Sorry if question time was a bit thermonuclear

Abbott

By way of background, a few words on how I view the relevant players.

I lost what regard I’d had for Howard during the Tampa standoff and the children overboard affair. His readiness to ruthlessly exploit vital issues for party political ends finished him for me. I could still recognise his skills as a politician but never again would he be someone I regarded as trustworthy. Costello, whatever his skills, has always irritated me and continues to do so. As for Downer, quite apart from disagreeing with much of his take on foreign policy, his voice and manner set my teeth on edge. Abbott, I confess I’m more inclined to like. He strikes me as a bit more human than his senior colleagues, less programmed, more unpredictable. Sometimes that may be a bad thing of course, but on balance it’s preferable to the perpetual politician I sense in the others.

Kevin Rudd, well, I want to like him. I was impressed with his start as leader and he is without doubt both clever and driven. He always seemed on top of his brief as Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and speaks clearly and well. My comfort level was a touch shaken by the feature article in the Feb 10-11 Weekend Australian Magazine. Not only by five instances of the exact same smile staring out at me but more importantly by a slightly worrying sense of arrogance that came through. Anyway, it’s too early to tell so I’m happy to give him time and want him to succeed. If there’s one thing we desperately need, it’s a credible opposition.

So, on to the reason for this post. It’s a follow up to Labor’s Parliamentary Performance from a few days ago and has been prompted more by the comments on Tim Dunlops The Honourable Members (where he referred to that Troppo thread) than by those on Troppo itself which seem to have taken off on an oblique path after an fruitful initial burst. The strongest impressions from the Blogocracy comments are the palpable disgust most seem to feel about parliamentary antics and somewhat surprisingly, given that widespread distaste, their partisan nature.

I too of course have a bias. I’d like to see Labor getting the upper hand, for now at least, in order to restore balance and perhaps even produce a change in government. Or at least a shift in power in the Senate. I’m no rusted on Labor voter — indeed, anything but — but am convinced we need a change, a hosing out, if you like, of the Augean stables. While I think the odds are still pretty good, my initial impression of Labor’s performance, as voiced in the earlier post, has been reinforced in recent days. It’s been lamentable. I fully accept the comments made on Troppo and Blogocracy that the speaker is ludicrously biased and that the very format of Question Time entirely discourages anything resembling debate. Nevertheless, Labor has looked a very clear loser this week, not just because of these impediments but because of poor strategy and arguably even poorer execution. The arrogance often displayed by the government will hopefully count against them in the slightly bigger picture and I agree with those who think there can be very few who aren’t deathly tired of this sort of juvenile theatrics. Nevertheless, over the last few days the government has had the better of it. Labor’s sallies were half-hearted jabs that could be almost negligently brushed aside and most importantly, they failed entirely to occupy the high moral ground.

In attempting yesterday to turn the debate on the government by dredging up Crichton-Browne the opposition compounded the error they’d made the previous day in trying to make a meal of contacts between Walker and Howard et al. Tit for tat may, if effectively applied, neutralise an issue but it tends to drag the attacker down into the same gutter and, should the attack sputter, does so to no avail. That’s pretty much what happened. In leading with the Walker allegations on Wednesday, Labor was not only easily portrayed as playing conspiracy politics but, more damagingly, also laid themselves wide open to the charge that they weren’t willing or able to step up and have the difficult debate on what’s actually needed to stem CO2 emissions. Very close to an own goal, I would have thought. Faced then with the Burke accusations, they launched a rather weak counterattack which fizzled and left them looking no better than their accusers in moral terms, just a good deal less effective. I struggle to see how any of that can be spun into a win although the Exclusive Brethren business might turn out to have a few legs. I confess I’m astounded at Rudd’s foolishness in having three meetings with Burke. I’m not suggesting there was anything truly suspect but surely he ought to have been able to see the potential consequences? After all, as a number of posters on Blogocracy pointed out, Burke had been on the Labor banned list for a while.

Let me take just one more example from yesterday, the Roxon/Abbott debate on health. Here too the government emerged a clear winner. In so personalising her attack, Roxon undermined everything she said. Consider this tidbit:

Do you know why the minister really does not care about prevention? Probably because he has no sympathy for those who are suffering from diabetes, cardiovascular disease or other conditions. He does not worry about them. The minister is not worried for one second about the people who are suffering, because he is just rubbing his hands together and saying, “They will end up in state hospitals and I will stand up in the parliament and blame them.”

Even were this true it’s not good debating technique, at least nowhere outside primary school. However, I don’t think it is true and that came through in the tone of Abbott’s response. He answered with considerable dignity, accepted that many errors had been made and that much was not as he would wish it to be, parried the few rather pointless interjections well and finished with a touch of self-deprecating humour by saying:

I have tried as best I can to deal soberly and sensibly with the topic of this MPI. I am sorry if question time was a bit thermonuclear, but I think the serious critique has been well and truly answered. (Time expired)

Perhaps it’s just been a bad week and matters will take a turn for the better next time around. Still, given the rich selection of targets available and the fact that the government had been on the ropes, it’s an alarmingly inept performance. They’ve allowed the government back on the offensive, something that in the circumstances ought not to have been a realistic possibility.

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Robert
Robert
14 years ago

.. which may lead to the fact that the struggle for supremacy as evident in ultimate voting results will best be won by Labor having excellent alternative policy – and sticking to that. The ‘style of leadership’ is to my mind a winner, but there’s nothing like alternative policy struck in public mind. We’ll have to wait for the bigger calls, however.

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
14 years ago

I think, silly as it is, that one of the big problems with question time is that they are all graduates of high school and university debating – I hated that debating because there was no merit in truth, none at all.

Nicholas Gruen
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Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
14 years ago

Thanks for that Ingolf. The short quote from Abbot is very good. That’s how parliamentarians should speak. It does them no harm to speak like that and it also does them good. A bit of bloody gravitas. I also agree that Roxon’s claim is both silly and quite outrageous.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
14 years ago

There was an MPI debate early in the week – Tuesday? – in which Wayne Swan – ill-advisedly- proposed that the government had completely failed to develop economic policies aimed at securing Australia’s future. Costello was the responding minister, obviously, and he flung Swan around the chamber like a small stuffed toy. Kate Ellis seconded Swan and – incredibly – laboriously read her shallow, platitudinous, cliche-ridden speech like a nervous last minute ring in at some Year 10 debate at a suburban high school. She was followed by Steven Ciobo (hardly a genius) for the government and he wiped the floor with her.

What an utter waste of time. Unusually, government members packed the benches within televisual range of the despatch box and urged Costello on like Whigs hooked on the oratory of Charles James Fox.

These crap tactics reached their nadir yesterday. Fingers need to be pulled out immediately.

harry clarke
14 years ago

Ingolf you are a bit of a baby and a ‘political virgin’ when it comes to making political judgements. Costello ‘irritates’ you and you don’t like Downer’s ‘voice and manner’. You ‘like’ Abbott because he is ‘more human’ and ‘less predictable’. You ‘like’ Rudd because he is ‘driven and clever’. You’d like Labor to win because you want a ‘change’. And finally you seem to be disgusted by political debating tactics. Its just a big game, is it?

Why not try to assess politicians by the policies they espouse and their track records. Voters with your sorts of political preferences (assuming you are old enough to vote) lead us to getting celebrities like Maxine McKew and Peter Garrett rather than capable policy-makers. When you have an electorate that votes on the basis of the ‘like’ principle you will can reasonably expect to get poor politicians.

vee
vee
14 years ago

Well if we were to evaluate the (classical) Liberal party we’d discover that they were only Conservatives in the majority of their actions, whereas we would discover the Labor party was the (classical) liberal party in their actions. Despite all that most still believe (wrongfully imo) the rhetoric of the respective parties and what they allegedly stand for.

Come April, we can look at the polls again as Big Kev’s honeymoon should be over.

I’d be tempted to bring up Senator Sherry to neutralise the Burke thing…

Ken Parish
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Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
14 years ago

“I

Bring Back CL's Blog
Bring Back CL's Blog
14 years ago

Ken, I think you need to examine the word rort.
If Sherry rorted the system then every pollie does.
They do it because they can.Anyone in the private sector claims expenses but not pollies.
They claim an allowance which means they make money whenever they stay anywhere which charges less than the allowance

Sacha
14 years ago

I really dislike juvenile parliamentary speeches and tactics, and unfortunately Labor falls into using them from time to time, as do most parliamentary parties (I recall that the coalition opposition often acted in a juvenile way in the years before they were elected in 1996).

I wouldn’t be too worried about this, though, so long as it’s not their only mode of operating and it doesn’t become the image of how they operate in the public eye.

Parliament is, to a great degree, theatre.

Sacha
14 years ago

hc – I’d be surprised if many people evaluated politicians by their policies – I often hear interpretations of various sides’ policies that are distortions of reality of just plain wrong, and poor analyses of these supposed policies.

harry clarke
14 years ago

Sacha, Of course politics is partly about manipulating perceptions. It is partly about selling policies that can cost votes and of marketing.

But surely what matters about the next elections are industrial relations reform, nuclear energy, climate change, protectionism, Iraq and so on. It is easy to get diverted but I think we should strive to deal with what is important. There is plenty of it.

Not whether you ‘like’ pollies.

Robert
Robert
14 years ago

I guess the men and women of Australia who witnessed – certainly played out – the makings of our own history in large part beyond a guess at, say, thirty or forty years ago are not here to join us in sharing thoughts. The advent of television and then the internet have altered political being. … Be great to have continual input from earlier years – no doubt they’d speak of much the same as us, in terms of crookedness and worthiness, political plays as built on public responses and how to tender to that, and so on. But the television in our homes and the internet has brought forward a whole new immediacy as our ‘representatives’ do their thing.

This upcoming election will no doubt throw up developments yet again.

And as it unfolds, we feel at times or at once bored or emboldened by what is happening.

Yet this is our story. It’s an amazing story: in the literal sense. It’s also a great, tremendous, story.

It’s ours. We can dip into it, look upon it, turn away, or give to or take from it what we wish.

It’s our national story.

Policies; plays. Constraints. Players. Dreams and wishes. The public mind; the hidden thing. Compromise, or not? Real life as a consequence, buried, or rising to come to light. The means by which it all happens.

…our unfolding Australian story.

May I share this thought? It is that to read, contribute, turn away or otherwise have our national story affect you, through these developed forms, howsoever you come across our story, writes you into being a part of it, more and more – in some way.

Mark U
Mark U
14 years ago

I remember being surprised that in the UK parliament opposition members can get the call from the speaker during a Minister’s answer and ask follow up questions. This may flow from the greater independence of the speaker. Until one of the major parties bites the bullet and puts into practice the principle of an independent speaker and perhaps makes the standing orders fairer for opposition parties, Oz parliament will continue to be a farce. Of course it will never happen unless one of the parties sees it as a significant vote winner.

Link
14 years ago

I hated that debating because there was no merit in truth, none at all.

Mmm good point Patrick, one being largley ignored everywhere and most of the time as somehow quaint or irrelevant. But not for me. . . are lucky stars above, but not for me. . . .

I was endeared to Tony Abbott once and only once when he said in relation to bird flu that he was hoping people would not get hysterical about it, because, he added as an afterthought, with accompanying grin, ‘we’re all gonna die anyway at sometime’. I thought this a great line for the Health Minister to be running. And other than that small shared cynical moment, I tend to think he’s one of the more poisonous of pollies. Although I did feel a bit sorry for him when his office got painted in poo. I think that really shook him. Its a dirty business no two ways about it.

Link
14 years ago

Or was that John Brogden’s office? Or was he somehow involved?

Sacha
14 years ago

he wrote:

But surely what matters about the next elections are industrial relations reform, nuclear energy, climate change, protectionism, Iraq and so on. It is easy to get diverted but I think we should strive to deal with what is important.

I agree that people should deal, in a proper way, with significant issues, and that people will think that different things are important, and that these imporant things will be dealt with in different ways.

vee
vee
14 years ago

Well I was thinking more along the lines of how he ended up and how guilty Costello felt.