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Tag Archives: question time

Question Time fact check

In case anyone is unsure about the Coalition’s message, they are about “jobs, growth, and community safety…jobs, growth and community safety.”

Pull out the string and that is what you will hear from every one of them.

Oh, and “the Cabinet is doing exceptionally well” even if we do say so ourselves. Ok, even if we were just told to say that by Peta.

But every time they try to elaborate, we are subjected to a load of “trust me” that bears very little resemblance to truth.

Take Question Time today.

Every opportunity he got Joe Hockey repeated the figures that the Coalition created 38,000 jobs last month and 334,000 jobs since coming to office. He then went on to compare average monthly job creation with the previous government saying he was creating eleventy times more than they were.

A quick look at the Labour Force Survey for July 2015 shows that Joe is using the SEASONALLY ADJUSTED ESTIMATES (MONTHLY CHANGE) which states that “Employment increased 38,500 to 11,810,700.”

So Joe was correct about job creation for July but the same source shows he is wildly wrong about his other figures.

Between November 2007 and September 2013, employment increased from 10,583,200 to 11,645,800 – an increase of 1,062,600 in 70 months at an average of 15,180 per month. Remember this covered the period of the global financial crisis.

Between September 2013 and July 2015, employment increased from 11,645,800 to 11,810,700 – an increase of 164,900 in 22 months at an average of ….hang on….7,495 per month.

Under this government, full time jobs have increased from 8,133,700 to 8,170,400 – an increase of 36,700. Part time jobs have increased from 3,512,100 to 3,640,300 – an increase of 128,200, showing part time employment increasing at three and a half times the rate of full time jobs

Surprisingly, even with all these extra people employed, aggregate monthly hours worked decreased from 1,641.5 million hours in September 2013 to 1,633.2 million hours in July 2015.

A spokesman from Hockey’s office told me they use the ABS figures and the ANZ job ad survey. Using the job ad survey is obviously spurious as it does not differentiate between new positions and vacancies in existing positions, presumably because someone has taken another advertised job. Joe appears to be claiming his policies are responsible for every advertised job and is claiming credit for creating them, new or not, despite the different story shown by the ABS labour force figures he chooses to quote at other times.

And then we had Tony berating environmental groups for standing in the way of the “10,000 jobs that will be created directly by the Carmichael coal mine”, even though evidence from an economist commissioned by Adani itself – Jerome Fahrer of ACIL Allen – given in the land court earlier this year said: “Over the life of the project it is projected that on average around 1,464 employee years of full-time equivalent direct and indirect jobs will be created.”

Adani claims they are the jobs for the mine and about 70km of the 388km railway. An Adani spokesman said the higher figure included contributions from the mine, the Abbot Point coal terminal near Bowen, and the 310 kilometre rail line connecting the two.

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche previously said the rail line alone could provide 2400 new jobs. Considering the source we can count on that figure also being highly exaggerated.

Even if Adani’s interpretation was correct, it meant the port and railway line would have to create “8500 or so plus jobs” for the 10,000 jobs figure to stack up. And as they cannot find a financial backer, the whole argument is moot.

A 2013 report by Deloitte’s found that the total Australia-wide value-added economic contribution generated in the Reef catchment in 2012 was $5.7 billion with employment (as measured in full-time equivalent workers) of just below 69,000. Why would you risk this unique asset?

Lenore Taylor points out the absurdity and inconsistency of the Abbott government’s approach when it comes to wind farms and jobs in renewable energy.

“When an environment group successfully uses 16 year-old national environmental laws to delay a project, the Abbott government tries to change the law to prevent them from ever doing it again.

But if an anti-windfarm group can’t find a way to use existing laws and regulations to stop or delay a project, the Abbott government tries to change laws and processes to make it easier for them to succeed.

The first is called green “vigilantism” and “sabotage” and the second is, according to environment minister Greg Hunt, a reasonable response because “many people have a sense of deep anxiety, and they have a right to complain.”

The government calls regulations that stop fossil fuel or mining projects “green tape”, but a wind commissioner and yet another scientific committee to look at unsubstantiated health complaints regarding wind turbines is apparently no kind of “tape” at all.

Question time also contained an attack on Labor for being xenophobes for questioning labour arrangements in the Chinese Free Trade Agreement. We’re all for jobs but 457 visas are an integral part of creating those jobs….apparently.

All in all I would say the first part of our new three pronged aspiration, jobs, is not doing quite as well as Hockey and Abbott would have us believe.


A waste of time


Image from the

Image from the

Watching question time has become a total waste of time. The questions are so banal, the repetition mind-numbing, the rudeness unbecoming, the procedure unwieldy, and the partisanship of the Speaker a joke.

So I thought we should give the Opposition a few ideas of questions we would like asked. Here are a few that come to mind. Feel free to add to them.

Mr Abbott,

You say your Paid Parental Leave scheme is fully funded by a 1.5% levy on big business but as you are reducing company tax by 1.5% that, in effect, means that these businesses will not pay any more and all other businesses will pay less. How do you propose to come up with $5.5 billion a year from less revenue?

Mr Hunt,

Your party has a policy of not providing assistance to business for factory refurbishment. How then can you justify gifting the biggest polluting companies $3 billion to refurbish their factories so they can lower their power bills?

Mr Dutton,

You have warned us that Medicare is becoming unaffordable. Experts agree that preventative health is a crucial factor in lowering costs. Why then have you disbanded the Australian National Preventative Health Agency, established to lead the national fight against obesity, alcohol abuse and tobacco use? Why did you take down the healthy eating website? Why are you defunding Medicare Locals?

Mr Morrison,

Aside from the $9.5 billion you have allocated for offshore processing, could you tell us the full cost of Operation Sovereign Borders? How much comes out of our Defence budget and how much is spent on airfares, administration, and related costs? What is happening to the 12 $200,000 life rafts that are used once and then left abandoned on Indonesian islands?

Mr Macfarlane,

Your policy is to axe the carbon and mining taxes. Can you name one business that has cited these taxes as the reason for their closure? As the level of foreign investment has been increasing since these taxes were introduced (increased by $147.5 billion to reach $2,167.7 billion at 31 December 2012) how can you justify saying they are a disincentive to investment?

Mr Hockey,

You have stated that we have a budget emergency and must move towards surplus. Are you aware that the largest economy in the world, the US, has only run surpluses 12 times in the last 75 years and have a current budget deficit of 4.1% of GDP compared to our 3%? The UK has not had a surplus in over a decade and has a deficit of 6.1% of GDP. The second largest economy, China, has only had one modest surplus in the last 25 years and they are running on a deficit of 1.5%. Are you aware of the recently released paper from the IMF that says debt is not an impediment to growth?

Ms Bishop,

Has the UN contacted you regarding the atrocities on Manus Island in flagrant breach of International Law, and our disregard for the International Law Court ruling that settlements in the Occupied territories are illegal, and our aiding and abetting of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka? What are you offering Cambodia to take refugees?

Mr Robb,

In your TPP free trade agreement there are several proposals with the potential to impact significantly on Australia’s Pharmaceuticals Benefits Scheme including a requirement that patents be available for new uses of existing drugs, effectively allowing ”evergreening” of existing patents; compensation to companies for delays in the grant or extension of patents; and measures to ensure data exclusivity to allow companies to prevent competitors, specifically manufacturers of generic medicines, from using past clinical safety and efficacy data to support approval of new products. Do you agree with Intellectual property law expert Matthew Rimmer who said the draft was ”very prescriptive” and strongly reflected US trade objectives and multinational corporate interests ”with little focus on the rights and interests of consumers, let alone broader community interests”?

Mr Truss,

At a Senate Committee hearing in January, then head of Infrastructure Australia, Michael Deegan, expressed concern about proposed legislation that will give the Government control over what projects the body assesses and whether their assessments will be publicly released. He felt it may undermine their independence and transparency and he was also disturbed and disappointed that Infrastructure Australia were not consulted in the drafting of the legislation. Two weeks later, Mr Deegan stood down. Was he sacked for giving the government advice? Does this mean the end of public transport funding? Does the government feel it is better informed to decide on infrastructure priorities? Why won’t assessments be released to the public?

Mr Andrews,

The Productivity Commission estimates there around 160,000 Australians with significant gambling problems, another 350,000 who are vulnerable to problem gambling, and that 41 per cent of poker machine revenue in Australia is drawn from problem gamblers. Why have you moved to dismantle the poker machine reform legislation? Why have you disbanded the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission when 81% of respondents in the sector wanted the Commission kept? Why are you suggesting welfare spending must be reined in while announcing an amnesty for offshore tax evasion?

Mr Joyce,

You vowed to wage a “mighty battle” in cabinet to convince your colleagues to sign off on a $7 billion bailout of “distressed” farm loans and avert a “complete and utter financial meltdown”. You have instead announced a Government funding package worth $320 million. As drought is predicted to increase in frequency and intensity due to climate change, what plans do you have for future relief?

Mr Turnbull,

In 2003, Tony Warren, Telstra’s group manager, regulatory strategy, told a Senate committee: “I think it is right to suggest that ADSL is an interim technology. It is probably the last sweating, if you like, of the old copper network assets. In copper years, if you like, we are at a sort of transition – we are at five minutes to midnight.” A few minutes later his boss, Bill Scales, said “It could be 10 or even 15 years, just to get some context into that.”

A strategic review found the rollout of the Coalition NBN plan would cost $12bn more to complete and take four years longer than promised by the Coalition before the election. Does this mean that we will reach midnight before the NBN is complete?

Mr Pyne,

It has taken the best part of six years to draw up most of the current national curriculum which has just been implemeted, a process that has included 26,000 submissions and state/territory involvement all the way. Will the two men you have appointed to rewrite the curriculum with a more knowledge-based, Judeo-Christian, conservative capitalist slant be reading these expert submissions or is this central control from Canberra?

Mr Johnston,

Who is your second in command? If a story on the ABC makes you too cross to function for two weeks then we better know who to contact in case of war.

Mr Brandis,

Can we expect more raids on lawyers and media outlets by the AFP using spurious warrants? Are the anti-association laws going to be extended? Does this fit in with the plan to use the military for civil matters like immigration control?

Mr Billson,

Will the small business owners who were unaware of your unadvertised change to the instant asset write-off still be able to claim for the capital expenditure they undertook assuming they would be able to claim on it?

Mr Cormann,

Can you explain why you want to close down the Clean Energy Finance Corporation who is making us a profit of about $200 million a year whilst co-investing with private enterprise in clean energy initiatives? Will the companies who moved towards clean energy practices receive compensation when you remove the carbon tax? How do you respond to the warning that companies like Qantas will face taxes overseas if we do not comply with energy reduction targets?

Mr Keenan,

What is the rationale behind cutting Indigenous legal aid and funding to many early intervention groups? Do you realise how much it costs to incarcerate a person? As these were funded by the proceeds of crime through the National Crime Prevention Agency, does this mean that you are now profiting from the proceeds of crime?

Mr Abetz,

Around Australia, our university engineering faculties and research centres are developing the key future-oriented technical skills that may provide the high-end manufacturing more suitable for this country, in areas like hydro, biomass, geothermal, solar and wind technologies.

In its 2013 World Energy Outlook, the IEA predicted that renewables were on track to become the second-largest source of electricity by 2015, and approach coal as the primary source by 2035, with continued growth of hydropower and bioenergy, plus rapid expansion of wind and solar PV.

Australia needs to build a more innovative industry and manufacturing base for the future, including creating more jobs in nanotechnology and biotechnology. It’s in Australia’s interests not to be left behind in the growth industries of the future – and those include renewable energy.

Why are you considering scrapping the renewable energy target which will deter investment in these industries of the future?

Madame Speaker,

Is calling you Madame Speaker considered sexist?

Assaults on democracy

Parliament House - the centre of our democracy (image by

Parliament House – old and new – the centre of our democracy (image by

There are at least two fundamental requirements for a functioning democracy. In various ways, in recent years, we have seen political parties in Australia attempting to subvert and limit these requirements. This is an assault on democracy itself. It may not be deliberate – political parties, like business entities, will work within the constraints of the law to achieve their ends, and loopholes and aggressive tactics are a part of the game. But dress it up how you may, attempting to coerce the workings of parliament and the electoral choices of a population is anti-democratic even if done within the limitations of the laws of that democracy.

In the business sphere, there is an overarching structure to act as a check and balance. The courts, and above them the legislature, ensure that eventually businesses that exploit loopholes to the detriment of the community can be brought back into line. Through the testing of legislation in the courts, through the drafting of new laws and regulations, there are means to help ensure that the system is fluid and no entities can subvert the intention of the regulations to which all businesses are subject.

Politics has no such overarching structure. The limits on politics are the various parties themselves – where one party oversteps the bounds, the only bodies that can pull them up on it are other political parties. Some of the time this works. And sometimes it does not.

Given untrammelled power – for instance, control of both houses of Parliament – a government can adjust the goalposts in such a way as to benefit their own interests and continued dominance. When the cycle turns, as eventually it must, an incoming government is then able to either take advantage of the changes the previous government has wrought, or to reverse the changes and implement their own.

The Australian constitution holds various aspects of our democracy sacrosanct and to change these requires a referendum. The basic mechanics of elections and parties and the existence of two houses are not in danger. There are plenty of other ways that a political party can act to extend its own hegemony, and any number of ways that the intent of a democracy can be subverted by the details.

Basic requirements for a healthy democracy include the following.

1. A free press

Or more accurately, even and impartial coverage and analysis of the issues. Fundamentally, Australian democracy is about vision. In a hundred policy areas each government has to balance the requirements of the community and the best interests of the country. In order to effectively judge the promised approach of a candidate government to each of these areas, in order to accurately evaluate the needs of Australia’s present and future, clear and informative reporting is needed.

In Australia, the media environment is skewed. Various reports have pointed to the obvious bias in the large majority of Australia’s news media. Against this bias, only the minority Fairfax and the public broadcaster ABC attempt a more balanced view. Readers of this blog will understand that “more balanced”, to the conservatives, reads as “rabid pinko”. A detailed analysis of the relative bias of the ABC vs News Ltd is outside of the scope of this article. What is not, is that the Coalition is currently openly discussing curtailing the ABC’s power to operate in the news arena.

“He said there was a compelling case to consider breaking the ABC into two entities with the traditional television and radio operations protected to ensure services in the bush and regional Australia, while the online news service could be disposed of.”

Of course, the Abbott government has form in the area of suppressing balanced information from the populace. In just a short three months in office, they have disbanded information bodies, restricted the information flow out of government, suppressed information on the grounds of “operational matters” despite said information being available to those not unfortunate enough to live in Australia, and continued the active dissemination of misinformation, half-truths and blatant untruths.

2. Robust representation in the Parliament

In a representative democracy, not every member of Parliament is going to belong to or be sympathetic to the government. Those members and senators elected to represent the opposition and independent parties – even those who do not represent a party at all – are not there to warm chairs. They are not elected to become a part of the government machine and uncritically support any intentions of the government of the day. Instead, they are there to be a dissenting voice, and hopefully through negotiation in the interests of the people they represent, to improve proposed legislation through amendments. The operation of the Parliament and Senate in this regard is a deliberate structure to ensure that all new law is viewed through the lens of more than one stakeholder; to ensure that legislation that benefits one group does not act unfairly to the detriment of others.

Both Labor and the Coalition in recent years – and as recently as the current sitting of Parliament – have taken, and are taking, actions to subvert this function. Such actions include scheduling complicated legislation for debate and passage in unfeasibly short timeframes. For examples of this – on both sides – you need look no further than the carbon “tax”. Labor provided a package of legislation running to over 1000 pages to the Parliament with eight days to read, understand, debate and vote on it. In response, the Coalition has given the repeal of the carbon tax – eleven bills, to be discussed together – just three and a half days of debate. It would be bad enough if it were just the “tax” being debated, but tied up in the repeal are dozens of climate bodies, administrative bodies, funding arrangements, and associated clean energy infrastructure.

Arguably, however, the Coalition has been worse in their abuse of the processes of Parliament. During the previous term of government, they brought few amendments to the house, preferring instead to grandstand, disrupt proceedings with continual calls to suspend standing orders, and in most cases in Question Time to ask not one question relating to their own portfolios. This was not effective representation of their constituents. But the worst was yet to come.

In the current term, in addition to electing a clearly partisan speaker to the chair of the House – Bronwyn Bishop, who remains in the party room and is an integral part of the Coalition’s governing body – they have also taken actions that in one fell swoop ensure the failure of any amendments to legislation and disempower any independent voices. The attempt to vote on all proposed amendments as a block ensures that a flaw in one amendment, or contradictory amendments, or an extreme position on behalf of one proposal will knock out all the amendments at once. As Penny Wong stated in parliament, this is procedurally impossible. She might have added, deliberately so – it is a flagrant breach of the intention of amendments. (I am unable to find references online to this abuse of process. If you can provide a link, please leave it in the comments.)

Understandably, governments want to implement their policies. But subverting debate using procedural methods is as much an assault on democracy as is continual sabotage of proceedings using points of order and interjections.

Does anybody even listen to Parliament any more?

The majority of the Australian people remain minimally aware of the vagaries of Parliament and how it operates, far less the way that it is intended to represent the interests of non-governmental political parties. Tony Abbott and some sections of the news media deliberately play to this disaffection as they talk about a “mandate” for the government to implement its policies and report scant, if any, details of the proceedings of legislation through the parliament. Regardless, the details remain critically important. These are our representatives, this is our government, and any attempt to usurp the proper processes of democracy is an assault on everyone’s rights – whether you support the government of the day or not. Accordingly, those who are politically aware and interested need to draw attention to these abuses wherever they may be found. Only by showing that people are watching, and that we care about the concept of democracy as much as about its outcomes, can we avoid permanent and catastrophic debasement of government in Australia.