The two most prominent players in Question Time today were Bill Shorten who was seen and heard, and Scott Morrison who was not seen or heard, but of which much was spoken.
Wayne Swan is off overseas this week being Treasurer at some big event, meaning Shorten has a chance to sit at the grown-ups table. It is a role he obviously loves, but which he is yet to master. In fact given the glee with which the Opposition greet him each time he strides to the dispatch box, it is obvious he has yet to put any fear into the Liberal front bench.
The first question directed at him was a case in point. He was asked why a carbon price was a bad idea before the election but is now a good one. Instead of answering it in the usual manner (ie not really answering but taking the opportunity to talk about why a Carbon Tax is a great idea yada yada), he got out a big prop. Now some props are good – Gillard wielding her photos of Liberal MPs at the opening of BER projects is always good; ditto her use of the WorkChoices mousepads – but Shorten had what seemed to be a double spread from the Sunday Telegraph glued onto a piece of thin cardboard. It looked very Grade 6 social studiesish.
The story he was highlighting was by Samantha Maiden on the Libs infighting. The key part was a cartoon covering most of the two pages. Unfortunately I don’t have a scan of it, but Shorten thought it all very witty and ran through the characters represented, and ended with him saying he wouldn’t state who the rodent was. This resulted in more than a few calls from the opposition (mostly to do with the view that Shorten was a rat in Rudd’s ranks) to which Shorten responded to them “You’d need a big bit of cheese in front of these front benchers”.
This retort did not leave the house in stitches. More it had people thinking, huh? OK, they’re big rats, I get that, but what is the cheese – is Abbott the cheese? Does that mean he’s big? Does that… oh look, I’m probably overthinking this.
The main problem for Shorten in taking this tack is it all seemed a little bit pointless given Julia Gillard had already delivered the perfect line on the Lib’s infighting when she said:
“The Shadow Finance Minister hates the Shadow Treasurer they all think the Deputy Leader's useless and they all hate the Member for Wentworth”.
About as succinct a summation as you could ask really.
It of course resulted in Christopher Pyne moving a point of order, and then bizarrely Harry Jenkins relating to us his discovery that “slag and bag” might mean something naughty. Yeah, thanks Harry, keep up the work.
Shorten got another question, this time from Joe Hockey, who decided to show of some of his wit. Instead of referring to Shorten as the Assistant Treasurer, he called him the “aspiring Treasurer”. As slip of the tongues go, it was not the most innocent. Unfortunately Joe then tried to pretend it was a slip by saying to House, “Hey, lots of people aspire to be Treasurer”, which showed that when it comes to quips, Hockey should not indulge in ad-libs because as everyone knows Andrew Robb aspires to his job, it rather backfired on him.
Luckily for him it was Shorten who was answering the question, because he tried some of his own “Carry-on” style word play and purposefully mixed up Hockey title for some more yuk-yuks. He then said he apologised and said “As the Leader of the Opposition would know you can sometimes monetarily have blackouts”.
No I didn’t get it either. (Has Abbott had a blackout recently??)
Shorten had one more question – this time on health funding. During his answer Bronwyn Bishop moved her usual pointless of order, which allowed him to get in one nice dig, saying “I always love it when the leader of the opposition gets his spiritual mother up to help him out.”
Look, I’m not against Shorten. I think the guy has talent. But in Question Time thus far he has mostly been like a batsman playing Twenty20 in a Test Match. He needs to build his innings, get some runs on the board and then go the short handle. In the first sitting week he gave a response on insurance, that showed him to be across the issues and making some decent policy. It wasn’t flashy, but it worked. He needs to do more of it.
The other main member of the day Scott Morrison? Well you would think after his boomer of a week last week where he seemed unable to open his mouth without appearing to be the pin-up boy for race baiting and insensitivity that the Libs might have given him a question just to show they weren’t scared of the Government's attacks. Instead they kept him well out of the way – showing to all that they are actually scared of them.
The line about the debate on asylum seekers always being good for the opposition is nice when things are going to script, but with Morrison seeming to be targeting grieving orphans, and Senator Bernardi playing the old I love Muslims I hate Islam line, it looks very much like the Libs have crossed the line from being proud to be Aussie and you know what we mean when we say Aussie (wink, wink – yeah white nudge nudge) to a bit of obvious racism – at least to the point where many Lib supporters would be thinking, ah look can you tone it down a bit?
But Morrison’s absence form the dispatch box did not result in his absence from discussion. Gillard was asked a Dorothy Dixer:
Ms PARKE (2.55 pm)—My question is to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister outline to the House the importance of national leadership and shared values in debates surrounding Australia’s migration program and multicultural society?
Now I love this question because I suspect the old safe, we’re scared to even mention this issue ALP would have let the Immigration Minister answer this. But no, this was Gillard wanting to make it all about her versus Abbott. It was a real line in the sand question. An I’m here, and look where you are question. Her answer invoked mentions of One Nation – due to the Libs basically cut and pasting the One Nation email suggestion to cut the funding to the Indonesian schools. It is this one act of policy on Abbott’s behalf which more than anything has given Gillard an opportunity to drill him with the One Nation tag.
It is because of that policy decision that we have the QLD head of One Nation on Q and A tonight (what a stupid decision by the ABC by the way). It is because of that policy that prime knuckle draggers like John Pasquerelli are given column inches in The Weekend Australian, where he can write such utter tripe as:
Chris Bowen dropped a bombshell a few days ago when he announced the restoration of the portfolio and full-on multiculturalism, including anti-racism strategies and other mechanisms that will require taxpayer dollars. Politicians and the media live mainly in safe, leafy suburbs, away from dangerous ethnic ghettoes that were once white working-class suburbs. Who cares for those who have been killed by ethnic criminals who are the direct product of multiculturalism?
Australians now face a new era of uncertainty, and who will defend them against those who are determined to destabilise more than 200 years of cultural history? Labor is in tatters, but would an Abbott government be any better given the multicultural apologists that abound in the Coalition?
It is because of the way the Libs have handled this debate that you can get Paul Sheehan in the SMH writing such garbage that apparently results in him getting paid (geez, I once used to think you had to have intelligence to get published in a newspaper – I seriously wasted my life studying, to become a paid, published writer I should have hit myself in the head with a mallet for 20 years so as to get to Sheehan’s level):
One language, one law, one culture. Everything else comes under the heading of individual freedom, which should be available in abundance, infinite in variety and not the business of the state.
Notice how his final sentence completely contradicts the first. He doesn’t want “the state” to mandate anything, but he does want there to be only one language, one law and one culture (so I guess the rule is, “the state decisions” = bad, “Paul Sheehan decisions” = good) What if my individuality has me feeling a part of a different culture to Sheehan?
One law? Oh nice straw man – show me any parliament in Australia that is thinking about introducing Sharia law? Well c’mon. One Muslim leader calling for it ain’t enough.
One language? So not allowed to be bilingual eh? I knew I wasted 5 years studying German at High School (actually I did, but for other reason – namely I was useless at it). Again, show me anywhere where there is any move to remove English as the primary language? Migrants since they first came here, just as they have in America, have come here eager to learn English. Sure they may have Greek newspapers and the like, but people like Sheehan have been complaining about migrants not speaking our language since those migrants first got off the boats back in the 19th Century. That’s a good 150 years of immigration from some pretty strong cultures such as Germany, Italy, Greece, Vietnam… any sign that English is dissipating? (You know apart from when we adopt stupidities from America like Sarah Palin saying “refudiate”).
And one culture, eh Paul? And any idea what would that “one culture” would be? Define it for me will you. Is it the “culture” of Australia in 1920? 1940? 1950? 1960? 1980? 2000? Or do you think the culture of Australia is the same as then? Tell me what is not part of your “culture”? Tell me what on earth anyone can do to keep a culture static – and why on earth would anyone want to do it?
The stupidity and – I’ll say it – out right bigotry towards anyone not like themselves that has fed itself into the national media and political debate needs to be slapped down. And it is bloody great that the person slapping it down is our Prime Minister. Over to you PM:
Ms GILLARD—I thank the member for Fremantle for her very important question raising as it does an important issue that confronts this House and this nation as it sits this week. We have proudly created a multicultural society with record levels of postwar migration. Indeed, I stand here as one example of that migration. Overwhelmingly, across those years, that multiculturalism, that unity, that non-discriminatory immigration policy has had bipartisan support.
I am prepared to pay tribute to Prime Minister Menzies who supported postwar migration. I am prepared to pay tribute to Prime Minister Menzies for creating the Colombo Plan. I am prepared to pay tribute to Prime Minister Holt for ending the White Australia policy and to Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser for admitting Vietnamese boat people to this country and for creating SBS as one expression of our diversity and unity—bipartisanship all of the way.
For those of us that represent growth communities in this country, and I do, I know that in those growth communities there is often pressure on people when they see inwards migration. People easily fear change; people easily fear difference. When they see increased pressure on public services sometimes that fear can turn to resentment. It is the job of national leadership to reassure in the face of that fear and to explain to people that there is ultimately nothing to be afraid of. Just as we have incorporated migrants in this country in the past we will incorporate migrants in this country in the future. As well as reassuring it is the job of national leadership to make sure that we plan services and communities properly so that fear does not turn to resentment.
There is another path and that is seeking to channel that fear and that resentment into political gain. We have seen that other path used in national politics. We saw it used by One Nation. I am so glad that this nation defeated that spectre of One Nation by coming together as political parties across the divide of this aisle and putting One Nation last on how-to-vote cards. I am really proud our nation did that. But I would have to say that spectre of those ugly politics, that grubby path is before us again. The principal task of this parliament this week is to banish that spectre again.
It will require the Leader of the Opposition to do some difficult things. It will require the Leader of the Opposition to replace his shadow minister for immigration.
It will require the Leader of the Opposition to replace his shadow parliamentary secretary but, in the interests of banishing that ugly spectre from national politics, that is what the Leader of the Opposition must do this week.
We have a clear path forward which we should be on together—bipartisanship about multiculturalism, bipartisanship about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and bipartisanship about a non-discriminatory immigration policy. Let’s hope that is how we end the week. I fear that is not how it started.
Sure Gillard is playing the man as much as the ball. But in her words there is a line she has drawn from which she cannot now step back. It has to influence all her policies on migration and asylum seekers. Sure we will not see the end to mandatory detention, but what we must see from here is an end to the false rhetoric of the ALP feeling it needs to “talk tough” on the issue – because this stupid desire to look tough has led the debate so far to the right that Bernardi has been able to say things which are akin to those which back in 1996 got Pauline Hanson kicked out of the Liberal Party. (And which now, won;t even see him lose his job as shadow Parliamentary Secretary.)
There is long way to go before this debate gets back to some semblance of balance, but I think it is right that the ALP keeps up its campaign against both Morrison and Bernardi. To let up now would be to tacitly acknowledge that their views are OK, and that the ALP is too weak to stand up on issues that matter.
The Government today backed down on the issue of youth education funding. They didn’t back down on the issue of the Senate not being able to initiate money bills, but they did concede (though of course they didn’t say it) that they would have to change the way the funding is decided. The only reason for this is because the students affected are those students which you would find throughout both Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott’s electorates, so their votes were gone.
The Libs tried in Question Time to make the Government backing down into a bit of a theme. I can see why the Libs are doing it – after all Gillard has just trashed Rudd’s health policy, so I can understand why they think they’re on to a winning theme.
The problem is there are back downs and there are back downs. Dropping your ETS policy – that’s a back down that will hurt – because it meant the ALP was not doing what they said they would do. But “back downs” on health funding and education funding are not seen that way by most people, because it is not as if the Government is no longer funding health or education. Go out in to the street and ask people what Rudd’s health deal was about, and you’d be lucky to find 1 in 100 who understood it. I didn’t really understand it – there was something about case-mix funding and GST, but other than that? No real idea. People don’t really give a damn about health deals – they just want a deal to be done.
It is why the Essential Media Poll today when asked about the Health Deal had 67% of voters in favour of it – including 62% of LNP voters. And when asked whether Abbott should block it only 11% said he should. Only 20% of LNP voters say he should block it and 36% say he should support it!
People don’t mind back downs if it means a deal is done. In fact they often think it means you’ve got a better outcome – ala John Howard backing down on GST on food. There’s back downs and back downs, and Julia Gillard seems to be more of a John Howard type of back downer.
A quick bit on the Newspoll out tomorrow/today. After such a high profile “debate” on asylum seekers last week, it is pretty likely that people are starting to pay more attention to politics than they were in January and early Feb. Given the NSW election, I still think there’s a bit of noise out there, and still a bit of a “sick of them all” attitude (especially in NSW). But tomorrow’s Newspoll has it all back 50-50. As I say not much there – though the ALP is up 2%, but still pretty much in line with the Essential Poll. Nothing to lose sleep over for either side really. But the Preferred PM metric (a bit of a beauty poll that influences very littler except back bench nerves) has Gillard ahead 53-31. That is interesting, Abbott is suddenly once more a long way back.
On the very important issue of satisfaction rating (important because there does seem to be a strong link between a PM satisfaction rating and the Govt’s 2 party preferred support) has Gillard’s satisfaction on 50% (up 5 points) and her Dissatisfaction down 3 to 39% – for a net result of +11. Abbott meanwhile has a satisfaction rating of 38% (down 4) and a dissatisfaction rating of 49% (up5 points) for a net result of minus 11.
The polls are still meaningless at the moment in terms of what would happen if there were to be an election – no one is that engaged – but they are meaningful for Abbott’s leadership, and the tack he has been taking. The block and criticise all and take a hard-line on asylum seekers strategy seems to be losing its lustre.
Would any Lib want the leadership right now? Doubtful, but I’ll keep with my prediction that either Abbott or Gillard will be gone by Christmas.