Blog Archives

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.

Harry Jenkins Leaving the House and Ending an Era

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.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Today marks the last day of budget week from the hallowed halls (yes, a stretch at times I know) and is set to be another full-on day in Australian politics where the predictable has of late been met with just as much unpredictability. The budget is now out and the government in a flutter trying to sell it in order to gain back the key constituencies they have managed to shed like fur and the Coalition are trying to shoot holes in it. But the week hasn’t been all about the budget, the Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper issues continue to hang around like that guy you don’t really like but are too afraid to say “bugger off”. Oh and then there’s also the carbon tax and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.

In the last hour and ten minutes (or thereabouts) of Question Time for the week the Coalition will likely focus on a combination of budget items, the carbon and/or mining tax and quite possibly the allegations surrounding Peter Slipper, though that is far from certain given that the Speaker issue has in a way been mollified with Mr Slipper standing aside.

It is also much the same case with the pursuit by the Liberal Party of Craig Thomson, the temporarily Independent, but still unashamedly Labor MP who is also facing allegations of wrongdoing after being under investigation for over 3 years. The matter was rather spectacularly and completely unexpectedly brought to a head during a motion to force the Member for Dobell to make a statement to the House of Representatives, giving him the ability to use parliamentary privilege to tell his side of the story.

The motion failed, but the Member for Dobell leapt up toward the end of the motion to inform the parliament that he would, in the next sitting week make a full statement to the House on the allegations against him that were investigated by Fair Work Australia. This will probably mean that the Coalition will at least hold back the dogs on the matter, but perhaps not call them off completely.

The Gillard Government will be continuing to try to sell the budget, both for its social spending and for its purported surplus, even though the latter claim is incredibly dubious, especially given the small number of the projected surplus, $1.5 billion dollars.

As always the tantrums and name-calling are set to continue, after all it wouldn’t be Question Time without them would it? The tolerance of the Deputy Speaker seems low and Standing Order 94a may well get a good workout.

As always, it starts at 2pm AEST tomorrow and you can catch it on television, the radio or your computer, but don’t expect to win too many friends if you choose to view it somewhere public.

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.

Question Time Ahead of Time

The day is Thursday, the last day in a sitting week in the Parliament of Australia in Canberra and that usually means fireworks as parliamentary politics winds down for the week. Yesterday it was the unexpected topic of customs and their role in gun control which stole the show in Question Time in the House of Representatives. Today the proverbial battle lines should be much clearer with the Fair Work Australia investigation into the Victorian branch which has just concluded the sure focus of Coalition questions to the Gillard Government.

The Fair Work Australia Investigation into Victoria Number 1 branch has reached a conclusion and was reported yesterday and will see 3 former officials from the union seeking possibly pecuniary penalties as a result of their alleged actions in the Federal Court of Australia. The officials will not be subjected to criminal prosecution.

At the same time the Commonwealth Ombudsman has commenced an investigation into the actions of the General Manager of Fair Work Australia, Bernadette O’Neill over the 3 years of the investigation into the Health Services Union. The complaint seeks an imminent end to the investigations into the Member for Dobell, Craig Thomson, in addition to answers over the snail-like pace of the overall investigation into the union

The Coalition, likely led in the questioning by Tony Abbott and key front-bencher’s like Christopher Pyne, Joe Hockey and Julie Bishop will continue to pursue the government over the issue focusing on the length of the investigation and seeking help to draw the remaining examinations to a close in the very near future.

The Opposition may follow up with a few questions following on from yesterday where it launched an attack on the Government over the importation of firearms and government cuts to customs.

The ALP Government will certainly continue to highlight the spending that is associated with its mining tax, the MRRT in particular, but also the carbon tax. The government is also likely to draw attention to the Coalition and the Greens blocking the big business tax cuts, albeit for different reasons with the Greens blocking it because big business in their mind shouldn’t receive cuts and the Coalition, because the cuts are associated with the mining tax which they say they will rescind.

There is a high likelihood that the tensions which have been exhibited all week, including yesterday when more than a handful of Coalition MPs were booted for an hour under Standing Order 94a will continue today. This would likely see a comparative number of MPs booted, again heavily expected to be from the Coalition side.

A motion to suspend Standing Orders is also a high possibility, likely in relation to the Fair Work Australia investigation into the HSU and Craig Thomson, a focus of Opposition questions for some time now.

All will be revealed and debated with nothing held back from 2pm AEDT

Question Time Ahead of Time

It’s Wednesday and that means only two more days of the parliamentary sitting week lie ahead for our federal politicians in Canberra jockeying for momentum going into the May budget. Question Time is likely to be a loud, argumentative and at times farcical affair. Many eyes will be on the Senate where the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, sworn in as a Senator and Minister yesterday will face his first Question Time in the role.

The Opposition without any shadow of a doubt will continue to focus their Question Time efforts on pursuing the Labor Government over its carbon tax and Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) which has a parliamentary report handed down today.

While the Fair Work Australia investigation into Craig Thomson still proceeds at snail pace, it can certainly be expected that there will be a question or two aimed at the Gillard Government over the issue.

The fallout from the Skype sex scandal in the Australian Defence Force may also get an airing in Question Time from the Opposition as it did yesterday in relations to comments from Major General John Cantwell.

Equally predictable is the government focus of their backbencher questions to Ministers, also colloquially known as the “Dorothy Dixer” or “Dorothy Dix”. Again these questions will likely focus on the economy through the spending related to the MRRT windfall as well as other spending allocations made by Prime Minister Gillard and her government.

In the Senate, the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr will draw the most focus from interested observers, though not face the most questions as both the government and the Opposition are set to pursue different lines of inquiry. The new Foreign Minister is likely to get a question from his own side, but may also get a question or two related to the Defence Minister from the Coalition in the prism of overseas operations.

There is also a distinct possibility that the Coalition will attempt to suspend Standing Orders in an attempt to challenge the Government after not answering questions though that seems less likely than in recent days because of the exhaustion of content on that front.

Yesterday Question Time in the House of Representatives was quite feisty and resulted in a handful of ejections for one hour under Standing Order 94a, one of those being a Government MP. Two Ministers were also sat down for straying out of the ballpark of relevance in their answers and that is a positive development. So be watching today at 2pm AEDT where the drama that is the play called Question Time looks set to continue with loud interjections, irrelevant answers and plenty of name-calling.

Question Time Ahead of Time

That wonderful institution that we know as Question Time returns today with a vengeance in both chambers of Parliament House in Canberra today for a two week sitting period before the much anticipated budget gets handed down in May. This sitting period promises much of the same that we have been exposed to for some time as far as behaviour and content goes, with both parties likely focusing on much less than a handful of topics for  the Opposition to pursue and the Gillard Government to attempt to highlight in a positive manner. The Senate will be a focus this week with a very interesting addition.

Question Time this week in the Upper House will be the focus of much political attention with the newly confirmed Senator for New South Wales and Foreign Minister designate, Bob Carr entering the federal parliament for the first time as part of the federal government. For Question Time today the former NSW Premier will warm the backbench, being sworn in this afternoon.

The Tony Abbott led Opposition are set to continue their attacks on the economy through the prism of the carbon tax, nearing commencement and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) which the government will aim to get through the Senate before parliament rises in anticipation of the budget to be announced in May.

The Opposition will also likely decide they need to continue to pursue the Craig Thomson saga and Fair Work Australia over recent allegations of the independent body stonewalling, even flatly refusing to cooperate with police attempting to investigate claims of wrongdoing.

The Government will certainly continue to utilise the “Dorothy Dixer”, that wonderful free kick opportunity to spend more time talking about the Opposition than their own policy on also talking about the economy. This will continue to be about the comparative strength of the economy versus that of other major developed nations rather than the individual circumstances of the Australian economy. Dixer’s from the government benches will also focus on the economy, as they have done for some time, on perceived benefits of government spending packages, particularly related to the MRRT.

Another regular feature of Question Time that cannot be ruled out, in fact, that the good money would be on, is the high likelihood of the Opposition pursuing a suspension of standing orders to debate a censure motion.

How many MPs will be booted under Standing Order 94a? Will any government minister be sat down for “irrelevance”? How much noise will there be? Will Bob Carr ask a Dixer before hitting the front bench tomorrow? All questions will be asked and answered at 2pm AEDT. Will you be watching?

 

Question Time Ahead of Time

The last day of Question Time for the week in the House of Representatives is upon us and promises no less than has been delivered over the last two sitting weeks in Canberra. Both sides have firmly dug themselves in to their respective attack and defense positions and have not let up except to vary their posturing within those areas. This does not look set to change at least for the day with positions so set in stone that if budged their positions may shatter into countless shards.

The Coalition has been heavy in its attack on three fronts, two of which fit into the broader narrative of economic management which both sides of politics seem intent to capture ground in this area, a traditional strength of the Liberal and National Party Coalition. Over the last two weeks the interrogation of economic matters has centered around the carbon tax, with the mining tax taking somewhat of a backseat for the moment. There is no doubt this line of questioning will continue today, being a central tenet of a future Abbott-led Coalition Government.

The Opposition has also been brutal in its pursuit of Craig Thomson and the Fair Work Australia (FWA) investigation that has been looking int0 allegations involving Thomson and the Health Services Union. In the recent sitting days questions on the matter have tended to focus on the length of the investigation rather than the MP who is a subject of the investigation. Estimates yesterday showed that the case may be drawing to an end but there is little doubt that the Coalition will want to continue its pursuit of the matter despite the angry and frustrated words of the Prime Minister in Question Time yesterday in relation to the saga.

There is also another possible line of enquiry in Question Time which the Coalition may take and that is to ask questions of the Government in relation to the passage of the Private Health Insurance Rebate means testing which passed the House of Representatives yesterday.

The Government will undoubtedly continue to try to paint themselves as the better economic managers, not for the budget position, but for the funds that they hope to raise through their new taxes to provide for Australians in different areas. As I have also repeatedly said, the Gillard Government will also focus on the economic position relative to other nations.

The Government will also surely direct some Dorothy Dixer’s toward the means testing of the Private Health Insurance Rebate which, as already noted has passed the House of Representatives.

The Speaker looks set to continue using Standing Order 94a for rowdy Opposition MPs without let-up, though we have seen Government MPs being booted from the House for one hour, particularly in recent days.

The real interest as far as the Speaker goes will be how much of a leash Mr Slipper will give the Treasurer who has tested the patience of Coalition MPs and supporters with repeated infractions this week particularly.

You know the drill, 2pm today on the TV and on the radio or in the wee hours of the morning for a replay on your TV. Enjoy the show!

Question Time Ahead of Time

Day two of the second week of the parliamentary year is upon us and is not likely to disappoint with more of the same narrative from both sides likely to dominate during the parliamentary sitting day. There may well be an added ingredient slipped into Coalition questions which will cause them great fits of laughter and smiles spattered throughout Question Time.

The Coalition is likely to continue to pursue the Government over the Craig Thomson affair and the long-running Fair Work Australia investigation causing much annoyance and disbelief. The Tony Abbott led Opposition will also likely pursue the Government over the carbon tax, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) and the upcoming legislation to means test the Private Health Insurance Rebate.

Likely to provide added energy and vigour into the Coalition questions to the Gillard Government in Question Time is the Four Corners program last night which aired some claims which will be particularly uncomfortable for Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the ALP caucus already under pressure from many quarters. Just how these factors will be slipped into Opposition questions will be interesting to watch and certain to provide to the theatrical nature of Question Time.

The Government will certainly continue to try and plot its narrative in economic management, despite recent polling showing that this message is not cutting through to voters like the Government would have hoped. Already in progress and foreshadowed job losses will make that narrative even harder to prosecute even if the dollar is realised as a major factor.

Question Time yesterday was quite volatile compared with any of the days last week, not just because of the cross-chamber barbs and yelling and raucous laughter but because of the removal of more Coalition members under Standing Order 94a than many would have expected given last week.  The length of respective leashes will certainly be one to watch.

Given the complex and intriguing mix of events, policies and politics likely to pervade the questions during the session today, it is entirely possible for it to be the most anxious, loud, giggly and angry Question Time of calendar year 2012. You know the drill, 2pm AEDT, and if I can get into the parliamentary spirit of plagiarism, “be there or be square”.

The Sunday Sandwich (That’s a Wrap)

Hello and welcome to the very first Sunday Sandwich at my new blog. We have now endured the first parliamentary sitting week of 2012 with little if any skin taken off. The lines of attack and corresponding defensive moves were played out in the media in the early weeks of 2012, giving us an indication of what the debate will be about for the year ahead. The economy and taxes, Craig Thomson and the events of Australia Day in Canberra dominated the week which saw the new Speaker stamp his own personal mark on the parliament and some policy-specific machinations.

The Gillard Government positioned themselves this week in Question Time in particular to be talking all about the economy in relation to domestic economic policies and with regard to international comparison. The overwhelming number of Dorothy Dixer’s were on the economy for the entire week.

The Opposition also promised to bring on debate and question on the economy and did so. However the Coalition also took to battle in a big way on the FWA/Craig Thomson debate/farce. The economy from the Coalition perspective was approached by questioning the ALP Government on the suitability of introducing new taxes, that is the carbon tax and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) in times of global uncertainty.

Also on the economy, the Abbott-led Opposition came under attack from the Gillard Government over comments this week seemingly showing a back-down from a commitment to a budget surplus in 2012-13. It was probably a good idea for Andrew Robb to come out and be refreshingly honest about budgetary prospects for an incoming government, not least because we do not know where the books will be whenever the Coalition next takes the government benches.

It was also correct for the others in the Shadow Cabinet to be saying that the Coalition would deliver a surplus in their first year in government, at this stage looking like some time in 2013, if the Government were able to deliver their promised surplus.

The disparate responses from senior Coalition frontbenchers did take some of the heat off the Government, and should have been avoided but probably did not have as much of an impact as some commentators are making out.

The new Speaker of the House of Representatives this week brought back some of the traditional style of parliaments gone by whilst at the same time keeping commentators and viewers wondering what the Slipper speakership would bring, particularly for his former side, the Coalition.

Peter Slipper decided to bring back the Speaker’s robe for parliamentary sittings and on the last day a plain white, droopy silk bow-tie. I am quite a fan of following parliamentary tradition so I thought that this was a welcome re-introduction of what has often been missing under recent Labor Speakers.

There is no doubt that there was some consternation, particularly in Coalition circles as to how tough Mr Slipper would be on his former Coalition colleagues prior to this week. A lot of that was borne out wrong with the Speaker only booting a couple of MPs from the Coalition side, when based on events of last year it could easily have been more than a handful or two.

Speaker Slipper brought some welcome changes to the start of the parliamentary year which will apply for the duration of his speakership, or at least until or if they are altered further. This included no warnings before removal under Standing Order 94a for unruly behaviour, 30 second questions and 3 minute answers. All positive developments in a way but areas that can be worked on further.

The other big story of the week was the argument over whether or not the Private Health Insurance Rebate should be means tested for higher income earners. Despite the debate and some of the evidence, it became clear by the end of the week that the Government was able to drum up enough support for the passage of this measure.

So another week in Australian politics flies by at warp speed, with the political noise at times breaking the sound barrier and lucky to not be heard in far off lands away from Canberra. The noise is set to continue with parliament again sitting next week and the same debates likely to be prosecuted by the respective sides of politics, all eyes will be on the tenor of that debate and what other political and policy nuggets that may pop up to be used and abused.

%d bloggers like this: