US President Barack Obama has delivered his fifth State of the Union address on Capitol Hill. As is custom, nay, the whole point of the speech – the President talked of the current state of affairs in the United States of America, focusing mainly on the economic position of the nation. There was a brief glance at America’s role in foreign affairs and diplomacy, in terms of Afghanistan, North Korea and Iran. And then Mr Obama laid out the plans and aspirations he has for his second and final term as President of the United States. The hour-long speech was replete with promises, some within reach and many others not even close to attainable.
The speech was much along the lines of that which he delivered in his second innauguration address on the hill. Again his words were based on hope and optimism, but the themes was far less muted than they were a little over four years ago before he became President. Aside from some specifics on the economy, gun control and climate change were key issues which Obama focused on. Again same-sex marriage rated a mention, albeit a not overly explicit one.
On the ABC24’s flagship current affairs program, The Drum there was a discussion and dissection of the speech, what it meant, what was in it and what parts of its’ contents will prove achievable for a President with nothing to lose. Most of that discussion had the realities of the situation in mind. It was abundantly clear to all panellists how difficult it would be for Obama to achieve much of the agenda set out today.
Jonathan Green, one of the guests on the show, described Obama’s list of policy goals as a “shopping list”. This is both an ill-fitting metaphor and an apt one for the policy agenda outlined by President Obama in the State of the Union address.
A shopping list is usually a list of things that you will buy and that are readily available on any given day. You go to the shops and they are there and you can usually afford them. They are within reach of everyone. Most of the items on Obama’s shopping list will simply prove to be well and truly out of reach.
There has been some reform on gun control in the form of executive orders, but more significant reform which requires legislative approval will likely prove impossible. Meaningful action on climate change and same-sex marriage will likely suffer the same fate. It is however a positive step that the conversation on both issues has recommenced after being neglected during the election campaign of 2012.
In a sense, the issues outlined by Barack Obama do constitute a metaphorical shopping list. Some of the prescriptions raised by Obama are entirely necessary, like staples on a shopping list. There needs to be action on climate change and gun control and immigration law changes to name but a few topics raised.
Many of the items on Obama’s shopping list were what you would term ‘luxury items’. This is true in a metaphorical sense anyway. They are such because they will prove unobtainable. These are items that are of course desirable – ones which you really want, but which are, for some reason, almost unobtainable.
How many items can President Obama tick off the list? In reality he faces a tough battle with Republicans on the hill in just about every major policy area.
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.
It’s Wednesday and another day of Parliament and the requisite Question Time is upon us and it promises to bring much of the same drama, shouting and laughter we have come to expect, particularly during Question Time. Today’s session also promises to bring much the same line of questioning from both sides of politics, but likely not the cross-benches. This means parliament is set to continue debate on the economy, carbon tax, Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT), Private Health Insurance Rebate and the Fair Work Australia (FWA) investigation into Craig Thomson. A further event past that is likely to attract attention is the Australia Day protest which overnight saw a new development with footage of a key player, Kim Sattler being brought to light.
The Coalition is likely to continue its attack with a three prong mix of the carbon tax, FWA and Craig Thomson and the means testing of the Private Health Insurance Rebate. It is also now likely that the Opposition will pursue, with renewed vigour, the events of Australia Day. The questions will likely pursue the same lines of inquiry that have been displayed so far this parliamentary year.
The Government are also likely to continue on the same line of attempting to establish a narrative as good economic managers which is failing to cut through if the latest poll is any indication as far as team performance goes. Once again, Government questions, or Dixer’s will focus on the strength of the economy related to others and on the spending that is occurring under this Government.
Again the Speaker will have a tough time controlling the parliament with members likely becoming more raucous as the time flies by and the likelihood of the 94a being utilised is high. The reforms to the lengths of both questions and answers does not seem at all to have changed the tenor of the debate with much of the same nonsense, just less time to fit it in.
The rundown complete, you know have the tools to follow Question Time a little more closely, beginning at 2pm AEDT on both your radio and your television. I won’t be missing it, will you?