact that the subject and avenues of action around it have been exhausted and this goes to the very nature of this minority government with power being the main game in the halls of Canberra.

Leadership and confidence is also quite likely to enter the Question Time debate with whispers flaring up over the weekend, thanks to a policy announcement by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen on Friday which has brought divisions in the caucus out into the sunshine again.

There were also reports over the weekend in relationship to the leadership issue that Joel Fitzgibbon, the Chief Government Whip, a Gillard supporter had openly been counting numbers for a Rudd return to the Prime Ministership, a post he lost so unceremoniously.

Further to these areas of debate, a question or two, perhaps more to mix things up and keep them slightly different may well be on the believability of the predicted budget surplus and the spending contained within the budget.

A question or questions from the Abbott-led Opposition in relation the operation of the Fair Work Act, as well as Fair Work Australia, not in relation to the Craig Thomson/HSU matter will also be a distinct possibility.

The ALP Government, for its part will almost certainly continue its effectively sole focus since the budget and that is, selling the budget. The government will use the Dorothy Dixer to attempt selling aspects of the budget that will provide low and middle income earners with extra money for educating their kids and for their families.

The Government may choose to talk about the Clean Energy Future (read, carbon tax, carbon price) but this is likely to have much less of a focus given the controversial nature of the policy and is likely to focus on the compensation package provided in an attempt to blunt the inevitable costs of such a policy.

Events will be borne out from 2pm today and they are not for the faint-hearted.  Indeed only the masochistic political wonks around this fair rock of ours should delve into the frustrating wonder that is Question Time. But seriously, politics is really cool.

Question Time Ahead of Time

The end of the parliamentary week is upon us and hasn’t it been an extraordinary one? The hostilities have persisted throughout the week, not letting up even in the days after the speech to parliament by the Member for Dobell, Craig Thomson in relation to allegations of misuse of union funds. Indeed the week in Canberra is far from over though only a matter of hours remain in probably the biggest, most acrimonious week Australian politics has seen in a long while.

One more day of parliament for the week means another testy hour or so of Question Time ahead from 2pm this afternoon, perhaps even less if the now regular feature, the suspension of Standing Orders gets another run, which you’d have to say on the balance of probabilities is almost a sure bet.

The Coalition will almost certainly continue with their two-topic attack which has tended to be the way forward in Question Time for the Opposition for a very long time indeed. This strategy will see the Abb0tt-led Coalition almost certainly proceed full-steam ahead with questions surrounding the carbon price which with each day that passes nears its commencement date of July 1 this year.

The Coalition will also, despite moves this week to quell the matter, including allowing the referral of Craig Thomson to the Privileges Committee be likely to pose a not insubstantial number of Craig Thomson related questions to the Gillard Government. It is also incredibly likely that despite the Thomson matter being referred to the Privileges Committee that a further suspension of Standing Orders related to the matter (and it has been the subject of a few) will occur.

The ALP Government’s Question Time strategy is completely predictable too and has been regularly based around the same broad topic, albeit in different guises also over a significant period of time.

The overwhelming focus of the Gillard Government in Question Time has been the state of the economy, both in domestic and internationally comparative terms and that has been outlined and worked on over many months.

The current specific focus in relation to the economy is all about the budget and the spending associated with it that Labor says will assist low to middle income earners  and their families particularly with the cost of education through the taxes reaped from the mining boom.

The government in also prosecuting a projected return to surplus of the budget that Wayne Swan handed down just over two short weeks ago amid what almost equated to  acceptance that the government had already returned the budget to surplus when it has not in fact done so and will not in fact do so until the end of fiscal year 2012-13 on June 30 next year and we may not know for sure until even later than that.

There is also a very real possibility, with unforeseen spending requirements and further revenue write-downs among other factors that the idea of a $1.5 billion surplus a bit of a struggle.

Question Time as always begins at 2pm and promises to be a heated contest that will offer no respite until about 3:10pm when the Prime Minister will ask that “further questions be placed on the notice paper”, unless of course the suspension of Standing Orders has brought questions to an earlier close.

Question Time Ahead of Time: Post-Budget Day

The budget we all knew was coming and was practically announced before it was formally read out in parliament last night has now passed and today is the day when the Gillard Government will sell the package as a a whole and the Opposition forensically analyse the detail. Question Time will play a big part in that sell for the government and for the Coalition it must be a time to test the government on both spending priorities, cuts and those sneaky deferrals that have been made overnight.

The Coalition will almost certainly not focus all its questions on items from the budget papers, but put up a mix of previously broached subjects as well as mixing those with questions on the budget.

To that end, the Coalition will almost certainly place a focus on the Craig Thomson issue which, despite the budget, continues to be a feature of the day, thanks in large part to the Fair Work Australia report findings that Mr Thomson must answer to a  list of allegations.

The Liberal and National Party Coalition would quite possibly also ask questions on the allegations surrounding the Speaker, Peter Slipper, especially after attempts yesterday on the floor of the House of Representatives to replace him in the chair with the previous Speaker, Harry Jenkins.

However, the budget will probably be the major focus of the Opposition during the session of Question Time today. Expect to see questions on the purported surplus, the spending and deferrals which cast doubt upon the forecast surplus actually achieving its real end.

The lack of business assistance will likely also be put to the government.

For the ALP Government, the focus will be on the social spending programs that have been announced as much as it will be trying to convince the public that the budget will actually finish in surplus by the end of fiscal year 2012-13, a slightly easier task than convincing the parliament.

Undoubtedly, as previous statements have done, the government will focus on talking up the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which now has a monetary figure attached to it: $1 billion over 4 years.

A further focus will also likely be other social spending areas in the budget which includes education payments which will now be directly paid into the accounts of eligible families, a new aged care allocation and an increase to some families in Family Tax Benefit A.

Today will also be the second day with Deputy Speaker Anna Burke occupying the Speaker’s chair during Question Time and looks set to be a noisy one for all involved and Standing Order 94a will probably get quite a workout.

It all begins from 2pm AEST.

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