Alexander Downer is want to describe Kevin Rudd as the vainest man he has come across in politics and while some might argue that the Foreign Minister is playing the role of the pot, the Opposition Leader certainly likes to dominate the time available on the parliamentary stage.

This week, for example, Mr Rudd was present in the House of Representatives for question time on two of the three sitting days when Labor had the opportunity to ask 17 questions of government ministers. For 13 of those, including all seven yesterday, Mr Rudd was on his feet and questioning Prime Minister John Howard about the use of Kirribilli House to entertain some business observers to the Federal Council meeting of the Liberal Party.

The Opposition Leader allowed Labor’s Leader in the House, Anthony Albanese, to pose two questions to Mr Howard – one about Kirribilli and another about a so-called government dirt unit meeting – and there actually was one contribution from a backbencher – Sharon Bird, the member for Cunningham, was chosen to also question Mr Howard on the Kirribilli theme. An attempt by Labor Party Whip Roger Price to join the select group failed when his question about catering costs was ruled out of order.

On Tuesday, when Mr Rudd was temporarily absent attending a funeral, the Labor line-up was similarly limited. Mr Albanese was allowed to make the running on the big issue of who paid for what when the Prime Minister entertained with Deputy Leader Julia Gillard acting in the top job for an hour asking three questions about work place relations and one on petrol prices.

Every Labor question for the week was asked of the Prime Minister. The only other Minister asked to rise to his feet by someone on the opposition benches was when Independent Tony Windsor actually sought some information about the capital gains tax liability on the sale of water rights by irrigators to the Assistant Treasurer Peter Dutton.

Other Ministers had to rely on pre-arranged questions from their own backbenchers for their appearances. Not one of these Dorothy Dixers actually sought information. They were simply invitations to attack Labor proposals and framed with words like: “Is the Treasurer aware of any new plans to increase union power?” or “Is the Treasurer aware of any alternative approaches?”

All-in-all, the week’s House of Representatives question time was a pointless exercise that did nothing to inform the public about anything.

In the Senate things were little different with Labor concentrating on Kirribilli although the Greens and Democrats at least added some variety to the subject matter.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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