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Question Time has become a government soapbox

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Parliamentary Question Time has become an example of Australia's political failures, made worse by a compliant mainstream media, writes Grant Turner.

IT APPEARS THAT Labor leader Anthony Albanese and his team find it increasingly hard these days to hold the Government to account or to even extract anything that resembles an answer to the questions asked of it during Question Time (QT). I suspect it has to do with the way QT is and set out and run.

The opposition gets 30 seconds to make a point and ask a question, the Government gets three minutes to respond, generally answering with confidence knowing of the protection provided by their compliant and complicit speaker, (IPA's Tony Smith).

They rarely answer the actual question asked, often using the “I do not accept the premise of your question” response, or turn the answer into a word salad of irrelevant twisted statistics, obfuscation and hubris. This is often followed by an attack on the opposition with no real ability for the opposition to challenge any supposed answer given.

With an average of around 18 to 20 questions asked per QT in which half are asked in the form of Dorothy Dixers from the government benches and one by the independents, this equates to the Government getting around 60 minutes to spruik their agendaed lines with the opposition getting around four minutes at the microphone.

Question Time is an antiquated relic of days gone by, when politics involved politicians that adhered to values like honesty, integrity and most of all accountability. QT is now like watching an episode of the ABC political satire show The Hollowmen, in which Prime Minister Scott Morrison walks into the chamber with his pet folder full of responses to all anticipated questions, all undoubtedly written and overseen by his massive communication and PR team including his $190,000 empathy coach. He is armed with endless responses, obfuscation and misdirections, all neatly tagged for easy access.

The mere fact that Morrison's starting point is to “never actually answer the questions asked”, really does say everything about this Prime Minister who has been branded with the appropriate nickname of Scotty from Marketing.

Question Time now has become nothing but a government soapbox and a complete waste of time. Sadly, it's where our mainstream media (MSM) and ABC get their six-second sound bites that often set the narrative in the reporting of the day's events which includes the word salad and statistical waffle all with very little explanation or journalistic challenge.

At some point, this farce must be changed as it mocks our Parliament and mocks the premise of accountability and just adds to the public's ever-diminishing trust and increasing cynicism towards politicians and the whole of the Australian political system.

During the COVID-19 period, the opposition gets very little airtime or coverage in the media (a lot like QT, I guess), whereas the Government gets to take centre stage and claim glory for the country’s successes while not being held accountable for its failures.

It would be a wonderful thing if our media actually pointed out some facts on the Government's response to COVID-19 — facts like the ALP called for wage subsidies; the LNP disagreed, but eventually yielded and brought in the JobKeeper scheme, albeit leaving a million-plus casual, arts and university workers ineligible.

It was the ALP that called for paid pandemic leave; the LNP unsurprisingly didn't until forced by increasing COVID-19 infected workers left with no financial option but to go to work spreading the virus.

The ALP wanted border closures; the LNP followed up these calls with the closure of China’s borders relatively early then closure of U.S. borders at a much later time.

The ALP called for supports for the arts sector; the LNP resisted until they got Guy Sebastian to do a Scotty from Marketing bells-and-whistles announcement.

The ALP has put a raft of suggested actions forward that the LNP eventually took up as their own — these suggested actions are summed up by Albanese in his opening speech at the start of the latest sitting of Parliament. 

The Government that many in the media tout as “doing a good job” in responding to the COVID-19 virus are, in reality, just followers. It appears that the LNP Government is being shown up as one that acts only when advised by its PR and communications team that the public might be seeing through their media-backed narrative.

Our government has ridden on the back of state premiers during this pandemic as they were the ones that made the hard decisions to go into lockdown and close borders while Scotty from Marketing was telling us all he was going to the football, suggesting we all do the same until he was advised or realised that it was not a good look and decided not to attend. He once again showed us that he is indeed a reactive PM and far from proactive one.

Many have observed something about Scott Morrison. Any time he is challenged by a journalist, whether it be regarding his aged care failures, Ruby Princess or his ministers corruptly branch stacking – indeed, anything he is reluctant to talk about – he uses the “I’m busy concentrating on our COVID-19 response and keeping Australians safe” response.

This seems odd to me as his government has had plenty of time to bring in changes to industrial laws that seek to remove workers' rights. He had plenty of time to back Clive Palmer in his court actions against the Western Australian government's border closures, lots of time to announce scary distracting cyber attacks with very little detail and now we have the well-used “Australian National Sovereignty” cynically being used to distract from government failures.

This is along with his threats to use Constitutional powers to cancel any deals made by state governments with foreign governments regarding universities, infrastructure projects and trade deals if his government decides it doesn’t agree with them. It can do so under the unquestionable and unchallengeable “it’s a national security matter” excuse as cover.

This is undoubtedly directed at Victorian Premier Dan Andrews and the Belt and Road Initiative in which Andrews has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese Government.

This makes little sense when you realise that it was Tony Abbott that signed the free trade agreement with China, it was Malcolm Turnbull that signed the 99-year Port of Darwin lease agreement along with a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese Government regarding the Belt and Road Initiative which he showed much interest in pursuing. It was Scott Morrison that signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership with China.

It seems dealing with China is only a good thing when it's done by a Liberal government and a bad thing if done by the Labor Party.

A cynic might suggest that just about everything our current Prime Minister has done is a result of acting on others suggestions, with his communication and public relations team tapping him on the shoulder to remind him that it’s all about marketing and appearances.

Question Time is a microcosm and example of how the whole of politics truly operates in Australia — sadly a large proportion of our media are happy to be actors in lead roles in this political pantomime.

I fear that unless people realise that the MSM are indeed big players and assist the Government to continue with their regime of unaccountability, misdirection and the covering up of its failures, it will sadly continue to get away with this unless the good folk of Australia wake up and seek out honest journalism and get behind and support independent media.

Grant Turner has a strong interest in politics and fairness in society and believes in honest independent media. You can follow him on Twitter @gruntat.

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