You can tell a lot about how things are travelling for both political parties by looking at the questions they ask in Question Time, and the number of points of order made in relation to various answers.
Last week the Government announced its policy to take over 60% of hospital funding and to appoint local boards to run them; it also announced a national curriculum for Years K to 10. On Monday, Tony Abbott announced a policy (of sorts) for paid parental leave (PPL) to be funded by adding a 1.7% levy over the company tax rate of certain businesses. So today, on the last Question Time before the weekend – a weekend which will have the Newspoll out in the field and which will no doubt be also seeking the views of the public on the PPL and the hospital funding scheme – what did the Opposition want to ask about? Yes, you guessed it – insulation.
The first seven questions from the opposition were on the insulation program and were all directed at Rudd, trying to somehow make him responsible for it all. It betrayed a complete desire on their part to avoid anything to do with the PPL scheme, which had dominated their questions on Tuesday. On Tuesday every question was about how come the Government would be paying less to some poor hairdresser for maternity leave than would the opposition? Each questions was echoed with a cry of “shame!” by Christopher Pyne. Today? They wanted none of it. Not a bar; not a whisper.
Methinks they know it is a dog of a scheme. Perhaps that when they saw even Andrew Bolt was flaying it, they knew it was dead.
And so they went for Rudd on insulation – doing the usual “what did the PM know and when did he know it?”shtick. The problem is they will never get Rudd on this. The know it, and Rudd sure as hell knows it, so all they are doing is using up time and displaying to anyone with some insight that they are running away from their maternity leave scheme, and are scared about the issue of health. Rudd for his part played the straightest of bats – displaying every bit of his best Boycott-like batting, and merely read out his copious briefs in bureaucratic detail and bored the parliament to death (which was his point)
So how do we know the opposition is scared about health? Well take a look at the Hansard Minutes for the first Dorothy Dixer to Rudd on Health:
Mr Neumann, 2:02:23 PM, to Mr Rudd (Prime Minister), Point of order, Mr Abbott, 2:07:36 PM, Point of order, Mr Pyne, 2:08:56 PM, Point of order, Mr Albanese, 2:10:36 PM, Point of order, Mr Pyne, 2:11:32 PM, Point of order, Mr Albanese, 2:13:03 PM, Mr Rudd, 2:14:33 PM
Yep five points of order – and they took a long time to get through. They all revolved around Rudd saying Abbott had stripped $1b from the Health Budget when he was Health Minister. No doubt the Libs had read Sinclair Davidson’s article on The Drum (and on Bolt’s blog) about the line being a “myth” (my opinion is that Davidson is very good at disproving a proposition that is not actually being put forward) and also no doubt they also feel worried that the ripped $1 billion out of health line is playing well in electorate land. And so first Pyne called Rudd a liar – and then took forever to withdraw. This was followed by Abbott making a big show and dance about saying it was a lie as well.
It was very obvious they are very, very touchy about it.
This touchiness was reinforced when before Roxon was even able to begin her first answer to a Dorothy Dixer on health, Peter Dutton was at the Dispatch Box trying to move a point of order. Harry Jenkins repeatedly told him to sit down – which he didn’t. And when he finally did, he got straight back up. This time Jenkins refused to even acknowledge him, which meant Dutton was just standing at the Dispatch Box looking a fool while Roxon sharpened her attack. (But in his defence, Dutton does the looking like a fool act very well)
Roxon has really found her range this year, and she will enjoy Question Time for the rest of the year. And Abbott and Pyne and Dutton had best get used to hearing the “ripped $1 billion out of the health budget” again and again and again.
The first two Dorothy Dixers were on health – but they made sure to refer to Abbott’s PPL scheme as well.
The first non-health Dixer was interestingly to Gillard on the employment figures released today (which showed unemployment had increased 0.1% to 5.3% – it has only increased because the ABS revised down last months figure from 5.3% to 5.2%). She used her answer to talk more about the PPL scheme – noting it seemed to be something the Libs no longer wanted to talk about.
The next Dixer was to Swan on the PPL scheme: a scheme which he said would be funded by a tax – a big tax, in fact “a Whopper – the Big Mac of taxes”, which shows at least that Wayne Swan is bipartisan on Hungry Jacks and McDonalds (KFC must feel aggrieved that he didn’t call it “a Works Burger of a tax”). He had lots of fun with Abbott’s suggestion that all anyone needed to do was read his book to find out about his policy; Swan suggested the Liberals don’t do a lot of reading, because if they did they would have read the OECD report which suggested corporate taxes are the most harmful for growth. So caught up with talking about growth was Swan that I almost expected him to reel out the Liberal’s 2007 slogan of “Go for Growth”. Alas he didn’t.
Lindsay Tanner was next up to have a bash (it really was a long line of Ministers wanting to get up for a bash). He made a joke about always being open to new ideas – and he eagerly awaited the first savings idea from the opposition, but he only wanted quality ideas. The Libs tried to put him off by yelling out about whether insulation scheme was a quality scheme, but Tanner was not to be put off – after all he had a lot of material to work with. He focussed on whether the tax was going to be determined by a company’s revenue, or profits – because Abbott and Hockey (who was absent for some reason) were all a tad unclear. He ended by saying the Libs parental leave scheme “didn’t cut the mustard”.
Next up was Jenny Macklin who despite never being the greatest Parliamentary performer was at least able to quote Barnaby Joyce saying to Fran Kelly on ABC Radio this morning of Abbott’s scheme “I don’t like talking about things I haven’t read.” Gotta love that consultation, Tony.
To the joy of all, Craig Emerson was next up to have his usual fun. He too was talking Abbott’s PPL scheme, and he adopted the Biff Tannen line: asking Abbott “Hello?! Hello?! The Leader of the Opposition? What planet are you on, if you expect that Coles and Woolies etc will out of the goodness of their hearts not pass on the costs of the 1.7% tax onto their customers?” He then quoted Wilson Tuckey who on the doors this morning said that the levy was a good thing because “If Coles & Woolies up prices because of parental leave tax, they'll make more profit and pay more tax”. Ah thank you Wilson.
Yes there’s a lot of material to work with – and Emmo used it all. When he finished Tuckey wanted Emerson to table the document he was reading from; when asked by the Speaker if he was reading from a document, Emerson replied, no “I pretty much winged it Mister Speaker!”
After a question from Rob Oakeshott and a Dorothy Dixer to good ole Marn Ferson, Abbott finally got round to asking Rudd a question on health. He shouldn’t have because Rudd danced down the pitch and smacked it over the fence for some easy runs. Rudd is reading deliveries from Abbott on health out of his hand and is sensing that Abbott is not getting much spin on the ball either.
The real run scoring however was done by Gillard in the next question from Christopher Pyne on education spending, specifically a library built under the stimulus program at Tyalgum High School which had the wrong sized foundations and thus was currently unusable.
In her answer Julia did everything to Pyne but walk around to the other side of the chamber and dack him. She started out by ridiculing his response last week to the National Curriculum, then she pointed out how many jobs had been created by the education stimulus program – giving her another chance to mention the employment figures – then she pointed out with withering scorn that she actually didn’t go around and lay the foundations for every school building and that the fault was that of the contractors and that they (as they would on any building, whether it be a Government one or a private dwelling) would be responsible for repairing the fault, and that they would be the ones paying to fix the problem not the Government.
She ridiculed Pyne for bringing up an example which would not cost the Government one extra dollar. And really you have to wonder if that was the best Pyne could do, given that the story came out on February 25, and Gillard had said back then that the constructor was responsible for paying and fixing the problem.
Once the Hansard comes out I might do a post on her response because it was a things of Parliamentary beauty, and my summary doesn’t do it anywhere near the justice it deserves.
The day and week ended with Albanese having fun about the number of Bills the Senate has blocked – calling Abbott the Dr No of Australian politics (a label I’m sure they applied to Dr Nelson), and that he was “petty, untrustworthy and bloody minded”.
And on that edifying note everyone was left dashing for the exits.
Next week’s tactics will be dependent I think on the result of the Newspoll and specifically any questions on health and parental leave schemes; but (as was suggested by Crikey’s Possum on twitter) from the tactics displayed today by both sides, you get the feeling they already know what the results will be.