The Politics    Monday, July 25, 2022

For Opposition’s sake

By Rachel Withers

Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton, June 23, 2022. © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton, June 23, 2022. © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

It’s clear the Coalition has no intention of being taken seriously in the parliament ahead

Politicians have descended upon Canberra ahead of the return of parliament, where Labor will sit to the right of the Speaker for the first time since 2013. The 47th parliament will not officially begin until tomorrow, when there will be a range of ceremonial activities culminating in a 19-gun salute. But the political battlelines have nonetheless already been drawn, with fights over Labor’s emissions reduction target and plans to scrap the Australian Building and Construction Commission dominating the agenda (independent senator David Pocock has worthwhile thoughts on both). We’re about to get our first real look, as Nine columnist Sean Kelly writes, at what the Albanese government means by “decency”; of how it conducts itself in the heat of Question Time, where Leader of the House Tony Burke has declined to rule out Dorothy Dixers. (The PM has today remained firm in his refusal to grant lower house crossbenchers extra staff, despite last week offering independent senators a second adviser). But what kind of Opposition are we going to get? Not a very respectable one, based on the past week, with the Coalition already playing politics on everything from foot-and-mouth disease to the environment. Is the Coalition capable of listening to the electorate, of offering it the more constructive style of politics it has asked for?

It became apparent several weeks ago that this new Opposition had no intention of taking its role seriously, what with its embarrassing choice to go hard against the PM over his visit to war-ravaged Ukraine. Recent days have seen more of the same, with the Coalition mostly choosing to attack Labor over issues that it is said to be handling well. The Opposition has now decided to make foot-and-mouth disease its main issue, relying on the fact that the Nationals are (nominally) the party of farmers to attack Labor. But it can’t even seem to get its story straight: Liberal leader Peter Dutton today called for the border with Indonesia to be closed, while Nationals leader David Littleproud failed to back that call (industry leaders, for what it’s worth, do not believe that is necessary, with even Sky News calling out the hypocrisy). Agriculture minister Murray Watt has once again hit back at the Opposition’s behaviour, telling RN Breakfast that calls to close the border were actually damaging Australia’s agricultural reputation. But when has the national interest ever stopped the Coalition from trying to score a political point?

Meanwhile, the Coalition has all but written itself out of the conversation on climate, even as it shapes up to be the biggest issue of this opening week. On this matter, the Greens and Pocock have become the true Opposition, meeting with the government to put forward suggestions and try to come to a consensus. Pocock has today joined calls for Labor’s environmental legislation to contain a “climate trigger”, noting that this would help build parliamentary support for its 2030 target; the Greens are today holding a partyroom meeting to discuss where things are at, with leader Adam Bandt still publicly calling for a stronger goal. The Dutton-led LNP, however, has made itself irrelevant, refusing to engage with the target at all, much to the frustration of moderate Liberals, who got no say on the matter (some reportedly intend to cross the floor, as is their right). Former environment minister-turned-Liberal deputy Sussan Ley, meanwhile, feels zero shame over sitting on the damning State of the Environment report, arguing that the Coalition had a strong record on the environment (once again, even Sky News is calling them out).

It was immediately apparent from its choice of leader that the Liberal Party had no intention of listening to the Australian electorate on climate (or gender, for that matter). But it’s increasingly clear that it has no intention of engaging constructively in this new political landscape whatsoever. It’s hardly surprising, of course: this is the same group of people whose final act in government was to politicise an asylum seeker boat arrival, pressuring the Home Affairs department to publicise it, throwing protocol and standards out the window (former PM Scott Morrison, coincidentally, will not be attending this parliamentary sitting; former minister Karen Andrews has refused to acknowledge it was wrong). Speaking to the Labor caucus in an open session today, the new prime minister slammed the previous government’s actions. “The former government sat around and talked about ‘how do we wedge the other side of politics’,” Albanese told his party room. The election-day stunt, he said, “was one last example of government that will be defined by its seeking of division in society”. Indeed, whether on the left side or the right side of the Speaker, it seems the Coalition will go on seeking to wedge, doing whatever it can to ensure this new parliament is as painful and divisive as the last.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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