Parliament returns

Just before 9am this morning Parliament opened for the first time since the Federal Election. The MPs of the 44th Parliament will today be sworn in two months after they were elected. Of the 150 members of the House of Representatives, 42 are first-timers.

The MPs will be sworn in by Chief Justice of the High Court, Robert French, and later presented to Governor-General Quentin Bryce.

The first order of business to take place in the 44th Parliament will be to elect a new Speaker of the House. The Speaker is currently set to be veteran Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop, who is Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s nominee for the position. Traditionally the Speaker is supposed to ‘resist’ being elected to the position, and he or she must quite literally be ‘dragged’ to the chair by the other MPs. Whether Ms Bishop will follow this tradition or not remains to be seen.

Ms Bishop was once touted as a future Prime Minister, but her time as Aged Care Minister, between 1998 and 2001, put a damper on her career. The Aged Care portfolio was tainted by scandal when, in 2000, it was made public that Melbourne nursing home residents were being bathed in kerosene.

The position of Deputy Speaker is expected to go to Queensland Nationals MP Bruce Scott, a decision which concerns many, as it flouts the understanding that the Speaker and Deputy Speaker should come from different sides of the House, to promote impartiality.

The issues expected to dominate Parliament this week are the carbon tax and Australia’s debt limit. The Government is set to introduce its carbon tax repeal bills this week, which it hopes will restore faith with big business. Interestingly, on last night’s episode of the ABC’s Q&A, many of Australia’s top CEOs and big names in business stated that they supported a carbon price, and that simply removing the carbon tax would not do the Abbott Government any favours.

The Government is also expected to introduce legislation to increase the nation’s debt limit to $500 billion, an increase of $200 billion. Opposition treasury spokesman Chris Bowen has stated, however, that Labor will only support an increase to $400 billion. Treasurer Joe Hockey blames the previous Labor Government for the need to increase the debt limit, saying that the limit needs to be raised because of Labor’s failed policies.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott will be going into the first sitting day of the 44th Parliament with his personal support on the decrease, according to newly released Newspoll results. Dissatisfaction with Mr Abbott has risen from 34 to 38 per cent, and satisfaction has fallen from 47 to 45 per cent. Mr Abbott has been criticised over the past weeks for being too secretive about his government’s policy on people smuggling, and for generally being absent from the media.

In a speech to the Western Australian Liberal Party last weekend, Mr Abbott promised Australia a “respectful” new parliament. The new parliament will, according to Mr Abbott, discuss the issues, rather than abuse individuals. It will not impugn the motives of opponents or trash their reputations. The new Liberal Government will also “restore accountability and improve transparency measures to be more accountable to the public”.

Find out more about the 44th Parliament.

Read Tony Abbott’s speech.

Opinion: A ‘polite’ parliament

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has painted a political enthusiast’s dream – a polite parliament, where the politicians talk about real issues without the need to slander one another. A parliament where the facts are freely available, where transparency reigns and the needs of the Australian public are met. It would be just like an episode of the West Wing, but with a more Australian flavour.

Give me a break. Mr Abbott’s speech stated that he would “restore accountability and improve transparency”, and yet the biggest criticism of the Liberal Government to date is their secrecy around its people smuggling policy. Asylum seeker boats are no longer reported as they happen, but on a weekly basis at a media briefing. Mr Abbott himself has been conspicuously absent from the spotlight – his statements are given in writing, or through pre-recorded videos. If this is transparency, then I’d hate to see the Liberal Government when it’s trying to restrict information.

As to Mr Abbott’s new “respectful” government, he isn’t off to a great start. At a recent Liberal Party fundraiser, hosted by Victorian Premier Denis Napthine, Independent Frankston MP Geoff Shaw was called a “poofter bastard” during a comedy routine. Although it was a state government event, it doesn’t reflect well on the national Liberal Government.

Until our politicians can start talking about the issues without getting personal, parliament is going to struggle to stay respectful. Until the gossip, slander and smear campaigns end, we will essentially be governed by a group acting like overgrown highschoolers, instead of the highly educated bunch they are supposed to be.

What do you think? Is Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s ‘respectful parliament’ just a dream? Do you think this Government will be so very different to the last?