Springing to action: Parliament’s back

15 August 2012

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After six weeks of respite from the non-stop mud-slinging and name-calling in Canberra, Parliament is back in session. While I was rather enjoying the break, in my own love-hate relationship with Australian politics, it’s time to have a look at the issues that are set to dominate parliament during the spring sittings.

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Is there any hope of a new-found civility or new issues arising in federal politics? Let’s just say that if you were sick of hearing about the carbon tax or asylum seekers, it’s going to be a long year in politics.

However, the break has seen Labor shift its focus, albeit to a small degree, and it could mean a change in our political discourse.

For starters, July saw the implementation of the carbon tax, which hasn’t yet led to financial Armageddon, presumably to the dismay of Tony Abbott. While it is clearly still too early to tell how the carbon price will affect our economy, the fact is that it’s here now, so the Coalition has to deal in realities rather than conjecture and fear-mongering.

Julia Gillard has been on the offensive lately in blaming states for rising electricity costs, stating that overpriced infrastructure building in recent years has led to the dramatic increase in electricity prices. The carbon tax, therefore, will have a marginal effect by comparison, which will be subsidised by the government, it is argued.

This debate will surely continue, and any popularity gained in the polls could be undone if electricity prices continue to rise.

‘To declare victory, she will have to produce results; to bring down, or at least contain, the electricity price increases already in the system,‘ writes Mungo MacCallum.

While electricity prices, as well as other future price-rises, will be keenly watched by politicians and average households alike, it is invaluable to Julia Gillard that people may at least question the reasons behind such rises, rather than simply attributing them to the carbon tax.

In a similar fashion, during this year Treasurer Wayne Swan has been vocal in attacking ‘infamous billionaires’ that he alleges are greedily taking the nation’s resources and using their wealth to subvert the national interest. Especially in the context of mining giant Gina Rinehart’s bid to win a Fairfax Media board seat, Swan’s sentiments seem to ring true, although their popularity is unclear at this point.

This attack, combined with Gillard’s electricity offensive, seem to be acts to regain some sort of connection with middle-class Australia. A recent poll by The Australian found that Labor’s primary vote has risen to 33 per cent, up from 28 per cent the previous month. It’s telling that figures that low would be celebrated, but it’s a step in the right direction for the ALP.

But just when lefties might have had some hope for the ALP, the issue of asylum seekers has reared its ugly head again, with little chance of on-shore processing in sight. With the expert panel on asylum seekers giving their findings to the government, it looks as though Australia will increase its humanitarian intake to 20,000 from 13,750, while also re-establishing off-shore processing in Nauru.

This is an early win for the Coalition, as they have long been pushing for the return to John Howard’s Pacific Solution. ‘I think the fact that the Prime Minister has held out for so long against what was obviously common sense will raise yet again, questions about her judgment,’ claimed Abbott.

One would think that even when adopting Coalition policies, the ALP, and therefore the Australian people, won’t be spared from asylum seeker debate any time soon. Many like myself wish that asylum seeker intake was regarded as a duty rather than a product of a criminal system, but for now it appears as though both sides of politics are intent on harsh measures to discourage people smugglers, and those who seek refuge on our shores, from setting sail.

So all in all, we can expect to see Tony Abbott continue to blame Labor for any price-rises felt by households, while Julia Gillard points the finger at companies apparently exaggerating the effects of the carbon tax. It is possible that the government’s compensation measures will see people starting to believe that the new tax on polluters doesn’t adversely affect them, but it is unlikely that the carbon tax issue will go away before the next election.

Wayne Swan’s continued posturing against big business could be a sign of things to come, and will need to gain some traction with voters of the ALP is going to remain in power.

Deterring asylum seekers remains an issue of critical importance in Canberra, to the bewilderment of many, and it’s safe to say that if Gillard doesn’t ‘stop the boats’ we will see her criticised to no end.

This all sounds terribly familiar doesn’t it? I for one am keen to give Australian politics some of my attention, if only for the time being.

Let’s hope that we see some principled policy making in parliament. Otherwise it could be a long spring ahead.

Tim Viney is a Master of Global Communications student at La Trobe University, and is upstart‘s deputy editor. You can follow him on Twitter: @TimViney2.