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Question Time Ahead of Time

There are only two more days left in the last parliamentary sitting period before the budget is handed down by Treasurer Wayne Swan on behalf of the Gillard Government in May. As a result, the ALP Government will be competing hard with the Coalition for the remaining two days in Canberra this week to try to create momentum going into what will have to be a very difficult fiscal tightening if the government are to reach the surplus they have promised. All this and more points to a big two days of Question Time before parliament rises late tomorrow.

The Coalition look set to continue pursuing the government over questions about the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) and to significantly focus on the already passed carbon tax which comes into force in just a matter of months. Both the carbon tax and the MRRT look like they will focus of a High Court challenge and this will play out in the coming months.

The Opposition may also decide in small part, to continue to pursue matters related to Craig Thomson and the Fair Work Australia investigation into alleged improprieties at the Health Services Union which have already seen a recommendation that 3 former officials in Victoria face Federal Court action.

The government look set to continue to focus on the economy specifically through the revenue raised by the MRRT and how it will fund programs and tax cuts for business.

There looks set to be less and less “Opposition bashing” during the answers to Dorothy Dixer’s in particular but also in responses to questions from the Coalition thanks to very strict policing of the “direct relevance” Standing Order which saw the Treasurer kicked out of the parliament under 94a for one hour yesterday and others effectively warned to become relevant.

The noise, with two days in parliament to go will surely be at a high, with temper tantrums flaring up from time to time throughout the hour and ten minute session of Question Time. A number of MPs will surely be removed for an hour under Standing Order 94a. Who will they be and just how entertaining or frustrating will Question Time be? Find out at 2pm AEDT.

Warming to the Slipper Speakership, Well Aspects of it…

Last year as I was out buying groceries I learnt of an amazing event unfolding in Canberra which seemed to take even the most seasoned political commentators by surprise. This was the resignation of much loved Speaker Harry Jenkins and the subsequent installation of Peter Slipper as Speaker. This event left the Coalition by surprise and many as it did many of their supporters and the general public. It also caused widespread anger from those in the same quarters. Anger at the decision and defection aside, no matter what party it is aimed at, the debate has now moved on to the actions of the new Speaker at the end of the first parliamentary sitting week of 2012.

I must say that I held very low hopes for a fair and balanced Question Time after the events of the last parliamentary sitting day in 2011. Notwithstanding the fact that the events would have caused the loud anger that ensued, it appeared that Coalition MPs would become the subject of a brutal political vendetta.

This seems to have changed this year and my expectations of the Slipper Speakership have subsequently become favourable to the Speakership. I say this as there have only been two ejections of Coalition MPs under the much loved Standing Order 94a during the 3 days of Question Time this week.

The new Speaker has also embarked upon instituting some parliamentary reforms of Question Time which I view with a reasonable level of favourability.

To further shorten the length of both questions and answers, further than those under the agreement beginning the “new paradigm” is a very positive development. This has seen the length of time allowed for answering a question in Question Time down to 30 seconds, 15 seconds shorter than under the previous agreement reached between the Government, Opposition and the rural Independents. Further, answers have been reduced by one whole minute, down to 3 minutes.

Now, those who know me and what I stand for in relation to this area will know that I do not find this ideal, it is true, I think it could be reduced even further to cut down some of the rubbish which can all too often invade questions and answers. However, it must be said this is a positive development and not at all one I expected.

A further change under Peter Slipper as Speaker is the removal of a warning before the booting of an MP being too loud or un-parliamentary. This is neither here nor there. There are some circumstances where I believe more leeway should be granted, such as if a member is plainly being loud on one or a small number of occasions. There are plenty of times under any Speaker where some being loud are caught and others not so it is a bit unfair to them. On the other hand for more serious infractions such as language deemed inappropriate or for defying the Speaker then an automatic ejection is an entirely sensible outcome.

On renaming of the Main Committee, to the Federation Chamber, I see it as just a name change to part of our parliamentary democracy. It is if anything an homage to federation we are and in that way somewhat of a tribute to the founding fathers of our nation Australia.

There is no doubt the new Speaker is growing on me, in the performance of his new role anyway…

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