The Politics    Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Chaos reigns

By Rachel Withers

Image of Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese and Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time today. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese and Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time today. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

The Coalition avoided embarrassment on two key votes, but Question Time was a rabble

Scott Morrison isn’t out of the woods when it comes to his backbench rebellion, but he can today breathe a small sigh of relief, having thus far avoided losing any votes on the floor of the House. Despite a growing list of MPs threatening to withhold their votes over vaccine mandates (maverick Nationals backbencher George Christensen joined the revolt overnight, while usually reliable votes Craig Kelly and Bob Katter are making noise), the Coalition successfully elected its chosen Speaker. Queensland MP Andrew Wallace defeated Labor’s Rob Mitchell, 70 to 59. (Labor hadn’t used the chaos to throw its weight behind a government rebel, as it successfully did for the deputy speaker in 2020, despite concerns from The Australian.) In the Senate, meanwhile, independent Rex Patrick’s push to debate Helen Haines’s highly regarded federal integrity commission bill failed because “protest votes” Gerard Rennick and Alex Antic were paired with Labor, lowering the “aye” vote. (Jacqui Lambie was, once again, well worth a watch.) The government narrowly avoided an upset here, but there are plenty more hazards lurking around the corner.

The government may have dodged embarrassment on the independents’ integrity push (if you consider debating integrity embarrassing) but it’s still terribly worried about losing a vote on its own legislation. As the AFR reports, the government has put all its contested bills on hold while it sorts out its internal issues, with the PM appealing directly to senators Rennick and Antic, to no avail. (Rennick, who is currently spamming Facebook with posts about COVID-19 vaccines that he admits may not be “100% accurate”, claims he has no intention of quitting the Liberals, and that he and the PM were “working through the issue”.) In the meantime, the Coalition intends to focus on legislation it can pass with Labor’s support, temporarily ruling out its changes to class-action litigation funding, voter ID laws and its own elusive anti-corruption commission legislation, should it ever appear.

It’s not clear whether the government’s contentious religious discrimination bill – against which swimming legend Ian Thorpe is now leading a campaign – falls into that category, with Labor still tossing up whether to support it. There was little discussion in this morning’s Opposition partyroom meeting, due to Labor not yet having seen the bill. The Coalition party room, however, was heavily divided by what it saw, with several moderate Liberals raising concerns. The prime minister intends to personally introduce the “sensible and reasonable” bill in parliament next week, before sending it off to a Senate committee (but not a joint parliamentary committee, despite a request from Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman), meaning it won’t be going to a vote this year. One Nation senator and master of mayhem Pauline Hanson says it wouldn’t have her support, even if it did go to a vote, citing her mandate issue. And yet she still backed the government in blocking today’s integrity commission vote in the Senate.

But if the prime minister managed to avoid embarrassment on today’s key votes, he still managed to make a fool of himself come Question Time by once again distorting his positions across a range of issues. Wallace, unfortunately, seemed unable to control the chaos. As journalist Samantha Maiden noted, the new Speaker has peak “authoritative male” cadence, but seemingly not much authority. Morrison continued to straddle the fence on vaccines, claiming it was possible to support vaccines while opposing vaccine mandates, and having also previously enacted the “No jab, no play” policy.

But with the Opposition doubling down on his patchy record on honesty, Morrison doubled down on the lies. Yesterday’s own goal on Hawaii was turned into “sledging” from the Opposition, with Morrison alleging that Labor was attacking his personal life, while questions about his “Shanghai Sam” nickname for former Labor senator Sam Dastyari prompted a whole new whopper. Morrison claimed he was “not aware” of Labor’s claim – something that, as with so many of his lies, a quick Google search easily dispels. Unless, of course, the prime minister wants us to understand that he’s not always aware of what he says. Either way, it is clear he has long had an honesty problem and needs to do something to turn around his falling approval and trust ratings. But the only thing Morrison seems to be able to do in the face of trustworthiness questions is lie even more.

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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