Tuesday, August 11, 2009

On the QT: How Many MPs Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb?

Today was the first Question Time after the long winter break. The anticipation was palpable. Twitter was working itself into a frenzy, as were The Punch and Crikey as they did duelling live Question Time blogs. The three condolence motions prior to the start of proceedings only served to raise the tension to higher and higher levels. And then it began, and lo all around thought, geez, what a bloody bore.

Look I know Question Time is meant to be about serious issues, and that MPs are not there to entertain us, but hell it was hard going. Blame can be thrown around on both sides. The Liberal Party today demonstrated how damaging a weak opposition is to good government. The Government's Emissions Trading System is not without flaws but, given the shambles that the Coalition finds itself in, the Government will never really be held to account on them. This also leads to dull Question Time, especially when the Opposition decides to ask Kevin Rudd every single question on the issue of the ETS, and they end every single question with a line about the Frontier Economic modelling that LIberal Party Malcolm Turnbull (and Nick Xenaphon) commissioned was “greener, cheaper and smarter” and that the Government’s ETS was “flawed”.

So green, so cheap, so smart did they say the proposed economic modelling by Frontier Economics was that one couldn’t help wonder why the Opposition weren’t actually adopting it as policy. Kevin Rudd certainly was, because every single answer he gave on the issue referred to the policy being a “non-proposal” or a “non-policy”. It was far too easy.

And when things get far too easy for the PM, he goes into (as Annabel Crabb calls it) Power Point mode. He talks and recites and proposes and figures and datamizes and progomatic specificitizes, at which point he completely forgets to use grammar in his sentences and metaphors become but mere bits of Play-Doh for him to mould and mix into a multi-coloured ball that is neither useable nor so bad it can be thrown away.

He  took delight in referring to Turnbull’s ETS model as a magic pudding – something that you could put more carbon in and yet less emissions would come out. Upon finding that this sounded good coming from his lips he got far too excited and called it an unreconstructed magic pudding of a policy. At this point he then recalled one of his favourite expressions – “rolled gold” –  which unaccountably and  promptly found its way into the pudding mix and thus we had the Liberal Party delivering a rolled-gold, unreconstructed magic pudding, which suggests at the very least a certain amount of difficulty for voters to swallow, and most likely a shirt load of Ford Pills after the fact to move that baby through the system.

Half way through Rudd’s second answer (a Dorothy Dixer on terrorism) the storm that had been hitting Canberra at the time made its presence felt in the chamber. The lights went out from a power failure and levity ensued. Like a group of Grade 5s the MPs in the House roared and laughed at this novel thing of electricity not working. It also allowed an opportunity for many of those there, such as Peter Dutton, to display a complete absence of wit - “Forgot to pay the Bill did you Kevin/Swannie?” was heard in numerous versions, which made one think of the quality of humour more usually associated with a particularly bad best man speech. To be honest Rudd didn’t do much better when he continued speaking – using a pretty tortured analogy about darkness in the Liberal Party or some such.

After that the tone got no brighter. Surprisingly, Andrew Robb and not Turnbull asked the second question (causing Julia Gillard to mischievously suggest he was “getting some practice in” in reference to the laughable rumours that he is a candidate to take over the leadership). His question again ended with the “cheaper, greener, smarter” – or was it “greener, smarter, cheaper” – one gets confused), and the Government's “flawed ETS”. So easy was his question that Rudd went into Dorothy Dixer mode and talked and recited and proposed and figured and…  

When Joe Hockey got up to ask his question, he seemed to be suffering from the effort of climbing Mt Kilimanjaro in the recess and almost fell asleep while standing at the Dispatch Box. What came through from his mumbled sleepy voice was why the Government wouldn’t adopt the Turnbull ETS model; to which Rudd essentially replied, why should I – you haven’t. From then on the Opposition's questions  became more and more pointless – asking Rudd how much the cost of a litre of milk would rise under the ETS, or how much the the price of bus fares would rise.

Rudd dealt with these by not bothering to answer and instead had fun talking about Liberal Party disunity. And while, yes it was humorous in parts (such as the mention of the “gratifying grunt of approval” in the Liberal Party room to Turnbull’s ETS), it lacked any real venom because there was no risk, no danger for Rudd, no need to go on the attack. It was like watching a tennis player serve out the match with the score line reading 6-0, 6-1, 5-0. At such point the greatest shot ever seen will elicit barely an applause as the crowd just hope the match (and the opponent) will be put out of its misery.

So it was for Question Time today. It was murder for all watching, and given the way the session started, it would have only been fitting for the PM to have ended with another condolence motion for those poor fools who had decided to tune in.

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