The view from Billinudgel

There’s no appeasing George
George Christensen’s resignation as National Party whip changes little


George Christensen has resigned as the Nationals’ whip, but he has not left the party – yet. Instead, he will shoot his mouth off in all directions, and, if he fails to get his way, threaten that this time he really will resign.

This is sheer bluff, of course: Christensen knows, as does everyone else, that threat is his only weapon. If he ever followed through, he would become a powerless crossbencher in the mould of Bob Katter – but perhaps a little sillier, especially if, as he has mused, he has been attracted to Pauline Hanson and the One Nation fringe.

Upon resigning, Christensen said belatedly that he could see a touch of inconsistency in that he constantly talked about anything whenever he chose but was entrusted with the job of enforcer, the party’s disciplinarian. Well, duh. This was not an inconsistency – it was a contradiction in terms.

But that was precisely why Barnaby Joyce offered him the position in the first place. Apparently the party leader thought that giving his maverick a bit of responsibility would tether him inside the tent, that he would respond to the offered carrot in the hope of more to come. And that was certainly a promise: Joyce publicly suggested that Christensen could be in line for a ministry in the foreseeable future.

Actually, there were no immediate vacancies, and a queue of aspirants who considered that they were both more worthy and more loyal than the member for Dawson. So it may be that Christensen decided that the wait was not worth it, and nor was the monetary bonus that the whip’s salary provided.

And, most importantly, the responsibility was just all too onerous. So back to plan A: distract, disrupt, demand and threaten. Last week, Christensen vented his considerable spleen over the failure of a joint committee to recommend the axing of the dreaded section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act while the government was generally trying to hose down the issue.

This at least gave Joyce a chance to give his former whip a spray, but it has not solved the problem. The only way to do that is either to encourage Christensen to make a more or less graceful exit in the style of Cory Bernardi, or, more directly, to tell him to just bugger off, and if he wants to take it personally that will be just fine with the rest of the party. Of course, it would leave a number down in the House of Representatives – minority government no less. But there are enough crossbenchers to ensure that a no-confidence motion would be defeated.

Let’s face it, appeasement, capitulation, grovelling – call it what you will – has just not worked. And as if to emphasise the point, the newly unleashed backbencher celebrated with more threats.

At the weekend he warned that he just might start his own party, or he might join One Nation, or he might spit the dummy altogether, or he just might stick with the Nationals. The smart money is on the last option. George Christensen is having too much fun right where he is to want to move.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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