Feb 7, 2013

Hockey scores goals in policy-rich question time

Having finally shifted to policy rather than smear campaigns in question time, the Opposition yesterday found unexpected success.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

One of the more consistent and accurate criticisms levelled by the government at the opposition has been about Tony Abbott’s negativity and lack of interest in policy, particularly in question time, which last year become a rather banal procession of muckraking, invented scare stories about the carbon price and suspension motions so frequent that betting pools were set up for the time they'd happen. Behind that approach was Labor’s conviction that if Abbott did switch his focus to policy, his weakness would be revealed and Labor’s strength demonstrated. Yesterday in question time there was no muckraking, no MPs using coward’s castle to call the Prime Minister a "crook" or "corrupt", no smearing of her. Instead there was, shock horror, policy; 11 straight questions about policy -- on the budget surplus, principally, but one each as well on superannuation and the NBN (from Malcolm Turnbull, a rare contributor to question time). The result was a government that looked decidedly bereft of inspiration. The Coalition enjoyed its best question time in some time. Part of its enjoyment came from a decidedly poorly-thought through piece of political literature from Labor -- newsletters dispatched to voters boasting that it had "delivered" a surplus, the sort of claim that wasn’t accurate even after last year’s budget and which of course now looks embarrassing in light of the Treasurer’s retreat from the surplus commitment in December. The government may still produce a surplus this year, of course, but at the moment its rhetoric is that it has focused on jobs and responded to changing circumstances, rather than sticking to its commitment. And no one in the Coalition’s ranks enjoyed the government’s discomfort more than Joe Hockey, who asked three questions and presented a giant pile of paper composed, he said, of the several hundred occasions on which Labor had committed to a surplus. Nor were the questions simple gotchas (well, not all of them); Hockey made the point that the government’s argument that revenue had collapsed more dramatically than predicted after the GFC wasn’t necessarily borne out by past budget papers. The response from the Prime Minister and the Treasurer was an unusual level of bluster and evasion. Then again, there’s nowhere for them to go on the surplus issue: they themselves made sure of that with their endlessly repeated insistence that they’d deliver one.  Hockey also adeptly used Bob Hawke’s presence in the chamber as grist to the surplus mill. Bob was the last Labor PM to deliver a surplus, he cheerfully observed. It was, all in all, a good day at the office for Hockey. One wonders if, having found it more effective than either side might have expected, the Coalition will make a habit of actually focusing on policy. One more thing: when Hawke eventually left, he observed standing orders for MPs and bowed to the Speaker -- giving a slow and grave bow from near the main doors, almost unnoticed. One suspects it was a final acknowledgement from an old warrior to the arena in which he'd made his mark.

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18 thoughts on “Hockey scores goals in policy-rich question time

  1. geomac62

    Hockey makes a claim by saying Labor has said on whatever number 100, 150 times about a surplus which is itself a stunt . Costello said a thousand times that the GST was a state tax . It didn,t make it true because it was always a federal tax and always will be . The cardboard cut out bearer will always go for the clown act and the number thing is irrelevant . Its like the brat saying to a parent ” You have told me that ten times already “

  2. MJPC

    BK, about time the LNP concentrated on policy, but of course its easy to run the agenda when the media cowtows to any inane comments made by the LNP, and does not dig to find out the truth, such as yesterdays recent sugestion of us all moving to the tropics to create a brave new world of no tax and serfdom for the Gina Rinehardts amongst us.
    Pith helmet anyone?

  3. john willoughby

    half a stomach.. why not he’s been operating with half a brain for a long time..

  4. JMNO

    Despite agreeing with a couple of the previous comments, I do wish Labor would make their public pronouncements a bit more interesting to listen to and stop using cliches all the time. As Tony Wright wrote in The Age yesterday, it would be nice to have some Paul Keating moments from time to time. They can’t rely on Abbott behaving like Attila the Hun all the time. He is clearly in image-making mode and they will be left far behind unless they get their act together.

  5. The Pav

    I what is a daming indictment of the mainstream media I wouldn’t have know about this other than Crikey.

    If something asinine but sexy had happened the I’m sure there would have been headlines.

    No , some policy got debated and the govt’ failed to handle some reasonable questions and the reward……

    Almost total silence.No wonder politicians go for stunts over substance

  6. MJPC

    JMNO, agreed. Oh for some cutting wit to destroy some of Mr Abbott’s more outlandish pronouncements.
    The link between Abbott’s announcements and the Rinehart dream of some capitalistic tropical utopia seems to have been let slide without comment by the ALP. Galling when it was a target waiting to be fired at with broadside force as to its total inanity.

  7. Ruprecht

    Arguing over whether there will be a surplus, as opposed to what the money is to be used for, is policy focus now?

  8. jeremy brown

    How can you write an article called “Hockey scores goals in policy-rich question time” without giving details of policy? Apart from Hockey looking pathetic with his ‘prop’ of a pile of paper, neither SBS or the ABC reported anything much. Did I miss something on the other channels?
    It would have been more useful if you had given details and perhaps some enlightened commentary on what was said rather than the ‘lying about the surplus’ stuff that makes up half your article.

  9. Albert Ross

    Hockey scoring goals? Has he taken performance enhancing substances?

  10. Mike Flanagan

    Maybe if Hockey Stick Joe could practise what he preachers (austerity) and stop committing arborside with the photocopier Swannie might be able present a balanced budget.

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