“The Chief Minister has no time for the opinions or aspirations of baby boomers and Canberra’s unique characteristics are being traded off for an attempt at a poor copy of inner-city Melbourne,” writes MICHAEL MOORE
THE tone of the current ACT Legislative Assembly is different. It is the ninth Assembly since self-government and the first time that there have been 25 members.
The majority of members are women for the first time in an Australian parliament. The conduct of Question Time last week was in marked contrast to the ranting and raving of the Federal House of Representatives. But the question remains – has the Assembly changed for good?
Accounting for the changed tone is complex. It could be because there are more women than men. It could be leadership. Half of the Assembly members are new to politics. The rise of populism may have the elected members thinking about the way they act. Whatever the case, a new lens has been applied to the operation of this small parliament and, for the moment, the change is looking good.
The opposition is doing its job. Shadow health minister, Vicki Dunne, had prepared a series of questions on the use and accuracy of ACT Health data.
The Liberals ran the questions and the supplementary ones in a co-ordinated and incisive manner. Health data is an important issue that goes to the heart of ensuring the best possible care and the most appropriate judgements about distribution of the health resources. Health data is an appropriate topic to cross-examine the government.
The only respite that Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris felt while in the hot seat was when Labor backbench questions interfered with the flow. A “Dorothy Dixer” from Chris Steele on LGBTIQ allowed the Chief Minister an opportunity to crow about achievements and set out challenges, while a question from the Greens’ Caroline Le Couteur was on safety preparations at the multicultural festival. Fitzharris withstood the onslaught, answering difficult questions effectively, avoiding being lured into the data-fraud scandal that engulfed then-Health Minister Katy Gallagher in 2012.
Fitzharris had earlier announced that she had commissioned “a comprehensive, system-wide review of ACT Health data and reporting processes”. She hastened to reassure the community that the goal was to “ensure data management and quality assurance processes are robust and accurate”.
In answering questions from the opposition she did rely heavily on what she expected from the review. A detailed question was taken on notice to be answered at a later date.
By comparison, the response of Greens Minister Shane Rattenbury was somewhat disappointing. It seemed that he was taken by surprise on a data question relating to his portfolio area of mental health. There was no attempt to answer the question at the time and (as was his prerogative) he took the question on notice.
In contrast to the methodical, polite but perceptive questioning and answers that were the hallmark of the ACT Assembly, the House of Representatives was chaos.
At a time when Canberrans were sweltering through yet another heat wave, Treasurer Scott Morrison brought a lump of coal into the chamber. Concurrently, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was attempting to lay the whole blame of blackouts in SA on that State’s Labor government. His attempt was to foot the culpability on to Labor and renewables when NSW (with a Liberal government) was also suffering blackouts.
Recent Federal Question Times have deteriorated into shouting matches and accusations. Many of our own Federal members seem to be relying on “alternative facts”, bluster and bullying as a tool of persuasion. And then many wonder about the rejection of the status quo and a rise in populism!
Security of our energy supply is critical for economic stability. A bipartisan approach is need to focus on the challenges of climate change. Politicians from across the spectrum should work in a non-partisan manner on how to maintain security of Australia’s power supply while managing the transition to renewable energy.
Enough of a Punch and Judy Question Time. It’s time for razor-sharp questioning and thoughtful, evidence-based answers. Breaking bad habits is hard. However, there is just a chance that in the ACT Assembly, at least, there might be some change for good.