Monday, February 1, 2010

On the QT: Bores and Sooks

Tomorrow begins the 2010 parliamentary year. This means a bit to someone if that someone happens to be an absolute political nerd, but a bit less to the other 98% of the population.

The problem of course is that for those in the know (and those who like to pretend they’re in the know, and those who follow on twitter those who like to pretend they’re in the know) is that predicting what will happen in tomorrow's QT will be as easy as going to see a production of Hamlet and wondering if anyone will die.

Abbott will ask about the “Great Big Tax ©”. Rudd will respond using phrases such as “the honourable member’s question goes to the issue of climate change”, “magic pudding”, “climate change is crap”, “the former leader of the Liberal Party wrote…”. There will some Dorothy Dixers on the Myschool website for Gillard, and the Intergenerational Report for Swan.

And there will be points of order upon points of order (which have the best ever acronym of POO).

Last week Barrack Obama indulged in a bit of a question time with Republican Party members of the House of Representatives (something that occasionally happens, but for the first time it was televised). For over an hour he answered questions from them on the economy, health care and... well the economy and health care.

For those used to seeing Australia's Question Time, the vision makes for an refreshing change. It’s not perfect – the questions are often far too long and loaded with political tripe – but Obama’s answers are the exact thing that is missing from Australia’s parliament – they’re off the cuff, direct, and honest.

Australia's Question Time would never be like this – the answers are far too scripted and the questions far too pointless. It’s not the fault of Rudd (despite what a number of commentators would say). Yes he is dull, but the format of Question Time itself does not allow for the style of answer that Obama gives – because if you notice one thing from Obama’s answers it is the absence of points of order.

Two things are needed to be banished to improve Question Time – Dorothy Dixers and frivolous points of order (which are all of them). Would that Speaker Harry Jenkins upon hearing a stupid point of order on relevance gives the person who made the point of order 1 hour in the sinbin, and that he keeps doing it until it becomes obvious that interrupting the PM or any Minister just because they don’t like the answer won’t be accepted.

Of course such a thing would never happen, because if it did, we would have point of order upon point of order made about the the decision to suspend the MP for making a point of order. You see the problem at the moment with Question Time, is not only is Rudd rather dull, but also that a good percentage of the Opposition front bench are sooks.

Joe Hockey, Chris Pyne, Peter Dutton, Julie Bishop, Bronwyn Bishop, Kevin Andrews: all of them sooks who can’t cope with being on the opposition bench. Hockey, who started everyone of his stupid answers to Dorothy Dixers in 2007 with “and the unemployment level in his/her electorate in 1996 was X% and is now Y%”, can’t take it now when Rudd or Gillard talk about the amount of stimulus spending that is an MPs electorate. And so we get “Oh Mister Speaker!” Or we get his juvenile tweets (memo to MPs, use twitter when you are out of the chamber – using it inside makes you look like a kid at the back of the class not paying attention, or an idiot cricketer miked up during a twenty20 match, or, if used like Hockey or Dutton, a sook).

But watch the video below – Obama is allowed to respond. There are occasional interruptions, but very few, and they are certainly not done to purposefully disrupt his flow. Obama also takes his time; sometimes searching for the right word. If Rudd or any of the Ministers tried that, the Liberal front bench would be yelling at them saying they’d forgotten the phrase or other such schoolyard stuff, and the media would report that the PM was flustered and often searching for words. It’s little wonder Rudd keeps to the script – far better to be boring than to look stupid.

Now I think the Westminster system absolutely kills the US system of Government. If the US President had to go through Question Time, there is no way  George W Bush becomes President – he would have been killed by the opposition and the media. But Question Time has little to do with questions anymore, and even less to do with giving anyone time to come up with a good response. Will it change? I doubt it. Harry Jenkins has tried hard as speaker, but the POOs continue, and so too do the stupid Dorothy Dixers.

Ah well at least we can watch the video and think maybe one day it’ll happen. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

(note the video goes for 66 minutes, but even just a brief watch gives a good taste).

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ChrisintheCapital said...

I have seen small samples of PM's questions in the House of Commons, and it appears to me they don't have the same issues there as we have here - though admittedly there seems to be a more general respect for the institutions in the UK.

Grog said...

That's true ChrisintheCapital. BUt they also have a different system, where there is a "PMs" Question time.

Also their use of supplementaries is different to Austraslia's.