The view from Billinudgel

The Senate’s state of error
It started as theatre of the absurd, but by the end the “it’s OK to be white” episode had become an improbable fairytale.


The story of how the Coalition enthusiastically endorsed Pauline Hanson’s motion applauding American white supremacy and then retreated in panic to rescind it has to be one of the more bizarre episodes in a government that has abandoned coherent policy in a desperate scramble for survival.

It was, intoned the leader of the government in the Senate, Mathias Cormann, an administrative error. When Hanson raised the motion in September, he said, “we” decided to oppose it.

Well, who was that “we?” Obviously not the party room, which was told to support it. And presumably not the attorney-general, Christian Porter, who told parliament the fiasco was “a completely fair cop”; his office waved it through the system without “escalating” it to him. So while Cormann apparently knew what was going on, few, if any, others did.

And Cormann, it should be noted, celebrated the news that the Coalition had supported Hanson with a congratulatory tweet. So he could not have been too fussed about his administrative error.

Cormann is not an impulsive man; it has been said that he needs an interdepartmental report before he is prepared to fart. So was he really so negligent? Was Porter so ignorant? Did no other minister discern that any motion from Hanson required careful handling? As the obedient Coalition senators filed in to vote, did none of them actually consider what they were voting for?

Well, perhaps some of them did: a number of Coalition backbenchers, including at least one former minister (no prizes for guessing: Eric Abetz), were quietly defiant. They thought it was okay be white, and that proved they could not be racists, so what was the fuss about?

And this was presumably why it was so urgent for Morrison to pull whatever could be salvaged from the wreckage by recommitting the motion, this time to oppose it. The Wentworth by-election was becoming critical, and the “doctors’ wives of Vaucluse”, as that group of namby-pamby do-gooders are known in Liberal Party campaign quarters, must be hosed down.

There were already reports that some of Queensland’s young Nats were morphing into young Nazis; it would certainly do no good for the old Libs to be found in bed with Pauline. So the somersault was performed, and we were told that this was always the intention.

 If that were the case, it involved so much incompetence, stupidity and blind inattention that Morrison’s mob needs to be put out of its (and our) misery ASAP. But if the original idea was, once again, to suck up to Hanson and attempt to wedge Labor, and that the backdown only came after the fear of losing a by-election, the situation is even worse – so Morrison’s mob needs to be put out of its (and our) misery even more quickly.

Just an administrative error, said Cormann, and Porter, and, belatedly, Morrison. Well, that’s their story and they’re sticking to it. But I doubt it will all end happily ever after.

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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