Thursday, March 3, 2011

On the QT: Well that was expected

Before Question Time today began the ABC’s Jonathon Green ran a sweep on Twitter for what time Tony Abbott would launch his censure motion. Journalists and others on Twitter all got in on it. Even ALP MP Rob Mitchell put in an entry – 2:49pm (he won).

We knew it was coming, the Libs knew we knew it was coming, they knew the ALP knew it was coming, the ALP knew the Libs knew that they knew that we knew.

In short…err… we all knew.

Censure motions should be like a bouncer in cricket – to be effective there needs to be some surprise to it. It also should come off the back of some good bowling that has the batsmen playing and missing. This was the fifth sitting day in a row with a censure motion. And, as with the previous four days, it came off the back of questions that had built absolutely zero momentum.

Abbott’s first question is a prime example:

Mr ABBOTT (2.00 pm)—My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to the following statement, which I quote: ‘There is no point in imposing a carbon price domestically which results in emissions and production transferring internationally for no environmental gain.’ I ask the Prime Minister: does she agree with that statement?

As soon as he did not say who had said it, everyone knew it must have been said by some ALP figure some time in the past. As far as traps go it was not exactly the most cunning to have been sprung (actually even saying “sprung’ would be over-egging it a tad). The PM was not exactly confused: 

Ms GILLARD—We will wait for the inevitable ‘Aha!’ moment in the supplementary question.

And the “Aha” moment was that Penny Wong had said it back when the ETS was a going concern. No one reacted with any shock.

Warren Truss also got to ask a bedevilling question:

Mr TRUSS (2.14 pm)—My question is to the Prime Minister. Does she agree with her Minister for Resources and Energy and Minister for Tourism, who said on 19 June 2007 that a $30 carbon tax would kill the Australian aviation industry both domestically and internationally?

Ms GILLARD—I will show my usual caution when it comes to the opposition and the use of quotes…

As well she might.

Truss, far from displaying any specific insight or acumen, merely proved that he read Tim Blair’s blog. Blair on Monday related this “fact” about Martin Ferguson. Now on the face of it, you would think Marn saying such a thing about a $30 carbon tax would be embarrassing, especially when a $36 price on carbon has been bandied about this week. Except, Blair and Truss are both being purposefully misleading (actually, maybe not purposefully – that would imply they understand what they are saying). Whenever a dollar amount is attached to a carbon tax – such as $30 – the imputation is that means per tonne – ie the carbon price is set at $30 per tonne of CO2. But what Ferguson was talking about back in 2007 was a proposal by the Australia Institute to levy a tax at $30 per airline ticket.

Quite a different thing completely.

But as I say, I would not wish to suggest that Truss was wilfully attempting to mislead the House; so let’s just go with pig ignorance.

I have to say as well, while the questions from the Opposition are spectacularly lame, the Dorothy Dixers from the Government are hardly high brow either. Take this one asked of Gillard:


(2.40 pm)My question is to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, how is the government working in the national interest and why is it vital to have responsible debate on the challenges facing Australia?

Now I’m all for responsible debate (and I am just loving those commentators who suggest Tony Windsor needs to grow a pair when confronted with people wishing his death – funnily enough many of those are the same ones who decry the abuse and hate on Twitter…), but Dorothy Dixers such as that are pretty insipid. They might as well be – “Prime Minister can you talk for four minutes about whatever you want?”

And so it came to pass that Abbott did move a censure motion. Again.

Both sides were pretty much over it – Abbott’s shoutyness seemed even more futile than usual – his side really wasn’t interested either – all just wanted to be on the flight home. In fact the whole thing degenerated into abuse and points of order about keeping to the motion to suspend standing orders rather than debating the actual censure motion.

How good was it? Have a gander:

Mr Abbott (Leader of the Opposition), 2:50:07 PM; Point of order, Mr S. F. Smith, 2:51:33 PM; Mr Abbott, 2:52:58 PM; Point of order, Mr Albanese, 2:57:37 PM; Mr Abbott, 2:58:03 PM; Point of order, Mr S. F. Smith, 2:58:55 PM; Mr Abbott, 2:59:49 PM

Debate ensued.

Mr Hockey, 3:00:21 PM; Point of order, Mr Albanese, 3:01:09 PM; Mr Hockey, 3:01:24 PM; Point of order, Mr Albanese, 3:02:44 PM; Mr Hockey, 3:02:57 PM

Ms Gillard, 3:05:15 PM; Point of order, Mr Hockey, 3:06:05 PM; Ms Gillard, 3:06:18 PM; Point of order, Mrs B. K. Bishop, 3:06:54 PM; Ms Gillard, 3:07:14 PM; Point of order, Mrs Prentice, 3:08:20 PM; Ms Gillard, 3:08:37 PM; Point of order, Mr Pyne, 3:10:43 PM; Ms Gillard, 3:11:15 PM; Point of order, Mr Abbott, 3:12:50 PM; Point of order, Mr Abbott, 3:13:52 PM; Ms Gillard, 3:14:28 PM; Point of order, Mr Abbott, 3:14:52 PM.

That’s five points of order by the ALP in 15 minutes, and seven points of order by the Libs in 10 minutes!

It was so stupid that Chris Pyne who had been booted out of the house for an hour at 2:07pm, came back in and straight away moved a point of order. 

Was anything gained? Nope. Did either side draw any blood? No. Was anything learned? Nup.

Interestingly this week there was one answer to a Dorothy Dixer that I thought very interesting.

On Tuesday the PM rather nicely explain the whole way a carbon price works:

Ms GILLARD–Let me explain in detail our mechanism for pricing carbon. The first proposition is an incredibly simple one. At the moment carbon pollution can be released into the atmosphere for free. There is no disincentive for doing that. We will put a price on carbon, a price on every unit of carbon pollution. It will be paid for by businesses and as a result, because our business community is smart and adaptable and innovative, they will work out ways of pursuing their business and generating less carbon pollution. They will work out ways of making sure they pay less of a price when carbon is priced.

Then they will enter into contracts, they will make investments on the basis of understanding the rules and understanding that carbon will be priced. And as they go about making those transitions, innovating, making the new investments of the future, we will work with those businesses in transition to a clean economy.

Having priced carbon and seen that innovation, yes, there will be pricing impacts; that is absolutely right. That is the whole point: to make goods that are generated with more carbon pollution relatively more expensive than goods that are generated with less carbon pollution. But because we are a Labor government this will be done in a fair way. We will assist households as we transition with this new carbon price.

What that means is that people will walk into a shop with money in their pocket, the government having provided them with assistance. They will see the price signals on the shelves in front of them—things with less pollution, less expensive; things with more pollution, more expensive—and they too will adapt and change. They will choose the lower pollution products, which is exactly what we want them to do. Between the business investment and innovation, between households who have been assisted in a fair way by a Labor government responding to price signals, we will see a transition to a cleaner economy, to a low-pollution economy.

When Rudd was PM there was a lot of criticism because he didn’t outline how an ETS worked – mostly because he was very reticent to talk price rises. Here Gillard has pretty nicely explained it all – including the fact that compensation does not make it a mere transfer of money from us to the Govt and back. To suggest it is so is like saying when you get a pay rise you stop worrying about the price of things. The key is at the moment “clean energy” is more expensive because burning coal is comparably cheap because they don’t have to pay for the carbon emissions. After a carbon price is in place they will.

Will it change behaviour of consumers and producers overnight. No of course not, but it will happen (to quote Pantene) – it will happen because there will finally be a financial driver in place. Under a “direct action” (what a load of focus driven bollocks that term is) you have to pay producers to be cleaner. It’s akin to trying to reduce smoking by paying tobacco manufacturers to make less harmful cigarettes. They’ll go through the motions, but in the end the financial imperative of the profit motive will be for them to get as many people to smoke as possible, just as it is with energy suppliers to get as many people as possible using their energy that they produce for the cheapest possible price. 

Now obviously there is a lot more to it – there will need to be compensation and that will be tricky and bloody complicated. But how many people really understand the GST? I mean really understand it? How many small business people think filling out BAS statements is straightforward and simple? Yes the minutiae has a long way to go, and yeah it’ll be tough to understand in places. But if you want to know the broad strokes of there it all is. (And of course, never fear, our media will be there to light the way through all the murkiness!)

But next time you hear anyone in the media say Gillard needs to explain it all simply to people in ways they can understand, you can point them there (though you’d hope they were already listening).


On a side note, The Australian has been running with some stories of late about the horrors of the Greens trying to bring about gay marriage – mostly by Dennis Shanahan. There is one journalist at The Australian who has been writing some brilliant stuff on the gay-marriage issue – Patricia Karvelas. I encourage you to read her stories on the issue as they are free of the either an anti-gay-marriage slant, or The Oz’s other great trick – framing of stories about the Greens in negative light.


Sir Ian Crisp said...

Prime Minister Gillard's 'carbon' epiphany has caused some rather heated exchanges in our federal parliament. Mr Abbott quoted an ALP member when he pointed out that the ALP comprised lobotomised zombies. The PM countered by playing the race card. Would anyone care to guess the collective IQ of our esteemed representatives? I'll bet it wouldn't equal my shoe size.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting Julia's explanation Grog -- I'll direct people who ask me about it -- At the time I thought it a very lucid and strong argument.

It is a shame it wasn't before Q&A last Monday night. It would have put the out-of-her-depth Gretel Killeen back in her box!

Keep up the good work.


Unknown said...

This is an excellent summation of where the carbon debate is today.

It astounds me as a now former member of the Liberal Party that people still think that voting for the current conservative side of politics is a good idea. It is an sad indictment on the Australian community that the coalition are considered a reasonable alternative to the Labor government. Yes they've made mistakes, although not nearly as bad as some commentators have claimed, but we have an economy that's very strong, and a Prime Minister who is now showing the mettle we expect from good leaders.

While there has been fault and poor standards of debate on both sides, anyone with an objective view has to conclude that the opposition (with their 'shockjock' cheerleaders) have dragged policy debate down to a never before experienced level.

Mary Jo Fisher, Sophie Mirabella, Peter Dutton, Christopher Pyne, Bronwyn Bishop, Cory Bernardi and Tony Abbott should take note that many now consider the likes of Wilson Tuckey moderate by comparison.

Anonymous said...

Have sent Julia's explanation on to others. Thanks.

Kev said...

Clarke and Dawe absolutely nailed QT for this week in thier 7.30 segment tonight, abc haven't put it up on their site yet, but when they do, have a look - not mirthful, in fact depressing, but worth a look in that oh yeah, it really was that bad kind of way.

L said...

The Liberals have apparently decided that they need to destroy Australian politics in order to save it, or something. It must really piss them off that we don't have an equivalent of Fox News here (talkback and the Oz aren't quite the same) because their antics would play really well on a Murdoch TV channel devoted to eliminating the possibility of intelligent discourse.

Sonia said...

This week is the first week since going back to work that I am glad I missed QT. I caught it yesterday on the radio and was depressed that the debate hasnt really moved too far in a week.
I thought it funny that after Albo complained about a censure a day that the Libs had the audacity to complain about QT ending before 3.30 this week. Clearly by 3 they have demonstrated they have had enough of asking questions. Anyway now that Crhris Bowen has announced more space on the mainland for asylum seekers the Libs will be back on the stop the boat bandwagon now

Jaeger said...

Sonia: I heard Scott Morrison on JJJ news this morning conflating detention centre beds with hospital beds (which explains a lot about the former Coalition government's health policies...)

From the ABC News website:
"Labor have announced and opened more beds in detention centres than they have in public hospitals," he said. "As long as the boats keep coming more beds will be needed, people are going to continue to spend longer in detention, and the costs are going to continue to escalate."

han said...

" But next time you hear anyone in the media say Gillard needs to explain it all simply to people in ways they can understand, you can point them there (though you’d hope they were already listening)."

This week on ABC radio one journalist made the exact argument that Gillard's carbon tax is so hard to understand blah blah community is confused blah blah. Whenever a journalist says things like this, I want to scream at the radio : then do you fucking job and try to understand it and explain it to your audience...