Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On the QT: Like a Broken Pencil

Everything you need to know about Question time can be summed up in the supplementary asked today by Julie Bishop to Kevin Rudd

"Will the Foreign Minister advise the House when he intends to return to Bougainville?"

Some background. Firstly Bishop had sought to ask Rudd a long question about why he hadn’t visited Indonesia, East Timor, Malaysia or PNG to repair the relations that have supposedly been destroyed recently (I guess she is discounting the possibility of Scott Morrison’s little jaunt to Malaysia this weekend helping things).

Rudd pretty much took her to school. Malcolm Farr watching in the press gallery tweeted:

Julie B might not quite be in her weight division

That is – she was a light weight battling a foreign policy heavyweight.

But the question we soon discovered was not a real question anyway. It was just a set up for her supplementary:

"Will the Foreign Minister advise the House when he intends to return to Bougainville?"

Ok. Let me walk you though it… Apparently Kevin Rudd now calls the lodge “Boganville” because there are so many coups in Bougainville and because he probably thinks Gillard is a bogan. So she was really saying when do intend to return to the Lodge.

Get it? image

*taps microphone* Is this thing on?

The only reason we know Rudd thinks this is because Senator Brandis mentioned it in Senate Estimate and Niki Savva also mentioned it in her most recent op-ed piece in The Oz.

So that includes about as large a percentage of the population as Alan Jones thinks a carbon tax will reduce world temperatures by.

The Liberal side of the House laughed. Rudd had a bit of a smirk. And the rest of Australia thought, who are these children?

On the ABC, Jeremy Thompson thought it pure gold, writing:

Like a good fast bowler, Ms Bishop had "softened up" Mr Rudd earlier with a series of bouncers about why he had not visited Jakarta, Dili, Port Moresby and Kuala Lumpur, before she unleashed the yorker.

And she hit middle stump.

Which is I guess a good analogy if you ignore that Rudd put the first delivery over the fence.

Personally I agree more with Farr’s assessment on his rolling blog:

The Opposition has engaged in an elaborate set-up for a joke most members of the public did not get.

Yep. It was a indulgent in-joke. Audiences just love those.

First rule of comedy – you better not need to explain your joke in order for people to get it.

But it got a run in the media because, well it’s a sideshow.

Yesterday in the Senate, in giving his valedictory speech Senator Alan Ferguson had a bit to say about Question Time:

Firstly, if it were up to me, I would abolish question time as it is currently structured. It is a total waste of time and, dare I say it, not much better in the other place, if not worse.

We have in the Australian parliament the worst question time of any parliament throughout the world that uses the Westminster system. I recently went to hear Prime Minister David Cameron answering questions in Prime Minister's question time in the House of Commons. He answered 25 questions in half an hour, and answered every question. In Canada ministers get 35 seconds. In New Zealand they have up to 61 questions in the day, and each one is answered.

There is one difference, and I have talked this over with Senator Faulkner on occasion at the procedure committee: every question is a question on notice, followed by supplementaries. I think the only way that we can ever get some order into this place or into question time is if questions are placed on notice and anybody in the chamber is allowed to ask a supplementary question. It means that there is no such thing as a dorothy dixer, a chance for a minister to then explain at length an answer to that question, because someone on this side of the chamber can add a supplementary and make it a more interesting debate.

I think there has never been a greater waste of time in the Public Service and in ministers' offices than question time as it is currently structured. Ministers, staff and departmental officials spend many, many hours—I do not know just how long, because I have never been in there—preparing for answers to questions in the Senate and in the House of Representatives—questions that may never be asked, because they are not on the Notice Paper and nobody knows exactly what the topic of the question is going to be on the day or whether a certain minister is going to be questioned.

So can I say that I think that in its current form question time in both chambers does us a disservice. Name me one person in the community who is not frustrated by watching question time and seeing questions asked that are never answered. It is a generally known standard: the opposition ask questions they hope the government cannot answer, and the government ask questions where they have already prepared the answer. I have never seen a more farcical waste of time in my life, and I think it is something that ought to be changed as soon as is practically possible, but it will take goodwill on both sides because both parties have been guilty of encouraging and maintaining the current system.

He makes some excellent points. Whenever people praise the glory of the UK system, however, they often forget to mention the PM only needs to front up once a week. I like that the PM is here everyday – though I also understood what Keating was trying to do when he tried to have a day off each week so that Ministers were in the forefront.

But he is right about Dorothy Dixers.

Get rid of them. Wayne Swan today struggled to keep directly relevant to his own Dorothy Dixer, and even ran out of time!

I like Ferguson’s idea that if Government MPs are allowed to ask questions that anyone can then ask a supplementary. That would make things rather interesting.

But to be honest it is not so much the rules in place at the moment, but the attitude. The Libs don’t give a damn about order. Chris Pyne loves being the a pest and thinks disrupting the House with endless quorum calls is all jolly good japes. I guess when you don’t have any policies, you are only left with stunts to pass the time.

Clowns the lot of them.

One thing did happen in Parliament today of note. Here it is:

Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2011

The order of the day having been read for the resumption of the debate on the question—That the bill be now read a second time, 9:24:11 AM—
Mr Bandt dissenting—Bill agreed to, 11:01:05 AM.

Consideration in detail concluded.

That was the Bill that Abbott and Hockey attacked with vigour and venom after the budget because it would “strip” benefits from needy middleclass families. Remember how the Government wasn’t making the real tough cuts? Remember how it was turning its back on good, honest, families. 

Here was Joe Hockey the day after the budget:

JOE HOCKEY: You have to make hard decisions and this Government instead is penalising nearly 2 million Australian families. It is penalising over 2 million Australian small businesses. Michael, the Government is claiming to deliver a surplus in two years time but the Budget deficit this year is at a record level, the Budget deficit next year was meant to be $12 billion, it is now $22 billion. The Government is spending $18 million a day on interest alone for the next four years on their debt.

Here was Joe at the Press club:

The Coalition in the last twelve months has announced over $52 billion of savings in detail.

So why did the Liberals let his Bill pass without even a vote? Here’s Sue Dunlevy of The Oz quoting Opposition families spokesman Kevin Andrews:

the Coalition did not oppose the measures that will save the government $2 billion over four years because “we couldn't find equivalent savings measures”'.

Wow. From $52 billion to zero in one month. That takes skill.


Oh and for those wondering about the title:


Unknown said...

Oh those crazy Libs and their crazy math!

Lentern said...

I dunno that Bishop's call as particularly bad. In the sense she was using parliamentary time to be a smart arse, yeah ok but beyond that, it's no less a productive use of time than asking how many jobs the carbon tax will destroy and the government replying that the opposition want to eat babies.

As for the fact that nobody got it except for the MP's and a handful of journalists, I don't think that matters so much. I don't understand half of the references Keating used to make and I doubt many people do. As far as anything in question time does, it served it's purpose.

Cbngal said...

Great post. We have supplementary questions in the Senate. How many tweeters, bloggers or journalists watch the Senate QT? Very few. It is incredibly boring. I would wager more questions get answers, but not many more. I agree it is the attitude that is the problem, not the process so much.

DaveB said...

I've watched or listened to Senate question times a few times and it mostly seems like the Reps but the ministers have less time to scold the opposition. At least in the house the ministers have time to pull some goods jokes and occasionally even explain their policy' usually this part is shouted over or paid no heed to.

The best way for question time to improve would be for the media to fix their reporting of it. The 7.30 political wrap up today contained a couple of short clips today, all of them were political point scoring. Hard for the government to explain any policy when anything it says about policy is ignored by the media and all they show is seven seconds of Abbott calling gillard a liar and then five seconds of albo calling Abbott a vuvuzela.

Notus said...

Not sure I watched the say QT as the ABC's Jeremy Thompson, I thought Julie Bishop looked like an embarrassing dill.
I would like to see more one word answers from Wayne Swan just give a "Yes" or a "No" and throw the next question back to a Dorothy Dixer. Pyne can get a bit of lead back in his pencil by sharpening up his points of order and everyone else can look forward to Play school.

Anonymous said...

The joke is not improved by the fact that Bougainville has never had a coup - though it has had a civil war. Which I suppose serves the purpose as wel

Anonymous said...

I like the UK, Canadian and New Zealandish models for QT. However I don't think it is about the systems they use, it is about the characters of our politicians.

Almost any system can be made to work with people of character and will.

Australia is cursed with political buffoons who have little interest in an effective political system.

Sure they want it to run smoothly, however smoothly to them means "provide opportunities for partisanship", not "provide effective value for money governance that addresses the needs of Australians".

Changing the people - on both 'sides' of politics - is the only way to provide more effective governance and relevant question times.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Wow. What a little charmer. If 'bogan' is the worst insult K Rudd can think of, then who exactly did he think he was representing as leader of federal Labor, and what did he really think of them?

Jaeger said...

'Am I jumping the gun, Baldrick, or are the words "I have a cunning plan" marching with ill-deserved confidence in the direction of this conversation?'

The only thing more exasperating than the Opposition's hypocrisy is the media's continuing failure to call them on it. Cutting back family payments and introducing a carbon tax is "class warfare", but calling the PM a "bogan" isn't?!

Unfortunately, it's unlikely there will be a bogan backlash. They're more likely to be watching TT than QT, and to paraphrase Bernard Woolley: "It's one those irregular verbs: I am an aspirational voter, you are a 'Howard's battler', he is a bogan."

Jaeger said...

Actually, "hypocrisy" may be a bit harsh given the comment is attributed to Rudd.

Hillbilly Skeleton said...

And Julie Bishop even came dressed in a clown suit yesterday to deliver her one-liner.
Politics as infantilism, with Abbott as Infantilist-In-Chief.

Anonymous said...

Grog, the new national legislation for product stewardship also passed both houses of parliament yesterday. As well as paving the way for national collection of ewaste, the legislation should make a real difference to how we can manage the environmental and health risks and impacts of products and materials.

A bit of achievement in the parliament, I would have thought.

Alistair Baillieu-McEwan said...

Grog - Parliament would be a much better place if Alan Ferguson's suggestion were followed but like many others I'm not holding my breath for this to happen.
The Speaker unfortunately does not exert as much control as he should and in my opinion tries to be "liked" rather than "respected".

I'm interested to see you are currently reading Alone in Berlin.
It had a chilling effect on me as I pondered whether or not there were any applicability to the present situation in many parts of the world.

On another tack, I hope that this site does not degenerate into a name-calling excerise for people. I value the site for it's analyses and while understanding that it's easy to get riled up about someone or some event, it seems to me that in your role of "Speaker" perhaps you also need to vet some comments more closely. Personal insults are no substitute for thoughtful argument.

Anonymous said...

Did any of the mainstream media pick up on the poor math of those crazy Liberals ? If they did I sure didn't see it.

But I did read the Bogan-ville jibe a few times in the mainstream.

It's just a nice little reminder of what Kevin really thinks of Julia.

Which considering the latest polling is probably in line with the general populations view.