Wednesday, October 3, 2007

I'll Miss You Question Time

Overall I have found this to be a very beneficial assignment in the way it has forced me to listen to numerous question times, to examine the issues discussed and to analyse this processes as a feature of the government which I haven’t really been exposed to, or paid attention to in the past. While I find question time to be a slightly pointless time where issues are rarely resolved and where senators merely pump out their key messages in absence of any further clarification on the matters, I guess it is a time where the public can see both sides of the argument, at times gain insight on new campaigns and policies in order to make their own conclusions on issues as opposed to what is presented to them.

I have also found my interaction with these new mediums very beneficial and think i can safely say my debut into the blogosphere hasn't been too scary, and has provided me with new sets of skills that will no doubt be necessary for my future in PR. Although I don't think I will be jumping on to update my ipod for podcasts of question time any time soon, I find the world of podcasting to be equally as important and useful.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Answer the Question!

Looking back at my previous posts I seem to have been quite negative about the whole process, so today I decided to try and look at question time on the 18th September in a new light. This was quite unsuccessful however, as the first question brought the discussion straight back to another debate about interest and mortgage rates which I can’t say I was too thrilled to hear once again. And although I have come to have a better understanding of the issues due to my exciting new hobby of listening to question time via podcast, I can’t believe senators can sit through question time nearly every day and debate the same issues.

Today however, instead of just listening to the to and fro-ing of figures and the monotonous cry of... "liberals have kept interest rates lower than when labour was in government" I tried to cut through all the key messages and self promotion to really see how effective senators were at answering the questions posed to them. And as id thought, the first question and supplementary question provided no answers, merely the ramblings of Senator Scullion who tried unconvincingly to defend his contradictory statements made the day before that "interest rates today are the highest they’ve been under the Howard government" and in the same speech "that they are at record lows". And in response to the supplementary question about the broken promises of the liberal government about interest rates, (which is a favourite and almost permanent target for the labour party) he gave no defined answer, merely going off on a tangent about how proud he was "to be a member of a government that allowed people to be in a position to buy their own home".

Once again I came away frustrated with the whole process of question time as well as the ongoing competition between "us" and "them". Although I realise it is important for different groups to represent different view supposedly held by the people in Australia, I wish there could be some way they could lessen the huge competitive relationship they have between each other, because if makes question time very tedious and uncomfortable to listen to.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Agriculture Sector Speaks Out

My first impressions of the committee hearing were that, whilst it seemed very proper and formal, with words such as being ”conversant with the terms of the inquiry” making the process seem very heavy, I was relieved that I didn’t have to endure the usually bickering I had to watch when I was analysing question time. As it was a committee hearing inquiring into the agriculture sector of New South Wales (29 August 2007), the issues discussed have been very topical as of late, hence aroused great debate on the important issues of sustainability and the environment. I also found the issues to be of great interest to myself due to the big hype that has emerged in relation to securing Australia’s environmental future, and found it was especially beneficial for me to gain such a deep understanding of the experiences farmers face and the issues relating to their work, especially at such a hard time.

Although I understand the nature of this hearing to be different with representatives expressing their views as opposed to senators being held accountable for their actions, I found the issues discussed to be very worthwhile and intelligent, enjoying the absence of the slandering match that goes on during question time, where one senator would accuse one and then would retaliate very condescendingly. In this case solutions were being presented in the hope that real problems could be fixed, and great planning and research had obviously gone into the presentation of the problems and solutions. Professor Michael Archer who spoke first, certainly opened up my eyes to the issues farmers have, in particular with kangaroos which I found to be very interesting, as I had never been exposed to these kind of issues farmer face before. He was so well researched and a great debater that I really enjoyed listening to him.

I especially liked Archer’s golfing analogy; where a golfer who takes many clubs to play golf to account for the challenges the face him, was paralleled to the need for Australia to have a number of strategies to combat the different problems that could arise in relation to the possible extinction of animals and communities.

The introduction of the Farmers Association members and the second discussion, again highlighted the importance of procedure in the chamber. The obvious necessity for the representatives to name their “capacity” individually, as “a member of the Rural Alliance” indicated the longstanding protocols of such hearings and alerted me to the fact that this background information was important for all involved, as opposed to the senate, where members and their positions would already have been known to everyone else in the chamber.
Once again it was interesting to hear different groups views on agriculture sustainability expressed, as like in Australian society, everyone seems to have an opinion on this topic. Another interesting discussion was the issue of meat exportation differences between the states. I learnt so much about the little things that make such a big impact on the overall farming community, and enjoyed listening to solutions proposed during this time.

Coming away from the hearing made me realise how complicated and stressful it would be to be in government. The hearing was only focusing on one sector of the community, where many representatives strongly believed they deserved funding for a number of reasons. Yet one look at the long list of committees on the parliamentary website, indicates the great competition there is for attention and funding of the different issues that affect the different sectors.
Overall I found the hearing to be a very interesting experience. To witness the avenues people in the community have to voice their opinions, debate the running of the country and promote government action in relation to certain issues was very beneficial. I pity the different governments for being faced with so many different groups all believing they deserve and need money for their own specific benefit and definitely do not envy the positions of those in government!

Question Time - TV Antics

As my fellow classmates have found, internshipping and working while keeping up with uni work is very tough indeed - especially when subjects require students to attend a hearing or watch a program that is broadcast at 2pm in the afternoons. While the podcasts are a great way of hearing everything that goes on – with the added advantage of being able to access the files anywhere and at any time, watching the real thing is much more interesting and definitely much more entertaining. It wasn’t until I discovered that Question time airs at the lovely time of 12:35am that I was able to watch and listen to what goes on, on Tuesday 11 September.

As I have said in previous posts, while I find the issues discussed very heavy and boring, I have found the process of Question Time quite amusing. Watching the process and the shifting camera angles, cranky faces and rising noise and anger levels as senators become agitated dramatically increased the entertainment level. Watching the program live is also very disjointed and fast paced but I thoroughly enjoyed laughing at the bored looking faces of people sitting behind speakers, the women dressed in red walking past cameras to ensure everyone had enough water, and although i had heard the need for "order, order" to be interjected, watching the smart alec comments and anger are much funnier in the flesh.

Once more there were the very rehearsed answers, with statistics about how well the Australian government was doing in "diligently spending 10.4 billion dollars on security" and then there were the catty comments with senators sarcastically beginning their spiel by congratulating the questioner on asking a "very good question".

It was interesting once again to hear such a wide range of issues that keep popping up such as the troops in Iraq, changes in security since September 11, Climate Change, Kyoto in light of APEC the week before, the Equine influenza and issues relating to Fishing, in particular recreational fishing.

Watching the politicians body language and when they get revved up was much more exciting than staring into space while listening to political matters via my ipod!!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"Broken Record"

Question time today (13 August) felt a little bit repetitive. Once again a finance question about inflation and interest rate hikes started off the question time directed at Minister Minchin (I do not envy his position) who then set off on his promotion of the governments fantastic ability to keep "unemployment at record lows", "a very strong economy" and "inflation at an averaged 2.5% in contrast to labours 5.2%" – I am glad I only have to monitor Question Time for a few weeks as I feel financial debates and issues could get very boring!!

While I find Minchin to be very sarcastic in the way he answers the questions, I did find it interesting to hear how the minister answered questions and defended the governments actions in relations to climate change as I had to perform a similar task in a mock media conference. Once again he started off by deflecting the accusations that the government had done nothing to stop climate change in 11 years by insulting and criticising the "authoritarian labour machine" who disallow members to have their own views "for fear of being crushed… or expelled". While I feel this ongoing slandering to be pointless and irritating, he did pump through the key messages to promote the good the government is doing in relation to climate change, such as the "3.4 billion dollar program", the fact they are "committed to a carbon issues trading scheme" and as we highlighted in our mock media conference, the necessity to not rush into implementing such a scheme in order to ensure the safety of the economy. The promotion of these key messages was similar to our tactics and hence it was very beneficial and interesting to see how our media conference compared to the real thing.

As I said above in relation to Minchin’s answers, and whilst I know it is their job to defend their actions and campaigns, listening to the ongoing spiels from ministers about their campaigns does really highlight how talented the ministers are in pumping out their key messages throughout their answers. Every answer displayed the great skill the politicians have in conveying powerful, succinct key messages with ongoing references to the liberal’s governments great ability to keep interest rates down, consistent strong surpluses and paying off labour’s debt.

What also became apparent to me during this time, is the fact that the ministers do certainly seem to have a lot of fun during this time, giving each other cheek and taking up any chance to patronise the opposition. I found it very entertaining when Minchin directed his snide comments at Senator Ray and Senator Chapman who were repeatedly called to order when he came up to answer a question, saying "President you think they would have more respect seeing this is your last question time as president. Certainly we respect that fact and I would ask those opposite to respect that historic fact" – they certainly seem to enjoy the ability to make snide comments.

While I dislike opposing parties criticising each other during this time, the questions asked of members within the same party seem to add to the pointlessness of the procedures. The question posed by the Hon. Senator Patterson to fellow liberal member the Hon. Senator Coonan about the Governments actions to ensure the internet is safe for families seemed like a waste of time where Coonan was able to set off on her promotion of the new net alert program – important for the public to know this is going on, but seemingly pointless when other issues could have been discussed.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Too Much Bickering!!

Question Time… 8th August 2007 - As this was the second time I had heard Question time, I was a bit more aware of the process and found it interesting to explore the issues brought up in parliament, especially as it came a day after my last hearing, however once again I found the process quite frustrating and pointless.

The inability for people to rebut the claims made by fellow ministers again highlighted the ineffectiveness of the parliamentary question time process and added to the frustration I felt the day before. When Finance Minister, Minchin was asked by Senator Evans to explain the liberal government’s previous campaign that promised "interest rates at record lows", of course he felt the Howard government had been very effective in building and maintaining "a very strong domestic economy" as he says "The remarkable thing about that, is that even with this rate rise, mortgage interest rates still under this government are lower than they ever were, ever were at any time under the last labour government". At this the opposition began to get very noisy, yelling out things like "you continue to blame everyone else but yourselves", yet they are called to order and couldn’t talk. This action of the Chair ensuring others don’t speak, seems to defeat the purpose of the question time. Surely chances for ministers to interject questions or comments would increase the instance of straight forward answers as opposed to long winded, key message loaded "answers".

Overall I again found question time a little quite painful to listen to. Not because it contained words like "dividend", "inflation" and "surplus", but it was the use of sarcasm and derogatory comments that made up most of the hour that created an annoyingly bitchy atmosphere. The Hon. Senator Abetz started off with so much sarcasm in his response to Barnett’s question saying "Thanks Mr President, can I thank Senator Barnett for his question and commend him for his strong ongoing interest in cleaning up Australia’s building and construction sectors", which I know is an important tactic in shutting down the opposition and mocking their interest, however it becomes so repetitive and annoying.

A lot of other bullying tactics were evident this question time, with people in the background pressuring Minister Barnett when he stood up for a supplementary question yelling out "what’s your question, what’s your question, what’s your question?" to confuse and fluster the minister.
I also came away thinking – thank goodness I am not at the receiving end of any of these questions and accusations!!

This experience has definitely highlighted the fact that yes, I do have an interest in the issues that are discussed and the processes of the Australian government, however I definitely have little desire to be involved in such controversial matters or at the receiving end of the questions and criticism that is fired at different ministers.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

“Questioning the Process”

So i have finally worked out how to access this blog since creating it over a month ago and although i feel totally uncomfortable about posting my ideas and opinions on the web - especially in relation to political matters, i am finally about to make my first post that will look at Question time and committee hearings, my findings, observations and feelings.
A newbie to this wonderful world of blogging and social media, having to work out podcasts was a time consuming and confusing experience, yet I am grateful for the practice – they really are so handy.

So anyway, onto my ideas about Question Time.
While i have flicked past this program or seen snippets on the night time news in the past, i have never really sat down to understand the issues raised and the actual procedures in the past. So as this was the first time I had really sat down to listen to what actually goes on, this will be a bit of an overall view of my response to the process and how question time is run.
My first experience with question time was when I listened to the Senate question time on the 7th August via podcast.

As a first time listener there were many things that surprised me. Firstly, the amount of fighting that goes on is hysterical. I couldn’t believe how disruptive all the politicians were, yelling out and causing the Chair to continually tell them to be quiet. After a while however, I felt the repetitive digs at each other from both parties made the process quite monotonous.
Secondly, I couldn’t believe how quickly issues were addressed, then finished with. It felt like things were never properly finalised or resolved, merely being brushed over or completely ignored to enable promotion of the speakers own agenda. While a time limit is certainly a necessary rule for question time to allow different issues to be heard, the fact that the chair had to cut Senator Minchin off mid sentence and then change to a completely different topic seemed a little pointless.

The inability for people to speak during the designated speakers time again seemed to me to make it a very ineffective process. While questions are directed at ministers to get answers, or to criticise their actions, scripted replies merely enable the ministers or representatives to give a quick spiel about how great their department, or overall government is at what they are doing, complete with facts and key messages without paying attention to what was asked.

I came away feeling that, although I feel question time is a necessary feature of the government to be seen to be ensuring their ministers are accountable for their actions, the whole process was quite pointless. The spiel by Coonan the minister for communications, information technology and the arts when she was asked to defend the Howard government’s actions in relation to the CDMA network seemed totally scripted and almost like an advertisement in the way she spelt out the actual phone number in full for the "next G customer support unit", and promoted her key messages that "the Howard government makes no apologies for putting the consumers first… The Howard government understands that good mobile coverage is not an optional extra, it is a vitally important service for people in regional and rural Australia." While I feel it is important the minister explains what the government is doing in relation to regional networks, I feel the ongoing references to how good the government is doing is a bit of an over kill.

The debate about pensioners not receiving an increase in payment in direct contrast to the rise politicians received was an interesting issue that arose, and an area I hadn’t really thought about before. It was interesting to see the views from both sides – the fact that pensioners and many in society feeling that politicians receive too much in relation to what they are entitled to and the rebuttal that it is a big job being the prime minister, and therefore they believe he is entitled to a good salary. (Although once again, the speakers argument was very meaty and powerful as they are the only ones allowed to express their opinion when they are given the floor.)

The issues discussed were very broad, with others including the Mersey Hospital Takeover, the government’s debt for health and aged care, treatment of Dr Mohammed Haneef and the governments lack of alcohol campaigns.

Overall an interesting experience but slightly frustrating.