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The Folly Revealed

Policies and promises, who would make them sometimes with all the intense pressure from different parties, interest groups and the broader society. And when would they, when should they make them? We seem to go through that debate every single electoral cycle. The discussion around policies and promises only accelerates as an election nears. This year is no exception. The Coalition has long held a surplus pledge and that is slowly disappearing as, it appears, is the pledge of a company tax cut of 1.5%. Reality is setting in for the Liberal and National Party coalition. But are they the only ones to blame?

It would appear that we are in some parallel universe. Many in the media, along with the Labor Government and their coalition partners, the Greens were happy to call on the Opposition to start releasing policy months, even more than a year ago. And now they react with surprise that the Coalition now appear to be looking at tweaking their long announced company tax cut and walking away from the pledge of a surplus in the first year of a Coalition Government, which is a likely proposition come September 15.

Okay, so these policies are not ones which anti-Coalition forces called on the Abbott-led Opposition to make. Both pronouncements have been long-held planks of Liberal Party policy, with the company tax cut an idea around since early 2010 and the surplus, well, that is just what the Coalition do when it comes to economic management.

But can you say the Coalition brought it on themselves, making these statements so early and holding onto them with such vigour. The answer yes and no. The budget is is a pretty ordinary state, partly due to global factors, but also due to the continued excess spending of the Gillard Government. Perhaps though, the Opposition should have realised that the budget would be in the position it is now, but you cannot really blame them for that.

The apparent need to crab-walk away from these two policies does however prove, beyond all reasonable doubt, the folly of adopting policy decisions so early on. Oppositions are too often pulled toward making early predictions of what they may and may not be able to achieve were they to find themselves in government.

The pressure put on oppositions is however an ongoing thing. It is an inevitability in politics that governments will do all they can to put pressure on and try to wrong-foot their political foes. The media will often be complicit in this ruse too.

This by no means excuses the all too often last-minute policy releases and costings submissions  made by oppositions. These circumstances have no place in a transparent electoral democracy, yet they will unfortunately continue to happen in politics. They are an unfortunate inevitability that you wish we could get away from.

A seemingly acceptable benchmark for the release of the majority of policies and costings would seem to be not too long after the budget which is in May each year,

For now, we wait to see just how different these policies may now look as September 14 nears.

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

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

It’s State of Origin Wednesday and although that doesn’t matter to many in Canberra you should still expect to see a few Queensland and New South Wales MPs trotting around parliament in the appropriately coloured tie or supporter pins, perhaps arriving adorned in maroon or blue scarves. But I digress. It really will be just another Wednesday in Parliament House with two days left in the parliamentary week to try and land blows and for the government to deflect a few and try and land some themselves though that is, to say the least beyond difficult at the moment. That means two days of Question Time, about 2 hours and 20 minutes to cause as much political trauma for each other as the two sides possibly can. Oh, and some badly acted theatre.

The Coalition will be set to continue with the same two-pronged strategy that they have engaged with over an extended period of time in the Australian political discourse.

The Coalition seem set to continue to focus on the carbon tax, carbon price, however you’d like to refer to it as has been the strategy pretty much since that now infamous promise was broken nearing two years ago in the wash-up of an election that delivered the first minority parliament Australia has seen for decades.

The pricing of carbon begins on July 1st and the Opposition will use any report of purported damage to individuals and to the economy of having the carbon price in place that they can find.

But amongst the debate over the carbon tax lies a debate over the future of the Member for Dobell, Craig Thomson who just at the start of the week finally made his long-awaited statement to the parliament over the allegations of civil wrongdoing which have been made against him. The Opposition though, while having some small wins in the debate since the speech on Monday are running out of and also being starved of opportunities  in the matter, with the statement to go before the Privileges Committee.

The Gillard Government will also be continuing their theme from the post-budget sittings of parliament and continue to try to sell aspects of the budget which contain extra spending for families  and low and middle income earners.

More broadly in relation to the budget too, the ALP Government will undoubtedly use Question Time to try and sell the idea of returning to surplus, though this might just prove a significant challenge.

With just two days left to go in the parliamentary week and with the state of affairs as tense and troubling as they have been in this 43rd parliament, you can expect the 94a to be rolled out and whacked across the noses of offending MPs and Senators.

As always, Question Time begins from 2pm and you can catch it pretty much anywhere you are as long as you at least have a laptop and an internet connection. The countdown to Question Time begins!

Question Time Ahead of Time

It’s Tuesday in a two week parliamentary session before parliament rises again for a short break and then sits for another two week period in mid June and the parliamentary tensions have amped up after the speech by Craig Thomson to the parliament disputing the claims against him. The carbon tax commencement date is also nearing and has been a major focus of debate outside the Thomson issue. If the history of this 43rd parliament is any indication then the verbal warring will not let up and could even continue to escalate even further.

The Coalition, despite the Thomson speech to parliament yesterday looks set to continue with their focus, as it has been for  a prolonged period of time now, on the carbon tax which will commence in just over one months time on July 1st. This attack has been central to the campaign strategy for the Abbott-led Opposition and will continue to be the major facet of the political attacks from the Coalition.

The speech by Mr Thomson just 24 hours ago  will continue to take much of the Coalition focus outside of the parliament and a significant focus inside both parliamentary chambers. The scope of that focus is limited now that Craig Thomson is sitting as an Independent (though Labor voting) MP suspended from the Labor Party, thereby limiting the questions that can be asked of the government on the matter.

The Gillard Government, as they have tried to since the budget two weeks ago will focus the use of the Dorothy Dixer on trying to sell elements of the budget which provide payments for low-to-middle income earners including the education payment and family tax benefit increases. The importance of returning to surplus will also almost certainly remain a part of that strategy as it has been used during Question Time.

Parliament looks set to be rowdy with all members in high tension mode and all the action of Question Time begins from 2pm. Will the 94a get a workout? Find out in just a few short hours.

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.

Budget 2012-13: The Purported State of Affairs

Finally that one night of the year where the government of the day outlines the broad priorities (and not so much priorities) to be focused on in the coming fiscal year has come and gone. It has been an extraordinary period leading up to and including the budget with leaks and announcements far outstripping those of previous years, probably down to the fact that the government, so badly suffering in the polls needs as much clear air and momentum as they can get, if only to simply keep treading water.

So what is the state of play with some of the projections on the state of the budget for 2012-13 and beyond?

Well, the Gillard Government, through Treasurer Wayne Swan announced this that after year after year of deficits the fiscal year ahead would see a surplus achieved of $1.5 billion according to their word anyway. Not only that, but according to projections, the next 3 budgets after that would also be in surplus, with the leftover funds growing year by year over that period.

The budget papers announced that over $33 billion would be cut from the budget to make way for the very slim $1.5 billion dollar surplus with defence spending a massive loser, being cut by approximately $5.5 billion

For all the fuss over the cuts and deferrals of spending announced in the fiscal statement, there was also a number of new announcements outlined in the papers, not least of which includes a $3.2 billion package for aged care and $1 billion over four years for the establishment of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the  latter a much talked about but until now lacking in detail initiative.

But alas the exercise tonight for the Gillard Government was more about political ends and achieving a budget surplus in an attempt to regain at least some political favour. Journalists tonight by and large certainly seemed more than willing to assist the Labor Party in their quest to be widely celebrated for the budget, with many consistently referring to the budget, which won’t see its final results until mid next year at the earliest, constantly referring to the budget actually being back in surplus when that is so far from certain.

Indeed, with a wafer thin surplus of only $1.5 billion and with still uncertain global conditions and the possibility of future domestic shocks, not to mention new and necessary spending requirements, the idea that the budget would even be in surplus when the time comes is at best incredibly iffy.

The budget has been and will be viewed as a win for many low and middle income earners, with the odd exception mixed in and a loss and letdown for business who had hoped for and expected much more from the government given the rhetoric.

The big sell begins now. The Government have certainly tried to buy back some votes, but it seems incredibly unlikely that the budget will be a game-changer when the players are not even listening anymore and have stopped participating in some cases.

Question Time Ahead of Time: Budget Day Special

It’s that special day that comes around but once a year. It’s that day when the Treasurer strides to the despatch to spend a good amount of time outlining the budget priorities for the fiscal year ahead, what will be key priorities and what will be the focus of cuts. Undoubtedly too, in times like these deferrals also form a part of the budget.

Question Time and the House of Representative sitting itself today will be the first one out of the chair for Peter Slipper since taking the role while investigations continue into claims of misuse of Cabcharge and sexual harassment are investigated. This puts ALP MP for Chisholm and Deputy Speaker Anna Burke in the chair for Question Time and the all important budget address and could see fiery exchanges if the last time Ms Burke was in the chair for a brief period in Question Time is anything to go by.

The Coalition will quite likely not be focusing entirely on the budget in this sitting of Question Time, commencing just five and a half hours before the budget is delivered from the House of Representatives at 7:30pm. Aside from the budget and the new spending, cuts and budget tricks, the Coalition will still likely ask questions on the carbon tax, maybe the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and perhaps even Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper investigations, the latter of which reached a head yesterday with a Fair Work Australia report yesterday naming him hundreds of times in relation to alleged wrongdoing of a civil nature.

The Gillard Government will likely focus all of their efforts in Question Time through the Dorothy Dixer on key aspects of the budget that they believe will be items which have electoral benefits for them. To this end, questions from their own side will likely focus on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the aged care reforms  and the cash handouts for education.The government will also likely focus on the fact that they are trying to return the budget to surplus for financial year 2012-13.

Question Time as always begins from 2pm and can be caught on your television, radio or computer.

Budget Announcements and Half Announcements are Outdoing Possible Leaks

It is a regular feature of Australian politics that in the days and weeks leading up to the delivery of the budget by the Treasurer of the day budget leaks and rumour generally abound from the Australian political centre that is Canberra. This year however, announcements of budget items seem to have outdone the whisperings about possible spending allocations and cuts that followers of politics are used to leading up to that Tuesday in May when the Treasurer steps up to the despatch box to inform the country of their governments fiscal priorities.

There has been, for some days now a rumour abounding in Canberra and fuelled by the heightened interest of politicians in ensuring it does not occur, that the Gillard Government is set to announce cuts to the foreign aid budget.

This follows a promise by Labor, under former Prime Minister, now humble backbencher, Kevin Rudd that the Labor Government he once led, would increase foreign aid spending to a total of 0.5% of Gross National Income (GNI) by financial year 2015-16.

The belief around Canberra and the aid sector seems to be that the government are set to scrap their commitment to head toward spending on foreign aid of 0.5% of GNI.

The rumour mill surrounding this has almost exploded from being overworked and it would appear, with the strength of the political backlash to the simple report of this possible move that there has to be a real element of truth in it, without any real details having been leaked on the matter. So this item, almost alone in specific and credible rumours will be one to keep an ear out for confirmation of or otherwise from 7:30pm next Tuesday, May 8th.

But for this one real virulent rumour there have been more confirmations of and half announcements of both cuts and new spending to be allocated in what the Labor Government hopes will be a budget that returns to surplus in 2012-13.

Aged care is set to be overhauled in the 2012-13 budget to be delivered by Treasurer Wayne Swan on Tuesday. Back in April it was announced that the government would commence, on the 1st of July 2012 a ten year plan costing $3.7 billion to transform the way aged care is delivered, allowing more people to seek care in their own homes and making the cost of aged care homes easier to bear for the most financially vulnerable.

The Australian Government, via Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Monday at the NDIS rally in Sydney half announced that there would be an allocation of funds toward starting the National Disability Insurance Scheme a year earlier, commencing at 4 different launch sites from July next year.

But it was only a partial announcement from the PM, albeit a very welcome development for Australian’s with a serious and permanent disability and their families and carers. Prime Minister Gillard announced that next year these 4 launch sites would assist an initial 10,000 Australians with a disability and double the next year to provide help to another 10,000 people.

What this announcement lacked was detail, including most importantly, the estimated cost of the program rollout, but also what parts of Australia would be given the opportunity to be covered by the Medicare-like framework. The PM said we must wait until the budget for the details, a real tease, if not a hope building one in this important area of government policy.

In a budget where the expectations were for savage spending cuts, a new spending initiative is a very interesting element in the budgetary discussion which is ramping up five days from its announcement.

Today too, the government have announced $214 million toward the planning of 12 new submarines to replace the Collins Class fleet which had their troubles, particularly in the initial stages of development and operation.

Again though, for these not insignificant spending allocations, the Labor Party have also flagged ahead of May 8, areas where they will seek to slash or defer public spending.

The government today also announced in the area of defence spending that there will be both cuts and the deferral of spending in the area of purchasing defence materiel.

It was announced today that the planned requisition of self-propelled artillery will be scrapped altogether and this alone would save the budget bottom line a total of $250 million dollars.

The trouble-plagued delivery of the F35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) will be delayed two years from the previously expected date of receipt, moving our acquisition of this defence capability into line with that of the US. In doing this $1.6 billion will be saved from the budget from this measure by itself.

In announcing the cuts to defence spending, both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith assured Australia that defence cuts would not impinge on or include cuts to spending related to our operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere overseas.

The leaks and rumour mill have been almost non-existent over the budget-planning period and look set to remain minimal with only three full working days left before the final announcement of spending priorities occurs in Canberra. This could be put down to the poll woes that have faced the government for a prolonged period of time, trying to get some messages out early to cloud what is supposed to be a difficult budget, according to the warnings repeatedly given, no matter how unbelievable.

Nevertheless it has been an interesting exercise to observe the seemingly comparative lack of rumours as we hurtle toward the 2012-13 budget.

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