Saturday, November 15, 2008

On the QT: For Julie, the end is nigh; for Julia, it's only the beginning.

Unfortunately I was away at a conference this week so I missed all of QT except for Monday.

I won't bother with a recap of what I missed... ok quick one - Turnbull wasted a lot of time going on about Rudd leaking the phone call with Bush bit about how Bush didn't know what the G20 was - apparently this caused great offence to all Americans - yes the man of whom only around 20% of Americans regard as competent.

Thus Rudd meeting with Bush at the G20 conference this week will be watched for any signs of frostiness (already seen as "standoffish" - seriously even if Bush gave Rudd a kiss the press would call it a cold reception - "the President pointedly did not use his tongue").

All this misses the big question of why on earth would anyone give a damn what Bush thought? What does Obama think of Rudd is more important. And so what does he think? Well perhaps the fact that Rudd was the first foreign leader to meet with with Madeleine Albright, the former US secretary of state charged with meeting leaders on behalf of President-elect Barack Obama, should assuage any fears about the end of the alliance.

Mr Rudd told reporters that in their 45-minute discussion, he and Treasurer Wayne Swan had spoken to Dr Albright about how Australia will work "as closely as possible" with the Obama administration on the response to the crisis, "not just on financial market regulations but also in terms of stimulus to the real economy".

Further, if reports are true that Hillary Clinton will be Obama's Secretary of State, then fuhgeddaboudit - Rudd would have her number on speed dial, and she'd be taking the call. Yes Rudd or his office was dumb to let the G20 bit get printed - I'm still not sure whether it was a joke or Bush really didn't know what the G20 was - but it won't affect any relationships, and it certainly won't change one vote in Australia.

Back to QT. My big disappointment of the week was missing Julia sit in the big chair. Annabel Crabbe gives a great summary of her in action. But reading the Hansard is worthwhile for those who missed it on TV.

Two instinctive things emerged from Thursday's QT: One - the opposition are scared of Julia. There she was acting as the PM, and the opposition asked her only four questions - and only one by Turnbull on anything PMish (on the Bush phone call, and Julia fairly well read his delivery out of the hand and put it over the fence for six). Hockey asked one about the ETU (six more runs, and Hockey dispatched to fine leg to think about his performance...); Peter Dutton then asked one about Hospitals, and so lame was his delivery, it was a virtual Dorothy Dixer:

My question is to the Acting Prime Minister. Acting Prime Minister, does the government stand by the Prime Minister’s pledge to the Australian people that he will fix the public hospital system by 2009 or he will have a referendum to take over the public hospitals from the states?

I mean seriously. Seriously! That was his big question?? I wonder how long it took him to think it up? Essentially he asked if the Government still stood by its health policy made at the election. In reality he was asking Julia to reiterate the health policy that helped the ALP win the election, and while she was at it to talk about how badly the Howard Government had done.

The question was the equivalent of asking Tendulkar whether he'd like you to bowl on the off or leg side. To whit, Julia fairly slapped the return back so fast and accurately that had they been playing cricket, Dutton would've worn a kookaburra on his scone.

Here's her answer:

GILLARD—I thank the member for his question. This government has inherited from the former government a public hospital system that has had a billion dollars ripped out of it. It cut back GP training places and other workforce places, leaving us with a crisis in workforce in many parts of the country. It is not a track record to be proud of. What the government has done since it took office is work with our state and territory counterparts on new Australian healthcare agreements. What the government has said consistently is that it will work with our state and territory colleagues to get new cooperative arrangements to deal with the problems in the health system.

[after a few points of order]....

Ms GILLARD—In responding to the question, I say this to the member who asked the question and to members opposite: the last thing that I would have thought that members of the Liberal Party would want to do is start a debate about honouring election promises, given that they are the political party that gave to this nation the terminology ‘core’ and ‘non-core’. From the very first day they were elected, they wanted to dump their election promises, and they did. I remind members opposite that, when it comes to the question of promises, they promised Australians before the 2004 election that it would be business as usual in workplace relations.

So a question on health gets turned into a slap at the Howard government's non-core promises and also workplace-relations.

If you don't think Julia Gillard is the best parliamentary performer, you're so blind you probably think Julie Bishop is doing a great job...

Which brings me on to my next point. On Thursday Dennis Shanahan in The Australian picked up on what I have been thinking for a while - that Bishop is the biggest positive the ALP has on the Liberal front bench. On 3 Nov, I predicted that she would be dumped as shadow Treasurer over the Christmas break, Shanahan seems to agree:

JULIE Bishop is politically damaged goods. The Coalition's Treasury spokeswoman has lost credibility and lacks parliamentary authority at a time when credentials for economic management are determining political fortunes and directly affecting Australia's economic future.

On Thursday, with Wayne Swan out of the country, Lindsay Tanner was standing in as Treasurer. Here's who asked him questions: Turnbull (2) and Andrew Robb. Here's the Hansard of Robb's question:

Mr ROBB (2.45 pm)—My question is to the Acting Treasurer.
Government members interjecting—
The SPEAKER—Order! Those on my right will come to order!

Now I haven't seen the vision, or heard what the were interjecting, but the fact that Robb was Turnbull's choice to be shadow Treasurer, before Bishop took the spot in a deal that gave Turnbull the numbers for the top job, you can bet the Government, smelling death on the other side, took great relish in the fact that Robb was asking Tanner a question and not Bishop.

If she still has the shadow Treasurer's job next year, it'll mean Turnbull has no power in the Liberal Party, because it will mean he can't afford to lose Bishop's support. It'll also mean both he and the party are dead.

But to be brutally honest, the Liberals were pretty well stuffed on Thursday. They had to go against Julia and Tanner instead of Rudd and Swan.

I'm betting there were sighs on both sides of the House - sighs of relief from the Liberals that they only had one day against that pair; sighs of disappointment from the ALP side that they only had one day with that pair at the top...

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