Today saw the opening of the 44th Parliament, with the class of 2013 sworn in and Bronwyn Bishop installed as the new Speaker of the House of Representatives. It was largely a day of ceremony, with none of the usual cut and thrust of question time. Opening remarks from Tony Abbott did however attract much mirth from the Opposition benches, particularly when he called for dignity and civility in the new Parliament, in spite of being one of the main instigators of discord during the 43rd Parliament.
Bishop was as expected elected Speaker over Labor Member for McEwen Rob Mitchell 93 votes to 56. He was likewise defeated for the position of Deputy Speaker by the LNP’s Bruce Scott, with Mitchell declared Second Deputy Speaker. That was amongst the only real parliamentary excitement for the day, with most of the action coming outside of Parliament. Twice former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was present, but quizzed after a church service to mark the commencement of the Parliament, said that he felt that today at least was a day which was largely apolitical, pointing instead to the gravity of the situation in the Philippines.
The Liberal Party meanwhile had to deal with controversial comments from Tony Abbott’s head of the Business Advisory Council, Maurice Newman, who stated that he feels wages are too high and that Australia cannot afford the Disability Insurance Scheme or the Gonski education reforms. Clive Palmer meanwhile was the main drawcard at the National Press Club, with a wide ranging speech on everything from Karl Marx to wages for journalists.
In the background were ongoing issues surrounding asylum seekers and an increased cooling in Australia’s relationship with Indonesia stemming from that issue, as well as a Liberal Party proposal to raise the debt ceiling to $500 billion, which Labor is set to oppose, instead proposing an increase to $400 billion from the present limit of $300 billion. That issue, along with the Liberal proposal to repeal the carbon tax look set to dominate the opening days of the 44th Parliament.
I’ve spent the past couple of months working on the ALP election campaign hence my absence. It was an enlightening, exhilarating and at times infuriating experience, which ended with my local MP losing his seat. I’ve had an amazing journey, especially as I was not even a member of the party 3 months ago! But anway, enough of that. Rather than writing a cheesy welcome back article I thought I’d get right into it.
If you’re anything like me, the silver lining from Saturday has been the close contest in the regional Victorian seat of Indi, where Liberal incumbent and nastiest MP award winner Sophie Mirabella is trailing in a close contest with Independent Cathy McGowan. I think it his heartening to know that, for all the lamenting that is done, the average voter is intelligent enough to know their local MP is a dud, and to vote in a fashion they would not normally. Brand Independent was meant to be dead after Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott backed the Gillard minority government. But the voters of Indi have sent a powerful message- even for potential front-benchers, forgetting to serve your electorate is done at your peril. Unable to overcome her nastiness, Mirabella has spent too much time in the sin bin under section 94A of the standing orders and not enough time representing the people of Indi. And whether or not she holds the seat, they have responded in kind.
The outcome might take several days to determine, but a strong reminder has been sent to the major parties, and to individual MPs. Voters aren’t stupid, and they expect decent representation. That is why the people of Greenway rejected Jaymes Diaz, and why such a stinging rebuff has been delivered to Sophie Mirabella.
Running scared that the Labor government might be in with a shot at the upcoming election after Friday’s announcement of the PNG solution, the Herald Sun naturally instead focussed on the tweaking of fringe benefits tax regulations on novated leases as the basis for an attack on Kevin Rudd. It’s only at the bottom of the page in the Herald Scum that one finds the fundamental nature of the change. Drivers are now to be asked to keep a log book for 3 months every 5 years to prove the vehicle is being used sufficiently for work purposes to claim the relevant tax offset. All the government has done is tightened up on the rorting of an already generous tax concession, largely by the middle and upper class, and yet this rent seeking industry built on a tax break is squealing like a stuck pig. I don’t know what’s more pathetic; the media coverage or the pathetic whining of the industry at being taken to task for what is basically the defrauding of average taxpayers.
New data released overnight has revealed that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have reached 400 parts per million, for the first time in an estimated 3 to 5 million years. Which again prompts the question, what will it take for leaders at home and abroad to realised the need for short term sacrifices to secure our long term future. In Australia, a prospective Abbott government is now looking unlikely to take any tangible steps to mitigate emissions. More importantly, the cowards in Congress over in the States are so deep in the pocket of the fossil fuel lobby, or maybe so stupid as not to believe mountains of data, that they continue to do nothing to mitigate climate change. As a member of the younger generation, I feel that I have the right to demand those who have enjoyed unparalleled comfort and prosperity in their lifetime do something about this issue. More so, as a rational person, I wonder why not, given that acting now is far more palatable than the future consequences. If you think we have a refugee problem now, just wait until Dhaka and Calcutta are inundated by rising sea levels!
The Canadian government has vehemently condemned Sri Lanka’s hosting of this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. They have quite rightly branded the awarding of the meeting as “appalling”. The reason, for those unaware, being the Sri Lankan governments conduct of the civil war, where it conducted a genocide of Tamil civilians, and its ongoing repression of any dissent. There is yet to be an effective neutral inquiry into the conduct of the war, where the government repeatedly shelled no fire zones filled with refugees and aid workers. Yet most Commonwealth governments are happy to continue to maintain political and cultural relationships with a nations which is behaving in a similar fashion towards sections of its own populace to apartheid South Africa or Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, which incidently led to the latter being expelled from the Commonwealth. The Australian government, along with all other Commonwealth nations, ought to condemn Sri Lanka’s human rights record, rather than tacitly condoning it by attending this meeting. Indeed, they ought to be questioning the very place of Sri Lanka in the Commonwealth.
With the Victorian Labor Opposition having retained the seat of Lyndhurst at yesterday’s by-election, conservative pundits have been quick to jump on the swing against Labor, with the primary vote decreasing by about 15%. But I feel too much can often be read in by-election results, particularly those where one major party is not running, as the Liberals chose to do yesterday. For one, many left leaning voters who would otherwise vote Labor might feel more free to vote for a fringe party, knowing the result is not in doubt. Indeed, except for Family First, there was no one party which could be clearly categorised as conservative or right wing, so it is only natural that the left wing vote be split. Furthermore, the Sex Party, which attracted 8.5% of the vote did not run in 2010, and may have drawn some more liberal minded voters away from Labor, as well as benefiting from its position at the top of the ballot paper. DLP candidate Geraldine Gonsalvez, who is locally popular for opposing toxic waste dumping in the area and a former councillor also attracted a significantly higher vote (11%), and it would be in my view mistaken to attribute this to dissatisfaction with state Labor, given the aforementioned likely reasons for her popularity. The real loser yesterday was the Liberal Party, which didn’t even test its support, likely fearing an adverse result, and which now is completely reliant on Geoff Shaw to pass legislation in the lower house.