Monday, October 4, 2010

i.e. Nothing

Australia's new Federal Parliament got underway this week.

'You're kidding! I thought we were done with politickin? The election ended after 40 odd weeks right? Can't we just forget the whole fucking lot of them for three years now?'

Well, no. Which is to say, yes.

With the high drama, internal squabbling and camp theatrics of the election campaign finally over and done with, most of the Australian electorate will do their absolute level best to avoid anything political until the next campaign (slated for 2012-13 which seems ridiculously close, when you think about it). This is a little easier in a week like the one we've just had, where all right thinking people's thoughts are fixated on the AFL Grand Final in Melbourne (and yes, okay, some on the NRL Grand Final in Sydney, but I'd hardly call those people 'right thinking').

So how did our new Parliament fare in this opening week?

Did the new Government 'let the sunshine in,'


as Julia Gillard said it would? Did the Opposition hold the Government 'ferociously to account,'

as Tony Abbott said it would (the above being a visual depiction of what runs through Mr Abbott's head when he addresses a member of the ALP in Parliament). Did neither of these things happen and did our Federal Parliament settle down to a week of doing what it does best i.e. nothing?

I'm sure the right thinking people in the audience know the answer.

To sum up what actually went down in Parliament this week, then, is a fairly short exercise (note: anyone looking for a robust policy debate, best click the 'Back' button now). There were two key items that took up most of our Parliaments time:


The Speaker officiates in the lower house of Parliament, the House of Representatives. They sit in a chair between the two sides and serve as a sort of umpire; keeping the peace, running debates, announcing the outcome of votes and making sure Parliament runs according to correct procedure. Well, actually, they spend most of their time going 'Member for So-and-So, resume your seat!' as various members of the house get excited and start shouting at each other. The Speaker is meant to be independent but, as they are elected by a vote of House members, they normally come from the Government benches and are thought to nominally favour the Government on match day.

The election of the Speaker was complicated this time, however, by the Government's wafer thin margin in the House. The Speaker normally only votes if the rest of House vote is tied and, with Labor holding the slimmest margin possible at 76 votes to 74, removing one vote in the form of the Speaker's could be crucial. Labor, then, were less keen than usual to provide the Speaker from their side. Independant MP Rob Oakeshott volunteered himself (undoubtedly taken with the title 'Speaker' given his recent antics) before going cold on the idea again. And a couple of Coalition back benchers flirted with nominating before Tony got all 'Watership Down' on their ass and frightened them back behind the skirting board. After a week of debate and analysis and meetings and dealings and much name calling on national television, we ended up with exactly the same Speaker as last time, Labor's mild backbencher Harry Jenkins.

Your tax payers dollars in action.


This hefty, weighty piece of critical nation building legislation relates to occurrences where the Government is defeated in a Parliamentary roll call vote, but only defeated due to something unusual, like, say, one of their members getting locked in the toilet or something, and then the Government wants to have another vote on the same bit of legislation straight away, say, after the handymen get the trapped parliamentarian out of the dunny, then what sort of procedures need to be followed and... oh fuck me, I can't write anymore about this. I tried to tart it up a bit and make it mildly entertaining but this was a deadly dull procedural battle about voting protocols that made watching paint dry look like 'Jackass 3D.' The Liberals won this one, by the way, causing much tweeting and emailing in the political science department of ANU.

So, it's probably fair to say, that the new Parliament worked well enough during it's first week in operation. Although, with nothing of any real consequence under consideration, this tells us exactly nothing about how it will operate when contentious legislation - euthanasia, broad band, gay marriage or carbon taxes - come up for debate.

And so after a week in which our 226 well paid Federal Parliamentarians sat around shouting about arcane trivia that no one in the whole country could have given a toss about, it seems somehow fitting to leave the summation of the current state of Australian politics down to a work experience kid on the 'Kerry Ann' show: