Welcome to our live coverage of politics from the national capital. All times in AEDST. You can also follow me on Twitter @murpharoo
5.15pm: Ok then Pulsers.
Here's a quick evening summary of the day in federal politics.
- Parliament didn't sit today, it will resume for the Budget tomorrow.
- Treasurer Wayne Swan emphasised key messages, return to Budget surplus, but a "Labor" Budget nonetheless.
- Labor MPs met for their caucus meeting, and good, team-playing folks that they are, approved Budget legislation without really comprehending what's in it. A couple of MPs decided to ask the Prime Minister what was in it, but got no joy.
- The Prime Minister assured her colleagues that despite today's Essential poll showing Labor would go out backwards at the next federal election, (and then some), the government would conquer its current political challenges.
- Shadow ministry gathered too ahead of the resumption of parliamentary festivities tomorrow.
- And try as it might to clear the decks for Budget day, Budget eve saw the landscape littered with allegations against the backbencher Craig Thomson. Fair Work Australia launched its next step, giving the Health Services Union a public kick along the way for poor standards of accountability.
That's it from us this evening.
We will be back with you mid-morning tomorrow.
Parliament doesn't start before Question Time.
We will take you through the morning preamble, and Question Time, then stay with you during the evening to give you comprehensive Budget coverage.
Have a terrific evening.
I look forward to seeing you all then.
4.55pm: Two distinct studies in concentration.
On the Left, Christopher Pyne.
On the right, Peter Dutton.
4.40pm: Here's a little snap of reporters waiting for today's caucus debrief.
4.30pm: Meanwhile, on a nearby planet, Tony Abbott talks the leg off a chair.
No, sorry, he doesn't.
The Opposition leader gathers his shadow ministry.
4.25pm: The Prime Minister also told her colleagues the government would be stepping up the campaigning after the Budget.
Voters would be told more about the carbon tax compensation, the disability insurance scheme, and the national broadband network.
(Given those NBN ads are already on a reasonably high rotation on television ... I guess we'll be hearing more about more over the weeks and months to come. Do not step back from your television screens.)
Ms Gillard was asked about what the Budget might have in store for Australia's foreign aid program.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr promised a briefing at the end of the week.
4.15pm: Silly business isn't it?
Labor MPs gather in their caucus the day before Budget day to approve the appropriation bills required to get the thing legislated, but they have no idea about the contents of the Budget.
Top secret people.
(They are just the government. Why would they need to know what they are rubber stamping?)
Still, some of them read newspapers.
The Prime Minister faced two questions from Left wingers about the Budget impact on sole parents of any changes to Newstart.
(No concrete answers yet, given it's secret until the Treasurer stands up in the House of Representatives tomorrow.)
Ms Gillard was, however reassuring.
According to the official spokesman, Ms Gillard told the caucus this was an important Budget, a Labor Budget.
It would be a Budget full of Labor reforms, like the national disability insurance scheme, like aged care, like payments to families for their kiddies education expenses.
The Government will deal with and conquer the political pressure we are under.
3.46pm: Speaking of Labor, I'll wander down now to the caucus debrief and see what they've been chatting about.
Hang five. Back shortly.
Perhaps I'll bump into Mr Abbott on the way.
He's been very low profile the past few days.
Wonder what that's about?
3.45pm: Labor's Anna Burke, and The Age of Certainty.
Labor's Anna Burke arriving in Canberra this morning "I'm deputy Speaker today and as far as I know for the rest of the week...."— Andrew Greene (@AndrewBGreene) May 7, 2012
3.40pm: Because we want very much to give you something unique, (and love what we do on the live blog), we are branching out into our own video production here on The Pulse.
Think of it as PulseTV.
Through these projects, Andrew Meares and I will try and give you insight into what happens around the building, not just pictures.
Here is a short, sharp, offering from Andrew where he gives you a bit of on-the-scene, and behind-the-scenes at the Red Cross morning tea this morning.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott forgets to greet Matilda House.
Then see how delighted the Mr Abbott isn't with the Prime Minister's little joke at both of their expense.
Mostly at his expense in truth.
3.20pm: Now to the standing of the major political parties going in to Budget week.
Primary votes first.
The combined Liberal National vote is 50 per cent.
Labor is on 29 per cent.
The two-party measure:
Coalition 58 per cent.
Labor 42 per cent.
3.10pm: Interesting Essential poll this afternoon.
Let's start with their question about standards in politicial life.
Essential asked in general, should politicians accused of an offence stand down (or hold their positions until the matter is dealt with).
62 per cent said they should stand down.
27 per cent said they should be allowed to remain in their positions.
Innocent until proven guilty doesn't seem to wash when it comes to our elected representatives.
2.50pm: And for the person who has everything.
(Click on the live link in the Tweet box if it doesn't display automatically.)
Gillard magnet! twitter.com/SarahWiley8/st…— Sarah Wiley (@SarahWiley8) May 7, 2012
And of course there's a rudd one.. twitter.com/SarahWiley8/st…— Sarah Wiley (@SarahWiley8) May 7, 2012
2.45pm: Thanks to my news.com.au colleague Malcolm Farr for this little YouTube of Malcolm Turnbull's launch speech a little while ago for the Mid-Winter Ball.
2.25pm: Labor MPs are getting ready for their caucus meeting, and Tony Abbott has gathered his shadow Cabinet.
This gives me a handy moment to wander back to the economist we spoke of earlier, Chris Richardson, and his pre-Budget forecasts.
Many Pulse readers will know that the Gillard Government's decision to push for a surplus in 2012-13 has generated a substantial debate among economists about whether back-to-black is a political imperative, or an economic one.
In our own stable, The Age's Tim Colebatch is not a fan. The Sydney Morning Herald's economic columnist Jess Irvine is more relaxed.
The concern is the two speed economy. What impact will fiscal tightening have on the non-mining states, which are dragging their heels? It's ok in the mining areas, which are going gang-busters.
Mr Richardson was worried about the surplus at all costs strategy of the government late last year, when Europe's financial woes looked extremely worrying.
He's still not a fan.
But he's more relaxed than he was.
Europe is now simply scary ( he thinks), not completely terrifying.
But his calculations suggest Mr Swan will have to produce $5 billion in savings, and the same the year after.
That is more saving across a two year period than any government has managed.
1.55pm: Now to the (way too svelte) Malcolm Turnbull, launching Canberra's night of nerds, the Mid Winter Ball just a couple of minutes ago.
Anticipation builds for this worthy annual event as soon as the frost touches the ground.
(Yes, we don't get out much. That is true.)
Wednesday, June 27. Mark it down.
Big bucks are raised for charity.
And sometimes, newsworthy things happen.
Mr Turnbull famously gave Andrew Charlton, then an adviser to Kevin Rudd, some career advice at the ball in the middle of the "Oz Car"/Godwin Grech affair.
Things are much calmer these days of course.
(Yes, that was a joke.)
1.40pm: Regular readers of The Age would know my colleague Richard Willingham has his eyes firmly on the gaming industry.
He's supplied the latest odds for the Labor and Liberal Party leadership.
Over to Richard:
- Sportsbet.com.au has released new odds that show Kevin Rudd is favourite to be Labor leader by the next election, firming to $2.50 to $3.50.
- Prime Minister Julia Gillard's odds have drifted out from $1.90 to $2.80.
- Other potential leader Stephen Smith has held firm at $5.50, while Victorian Simon Crean has shortened from $8.00 to $6.00.
- In the Opposition camp Tony Abbott remains favourite to lead the Coalition at the next election with odds of $1.20 — Malcolm Turnbull has firmed from $4.00 to $3.75, while Joe Hockey has drifted from $8.00 to $10.
- Poor old (young) Queensland backbencher Wyatt Roy is the major outsider, drifting from $201 to $5001.
- The Coalition is a short favourite to win the next poll, now paying $1.13, Labor is out to $6 from $4.65.
1.20pm: Let's leave FWA and Mr Thomson to move back to the economy and the pre-Budget period for a moment.
The Age's economics editor Tim Colebatch has been absorbing the latest data, and has sent me this snippet.
First the good news:
There is some rare good news on the economic front, with record discounting by retailers sparking a surprise jump in retail turnover in the March quarter.
After a couple of bad years, retail stores cut prices on average by almost 1 per cent in the first three months of 2012, and were rewarded with a 1.8 per cent surge in sales.
Most of it was in WA and Queensland, but all states and all sectors of retailing shared the joy.
That was not the only joy for Treasurer Wayne Swan heading in tomorrow night’s Budget, which relies for its surplus on a forecast of a jump in growth ahead.
Home building approvals rebounded in March after plunging in February, led by a deluge of apartment block approvals in Sydney.
(You are sensing a "but" aren't you.)
But today's other economic news was pretty bleak.
Approvals for commercial buildings like offices, shops and hotels dropped to $1.8 billion in March, its lowest level for 14 months. The National Australia Bank survey found business conditions deteriorated in April, especially in Victoria. And the ANZ index found job ads fell 3 per cent in April.
The markets were also seeing a deep slide, but driven more by the big anti-austerity vote in the French and Greek elections than by anything happening here. Stock prices fell 1.5 per cent in morning trade, and the dollar lost more than 1 US cent to be just over $1.01.
1.10pm: We have a trio of Opposition senators to kick the FWA/HSU story along.
Liberal Senator Eric Abetz says the FWA report needs to be released.
We believe it should be released as a matter of some urgency.
Senator Abetz' colleague George Brandis says if there are concerns about defamation (and he's not buying them incidently) then the report needs to go to the senate committee to protect FWA from any concerns about defamation.
Then the report would attract privilege.
Michael Ronaldson too.
Declaring the Prime Minister's "line" has become a brick wall.
Senator Brandis says Mr Thomson has already outed himself on Twitter and elsewhere.
Clearly Mr Thomson feels the report deals adversely with him.
Mr Thomson seems to acknowledge it is all about him.
12.55pm: The Labor MP Craig Thomson has taken to Twitter to respond to the FWA statement.
FWA gets it wrong again— Craig Thomson (@DobellThommo) May 7, 2012
12.50pm: Intense is clearly contagious.
(How about that autumn colour behind Joe Hockey?)
12.40pm: Here's The Sydney Morning Herald's chief political correspondent Phillip Coorey with his breaking news report on Fair Work Australia, and the developments with the Health Services Union today.
12.36pm: Hmm. Then again, perhaps Mr Hockey has a point.
This is a little intense.
12.35pm: Who you calling Grinch Joe?
12.30pm: One of those pictures worth a thousand words.
Tony Abbott, delighted to share a podium with the Prime Minister at the Red Cross morning tea.
Not so much.
12.20pm: With appropriate genuflection and respect to due process, and allegations yet to be proven, and the rest.
Only one thing you can say about the cowboy behaviour alleged to have occurred at the Health Services Union.
12.10pm: Here's Ms O'Neill.
The contraventions involve the HSU National Office along with two current officials, a former auditor, and one former official.
The great majority of contraventions relate to the former official. Notices of contraventions have been issued to the individuals concerned. I am unable to name the officials concerned for reasons that include privacy obligations and the fact I have no protection against defamation.
The Delegate issued a notice of contravention to the National Office of the HSU on 28 March 2012.
The investigation reveals an organisation that abjectly failed to have adequate governance
arrangements in place to protect union members’ funds against misuse.
Substantial funds were, in my view, spent inappropriately including on escort services, spousal travel, and excessive travel and hospitality expenditure.
Noon: BREAKING: HERE IS THE SUMMARY OF THE STATEMENT FROM FWA GENERAL MANAGER BERNADETTE O'NEILL
- The General Manager of Fair Work Australia has completed her consideration of the HSU National Office investigation report.
- The report has been sent to the Senate Committee on Education Employment and Workplace
- The report found 181 contraventions of the HSU Rules, Schedule 1 to the Workplace Relations Act 1996 and/or the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 (RO Act).
- Notices of contravention have been issued to individuals and the HSU National Office.
- The union has also been sent a rectification notice.
- The General Manager is instructing solicitors to initiate proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia in respect of the report’s findings.
- An independent review into the conduct of the Fair Work Australia’s investigation into the
HSU’s National Office and Victoria No. 1 Branch will be completed before the end of July 2012.
11.45am: Now Pulsers, be quick.
Liberal frontbencher and shadow communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull will be appearing at the Sydney Writers Festival on May 18 for a panel discussion about the impact of journalism on modern politics.
It's a good panel and the event sounds like fun.
And the Member for Wentworth, generous soul that he is, is giving away a couple of tickets.
11.40am: Now, here is the shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey.
Mr Hockey is frowning.
Mr Hockey calls on Mr Swan to stop the spin, stop fudging the figures, and give us the true state of the Budget. Mr Swan doesn't know whether he's Santa Claus, or the Christmas Grinch, Mr Hockey declares.
Mr Hockey is being asked whether or not he will support the new Budget bonus for families (replacing the old education tax refund.)
Cash. In the hand. For families.
(Mr Hockey has recently criticised the "entitlement mentality" and the culture of the hand-out.)
Mr Hockey doesn't want to answer the question.
We haven't seen the legislation.
Matt Franklin from The Australian persists, reframing the question.
Nice try Matthew .
Declining again to answer.
11.35am: So happy.
To .. gether.
La la la la.
11.30am: Over at the Red Cross morning tea, the Prime Minister has cracked a little joke.
Ms Gillard is sharing the podium with Opposition leader Tony Abbott.
Here's the gag:
I'm Red, he's always Cross, so here we are together.
It seems to have gone down well, there are hoots of laughter in the room.
Mr Abbott doesn't look that thrilled.
Sorry, couldn't help it, Ms Gillard added.
(The Pulse: She didn't look that sorry.)
11.25am: Here's the Prime Minister on Mr Jeffrey's new job:
General Jeffery will promote the work of the trust and encourage donations from businesses, communities, and individuals all around Australia. General Jeffery’s standing in the community and past service to the Queen make him well-suited to the role. The trust, which was announced by Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth in October, was launched officially on 6 February. The Australian Government pledged up to $5 million to the trust in February as part of Australia’s commemoration of the Queen’s diamond jubilee in 2012. The Prime Minister has also written to the premiers and chief ministers of states and territories encouraging them to match collectively the Commonwealth’s contribution.
11.20am: Why has former Governor-General Michael Jeffrey come a calling on the Prime Minister?
We'll let the ABC's Latika Bourke bring you the news:
Fmr Governor-General Major General Michael Jeffery appointed to lead nation’s fundraising efforts for Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust— Latika Bourke(@latikambourke) May 7, 2012
11.10am: Who says multi-partisanship is dead?
PM, Abbott, Truss and Milne share the stage at red cross morning tea— Richard Willingham (@rwillingham) May 7, 2012
11.05am: The Prime Minister is off to Mural Hall for a morning tea for the Red Cross.
While she does that, let's try and look through the flurry of pre-Budget drops and picture opportunities to something that gets limited attention.
Economist Chris Richardson puts out a very interesting publication called Budget Monitor a few days before the big event, which runs the numbers and makes predictions about where the official Treasury-produced document will land.
Richardson makes the point that whatever the transaction, year in year out - a combination of big tax cuts over the past few years, and the stimulus payments, means the Budget is in structural deficit to the tune of $55 billion in 2010-11 - the peak.
With an ageing population and rising health costs, we are not raising enough taxes to deliver the social services we will need in the future. Mr Richardson argues very strongly that cutting taxes during the economic boom times was a mistake - it has left us with not enough insurance for the future.
We are now reliant on how long the mining boom lasts for our general Budget health.
There is precious little debate about the underlying health of the Budget. That broader issue gets lost in the confetti of announcements.
We just don't know how healthy our Budget is - or isn't.
Up until 2003, unemployment was a handy proxy for the Budget's underlying strength.
But, since 2003, revenues have not moved with unemployment. Rather, the best proxy for the underlying health of revenues is no longer unemployment - it is now coal and iron ore prices.
10.50am: Bit too early for "noddy" fatigue Pulsers!
We've got days of this to go.
@murpharoo sigh - the silly pre-budget snap of PM, Treasurer and cups of tea sagely nodding over budget papers...— DoubleRistretto (@DblRistretto) May 7, 2012
10.45am: Just a quick look ahead.
We are expecting a statement from Fair Work Australia around noon about their long-running investigation into the Health Services Union and the Labor MP Craig Thomson.
This statement by General Manager Bernadette O'Neill is about FWA's next steps in their pursuit of alleged breaches by individuals.
It could provide guidance about whether FWA's 1,100-page report will be released publicly. That report is expected to go to a senate committee, perhaps today.
(There's been a debate about whether it should be released, or whether the release of the FWA deliberations could compromise any investigation in the MP or the union.)
10.30am: The Treasurer hit the doors of Parliament House early this morning to maintain his message that this Budget will provide tax relief for small business, as well as balancing the books.
Photographer Andrew Meares captured the Treasurer, coming through the door with his media adviser Ryan Liddell, in hot pursuit.
Our economics correspondent Peter Martin meanwhile has some advice for the Treasurer on the right way to present Budget forecasts.
Peter has used his blog this morning to present Fan Charts: a way of presenting economic forecasts that acknowledges increasing uncertainty over time.
Rather than pretend forecasts are a science, why not acknowledge their art?
10.15am: Hmm, yes, Wayne, what's this item on page 85?
Well, er, yes, Prime Minister, it's the stuff we can't tell you about until tomorrow.
Why are all these cameras here?
Er, because we invited them to record us in your office, talking about the Budget.
Here we are, talking about the Budget ...
The rituals of Budget week.
10.00am: The Prime Minister went out and about on the weekend to provide some images for television on the authorised Budget leak of the day.
Kiddies school bonus from memory.
Our brothers and sisters in television have developed a habit of doing pieces to camera while still on the spot.
That way it all looks very immediate on the news. The Prime Minister walking past you in the shot while you are telling the viewers what's going on.
This practice can be a little disconcerting if you are at an event. A journalist's voice suddenly booming out (and those TV voices carry), narrating what's going on before it's actually finished.
Sign of the times, to be "in" the moment.
Journalists now put themselves in the story more aggressively than in days gone by.
But the Prime Minister chose not to be a captive backdrop on the weekend.
She walked straight into the shot, tapping this reporter, Alex Hart on the back.
Alex looks a bit taken aback.
How's that for immediacy?
Our photographer Alex Ellinghausen, captured the moment.
9.40am: If you haven't yet caught up with Fairfax online political editor Tim Lester's morning video updates for The National Times, get on board.
Here's today's offering.
Tim takes you through this morning's papers, and previews the day.
9.35am: Budget week brings more than our elected representatives back to town.
It presents an opportunity to throw on a couple of slap up dinners with "stakeholders."
Lobbyists and their clients descend on Parliament House.
Here's one such lobbyist, anticipating a fruitful few days.
Justin Di Lollo, from Hawker Britton.
Looking forward to hosting 50+ @HawkerBritton clients at Parliament House tomorrow for the Budget. A full program in store.— Justin Di Lollo(@JustinDiLollo) May 6, 2012
9.30am: Months locked away in the expenditure review committee.
'No, no, a thousand times no' to pesky colleagues trying to squeeze out a stray treat or two.
Grey clouds of winter rolling in over the Brindabella mountains. One too many take-away pizzas from Le Rendezvous in Manuka.
Then, the family show up.
Every cloud has a silver lining.
Welcome Pulsers, to Budget week.
Here's Wayne Swan with wife Kim, son Matt and daughter Erinn.