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A Recipe for Chaos and Fatalism

The Prime Minister paid a visit to the Governor-General today for the swearing-in ceremony of her latest ministry. This is the second visit to Yarralumla in as many months for Julia Gillard and it comes just a matter of days after the ALP again found themselves facing a leadership spill, which this time did not happen. The election date was obviously firmly in mind in the ministerial considerations the Prime Minister again had to make ahead of the May budget session. The result – the continued perpetuation of some of the same issues which have plagued the Gillard Government.

Perhaps the most striking think about today’s announcement is the decision made by Julia Gillard to create multiple ‘ministers for everything’. Five existing ministers in the Gillard ministry now have extra portfolios.

Anthony Albanese has had Regional Development and Local Government added to his title, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus takes on the dual role of Special Minister of State and Minister for Public Service and Integrity and Craig Emerson snares Chris Bowen’s former role in Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research. Finally, Greg Combet becomes Minister for Climate Change, Industry and Innovation and Tony Burke adds Minister for the Arts to his already lengthy ministerial title.

Gillard backers have clearly been rewarded with the exception of Anthony Albanese, the conciliatory Rudd backer who has received the key portfolio of Regional Development which is a very neat fit with his existing responsibilities in Infrastructure and Transport.

There are just six months until the election. Obviously that has had a major impact on the distinct lack of change and renewal in the changes announced today at Government House. It would have been wise to promote existing talent, despite the electoral prospects of the ALP at the September 14 election. Some would consider that a waste of good people, but the best team should always be made available regardless of the state of play.

There were a number of new additions to the ministry, but for the most part they were underwhelming choices. Andrew Leigh and Gary Gray were the best appointments in the new ministry. Others elevated were Sharon Bird, Don Farrell, Catherine King, Michael Danby, Senator Jan McLucas, Senator Matt Thistlethwaite, Amanda Rishworth and Shayne Neumann.

If the Prime Minister was looking for a way to continue to foment chaos within her government, today she found it. Having so many ministers, already struggling with burdensome portfolios is not a smart political move at all. Yes, there is only six months to go until the polls and there will not be much more legislative work undertaken, but the policy effort must continue and will be stifled by the mega portfolios created today.

If ever you wanted a glimpse at the thinking of our leaders, without actually needing to hear an answer, you got it. Far from the bloated portfolios simply making policy work more difficult, the ministerial announcements also portray a fatalism within the Labor Party. That fatalism is obviously at the forefront of the Prime Minister’s mind, the reshuffle was designed by her.

If there was one strong positive about the announcement it is that there will apparently be a decrease in the size of government, or at least a bit of a streamlining of it. The Department of Climate Change will now merge with the Department of Industry and Innovation.

Like many problems, the solution to the personnel issue was rushed and ill-considered. There was a small amount of good done in the selections made, but it was cancelled out by the poor decisions.

Chaos will continue to reign and now the government quite clearly looks to have given up all electoral hope.

The Not So Fun Water Fight With Changing Goal Posts

It’s Friday and in politics that can mean one of two things. More often than not it’s that nothing of significance is announced by the incumbent government or the opposition. Sometimes, on the other hand, Friday is used by a government to release a policy that the administration wants eased into the public arena, or relatively ignored on announcement, for fear of the damage or embarrassment it may cause a government, struggling or otherwise.

Today was an example of the latter for the Gillard Government. The Murray-Darling Basin has long been on the political agenda, particularly so since former Prime Minister John Howard set up the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, thus beginning the process of water reform.

Today, with just weeks left before the MDBA plan is finalised, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that an extra 450 gigalitres, on top of the putative 2750 gigalitres, would be returned to the Murray-Darling.

While the 2750 gigalitres would be returned to river system, by-and-large through water buybacks and cuts to allocations, the new addition to the target would largely be kept in the basin via water efficiency measures. Water saving measures would also be achieved by removing capacity constraints, meaning that structures and bottlenecks that constrain the flow of water would be removed.

However, the phraseology used when talking about the change opens the door for some of the extra 450 gigalitre target to be achieved by the same method as would be applied to the 2750 gigalitre target. That is, cutting water allocations. ┬áThe Environment Minister Tony Burke said today in talking about the extra efforts announced, that the outcome would “largely” be achieved by water-saving methods.

To achieve the new outcome, Prime Minister Gillard today, flanked by South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill, announced $1.7 billion over ten years aimed at these water efficiency projects along Australia’s largest river system.

It would appear on the face of it, that the extra figure and its associated costs announced today, is about one of two things.

The first is that it is a sweetener aimed at getting South Australia on-side and it has obviously worked, South Australia is now firmly behind the push to reform the Murray-Darling in its new form.

The second is that today’s announcement is a distraction from the much bigger task, getting all the states to agree in the coming weeks on the initial 2750 gigalitre target. This outcome is a lot less likely, even though the additional 450 gigalitre target, through the way that it will be achieved, appears likely to be widely supported by the state governments.

Then there’s the farmers and irrigators. They are the ones in the middle of this dispute and the ones both with the most to lose and the most to gain. Take too much from them and the water is not there for food production. Take too little and the long-term viability of the basin system is in jeopardy.

Farmers are feeling the pain already. They are extremely worried about all the targets announced so far, even to the point of protesting by burning copies of the initial MDBA draft plan.

A curious element of the policy announced today is the year of delivery for the recommended water retention in the MDBA report. The full realisation of the target would not be delivered until 2024 under changes from Environment Minister Tony Burke.

To have delayed this time-frame both makes the final outcome the problem of a future government if it goes awry and second, it implies that the government were so concerned about the potential negative impact, likely on farmers, that they simply had to push the pain so far away from the likely end of their governance of the country.

In short, there might be widespread support for the additional target announced today by the Labor Government because the methods under that proposal are widely favoured among the states, however agreement over the whole plan is far from fruition.

Question Time Ahead of Time

We are screaming, both literally and figuratively toward the end of another week of federal politics, or at least our politicians are. Tuesday was rather noisy and vitriolic after somewhat of a reprieve on Monday when Question Time lacked at least some of the bluster we’ve become accustomed to during this 43rd parliament.

In a sure sign that the derp still exists in Australian politics a Coalition MP was forced on Tuesday to withdraw the term “bullet-head”, made in relation to a Government Minister toward the end of Question Time, a very silly and immature interjection indeed.

On top of the level of immaturity creeping back up to a higher level of visibility, the Tuesday session of Question Time again went according to plan except for the government returning some of the political discourse to talking about the education payments announced by the Gillard Government in the May 8 budget.

The Gillard Government are still trying to cut through in relation to the carbon price/carbon tax, call it what you will. In particular the Labor Party are trying to assuage fears that the carbon tax will cost many families more than they have received and/or will get in compensation from the government. This will again be the dominant focus of questions from their own side of politics during Questions Without Notice today.

A second major focus, as it was yesterday will be the schoolkids bonus education payment which was one of the major elements of the budget delivered by Treasurer Wayne Swan just over a month ago. Other packages to families and low and middle income earners from the budget could also make an appearance in Dorothy Dixers.

A further feature, albeit smaller will be the marine reserves announced by Environment Minister Tony Burke last Friday, with the government wanting to parade the announcement both domestically and internationally even though it hasn’t exactly been received well at home.

The Coalition will again mirror the government on at least one count, quite likely two, with questions on both the nearing carbon price and quite likely one or two, perhaps more on the announcement of new marine reserves by Tony Burke.

Tuesday saw a marked increase in volume from the Monday session of Question Time, with Standing Order 94a used on more than one occasion, including to remove the Member for Mackellar, Bronwyn Bishop from the House after she stood to withdraw and said “I withdraw the term bullet head”, one of the more unfortunate interjections of recent times. This kind of behaviour looks set to continue right up until the winter recess, even if it comes in different levels of severity and will probably result in a number of hour-long sin bins over the next 5 sitting days.

Now a sufficient picture of how Question Time will play out exists in your mind you can avail yourself to other opportunities rather than sit through the hour and a bit of mere theatre, though I suspect most of you reading this may have already worked out better plans. If not and you don’t already know, it all kicks off from 2pm.

 

Question Time Ahead of Time

We’ve had two weeks reprieve from shouty parliamentary soundbites and nasty exchanges but tomorrow the show rolls back into town in the nation’s capital with a two week sitting period before the long winter break commences and we get some sizable respite from the major arena of political hostilities. The two week period ahead will be the last parliamentary sitting before the carbon price appears on July the 1st and that very subject is almost certainly going to dominate that daily hour of screaming back and forth that we refer to as Question Time.

For the Opposition in Question Time for the next two weeks we can expect well beyond all reasonable doubt that the majority of questions to the Gillard Government from their side will be around the impending carbon tax. This has been the case off and on for some time in the parliament with it dominating the parliamentary debate most of the time when either the Minerals Resource Rent Tax or the Craig Thomson case weren’t the flavour of the day.

It is possible that some of the National Party members or Shadow Environment Minister will get to ask a question or two of the Environment Minister following the announcement on Friday of a swathe of new marine reserves around the Australian coastline. This also could be relegated to a question or questions in the Senate.

The government itself will also focus most of its questions in both chambers of parliament on the carbon tax too after it shared the spotlight with budget commitments since the May 8 fiscal statement. For the government it will be about continuing to sell the compensation package that has begun to roll out and the other associated sweeteners mean to blunt any impact that the price will have and even overcompensate many.

In what may well mirror the Coalition it is almost certain that the Dorothy Dixer will also be used to sell the proposed changes to marine reserves that Tony Burke announced last week, especially since environmental issues, like the Murray-Darling Basin plan have had a minor airing during Question Time in recent sitting periods.

Emotions will be running high again with so much political energy thrown into and burned by talking about and introducing the carbon tax so it can be expected that the 94a will get a workout or multiple MPs will get a stern talking to from the Acting Speaker, Anna Burke as the parliamentary battle rages and perhaps descends into the sad depths it has in recent weeks.

 

 

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