Blogging Senate #Estimates (Feb 2014) (Part 10)


Final thoughts:

  • On the day the Abbott government announces a new review into the 457 visa program and doesn’t include a single union representative on the review team, the ALP does not ask a single question about the process. I support the 457 visa program and believe it can be improved. However the ALP introduced new rules last year which are set to be scrapped by this review. Apparently they didn’t care enough to even enquire about the process.
  • Senators asking questions to seek numbers of visas which are available from public reports waste everyone’s time. All standard visas have significant reports outlining visa grants and the trend of programs. There is no need to waste time with inane enquiries unless it is a specific question you cannot get access to in the public documents.
  • Senator Cash compared health facilities for pregnant women as “broadly” akin and equivalent to that found in Australia. She must be dreaming. While the ALP re-introduced offshore processing, I can’t remember any ALP politicians gloating about babies having to be born in third-world countries. It showed a significant lack of class from the Assistant Minister.
  • The bickering amongst Senators is unseemly and is getting worse. Last November’s session was comparatively pleasant. Today was a mishmash of argument, talking over the top of each other and shouting. There is enough of that in Question Time and estimates should be a little bit more refined.
  • However, that said, the Liberal party continue to stack the hearing with puff questions and time wasting. This was the source of a lot of the disagreement. I sat through over five years of estimates hearing as a departmental officer and can’t remember the same level of bullshit from the ALP. Triss Crossin as chair in the last term of government allowed now Assistant Minister Cash virtual free reign over proceedings, something that was decent given the opposition is there to ask questions.
  • Martin Bowles continues to show his skill at carefully treading the line between providing the appropriate amount of information and stymieing a line of questions. He is across his brief, handles pressure and doesn’t get flustered. He never offers more than is required. Generally, this should be discouraged if possible but in this specific portfolio, it is probably the right approach given the significant political tensions.
  • Public service departments should get out more in the public to explain the rationale and foundations of decision making. Many of the officers appearing today are quite good at this however they are hidden within a very strict environment.
  • Overall, this was a disappointing estimates hearing. Questions generally missed there mark in the section relating to Operation Sovereign Borders, apart from Senator Conroy’s foray into questionable territory. The ALP must do better. They have four months left in the Senate with the Greens and if they are serious about finding out more about the public interest immunity claim, that power must be exercised. In addition, further senate hearings as often as possible should be held, repeating similar lines of questioning and seeking to uncover more information about particular incidents. This is especially the case after the initial departmental inquiry has concluded into the events on Manus Island.

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