Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Australia in limbo
It’s an early barbecue season, a sure-fire politics-stopper


New prime minister Scott Morrison is honeymooning alone – the voters have peeled off already. With the polls turning against the Coalition, and well-timed leaks robbing him of announceables, Morrison will struggle to attract much attention from voters this year. Some will be distracted by footy finals, and then there’s the silly season. Some will be distracted by the Victorian and New South Wales elections. Many are no doubt simply fed up with Australian politics and already have their baseball bats waiting by the front door. Even if the Morrison government hangs on until the next election, the odds are it will be one of the country’s shortest-lived – Liberals themselves are debating whether it is worth saving. Australia is in political limbo: not lame duck territory, but close.

Perhaps Morrison, on an authenticity drive, can connect with ordinary voters in a way that Malcolm Turnbull could not, and woo them back to the Coalition. Dutton supporter and now defence industry minister Steve Ciobo bravely insisted on Q&A last night that the feedback he’d had from voters, after the latest prime ministerial knifing, had been positive. But the audience positively laughed when he said the party was no longer divided.

Strategic leaks to the Herald Sun over the past few days have given us some clues about Malcolm Turnbull’s re-election strategy: yesterday we learnt [$] of a $7.6 billion roads and rail package, approved in May’s budget, aimed at saving marginal seats across the country; today, the paper revealed [$] an extra $4.4 billion would be poured into the Catholic and independent schools system over the next decade under a “peace deal” that Turnbull’s allies say was just days from being agreed when the prime minister was ousted. Morrison responded this morning, insisting that the school funding deal, now in the purview of Education Minister Dan Tehan, was still “unfinished business”.

No doubt Morrison will be busy, and will have to do plenty of ducking and weaving. The most important challenge will be to keep control on the floor of the House of Representatives, with no majority to speak of, crossbencher support dicey, and the Greens’ Adam Bandt set to move a motion of no confidence in Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton for misleading parliament over the au pair scandal.

Then there is the test of the Wentworth by-election. Turnbull’s personal vote is set to evaporate, leaving the Liberals with little margin for error, and Turnbull’s son, Alex, is touting for Labor as a way of forcing an early election. Trailed in New York, Malcolm Turnbull told Fairfax: “My son’s 36 and he’s entitled to his own political opinions. Now that he’s no longer the son of the prime minister he’s able to express his views on all sorts of issues in a way that he hasn’t been before.” Wentworth will be a circus, and could even be losable for the Liberals. Crikey today [$] profiles Labor’s candidate, Tim Murray, who has been “hit squarely on the arse by a rainbow”.

Let’s assume, however, that Morrison will maintain confidence in parliament and that the Liberals will hang on to Wentworth, as they have for more than 60 years. What is Morrison to do? How does he cut through? After five years in power, and having squandered the political capital built up in May’s budget, what has the Coalition got left to unveil? Former adviser and News Corp columnist Peta Credlin, who has perhaps lost some credibility backing Dutton’s unsuccessful challenge, wrote [$] on Sunday that the Morrison government “needs to now pick some fights with Labor”.

The government can’t get much browner on energy and climate, with Turnbull having caved on the National Energy Guarantee and conservative Angus Taylor now in charge of the portfolio. Credlin, of course, urged an Australian withdrawal from the Paris agreement, but PM Morrison and his cabinet colleagues, from Simon Birmingham to Matt Canavan, have already ruled that out.

The Liberal “base” apparently wants a return to Howard-style industrial reform, but in today’s AFR, Phillip Coorey writes [$] that Morrison is unlikely to pick a big fight on IR “unless he is mad … not in this era of flat wages growth and, in some cases, wage theft, which has invigorated the trade union movement”.

All that’s left is to pick fights with the union movement, on any pretext, even a tweet. Credlin called on Morrison to deregister the CFMMEU, and Michelle Grattan in The Conversation today suggests this remains dangerous ground for Bill Shorten. On Sydney’s 2GB, Morrison declared that Shorten was “union-bred, union-fed and union-led, and that’s how he would run Australia”.

Union-bashing. Refugee-bashing. It’s a well-worn record.

since this morning

In their first strike since 2012, workers at BlueScope’s Port Kembla steelworks walked off the job for four hours on Tuesday, demanding a pay rise. Meanwhile, hundreds of early childhood educators at 350 childcare centres in Sydney will walk off [$] the job tomorrow, also demanding a pay rise.

The Australian reports [$] broadcast regulator ACMA has found that the Seven Network’s Sunrise program provoked “serious contempt on the basis of race” in a major breach of the industry code of practice during a segment about the adoption of Indigenous children.

Fairfax Media has revealed that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has intervened on just 14 occasions to grant tourist visas to people held in immigration detention, and Labor’s immigration spokesperson Shayne Neumann says the interventions are “anything but routine”.


An 80,000-page dossier was tabled in the Victorian parliament yesterday, showing that Opposition Leader Matthew Guy spent millions of taxpayers’ dollars to “confidentially settle a lawsuit over a botched planning decision because he feared losing his job if the case went to court”.

Former PM Paul Keating told [$] the AFR that the Hayne royal commission should recommend that all super funds be non-profit.

Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer has said that government MPs were intimidated during the Liberal Party’s leadership crisis, as South Australian senator Lucy Gichuhi said she would use parliamentary privilege to name names about her personal experiences with bullying in politics.

In Fairfax Media, Peter Hartcher writes that US president Donald Trump is becoming increasingly remote from Asia, and, quoting Hugh White, suggests that Australia should explore a closer alliance with Indonesia, perhaps including a revived mutual security pact.

by Wendy Carlisle
The AFL’s concussion problem
Is the league running interference on the damage concussion can cause?

by Steve Dow
Teatro alla Scala Ballet Company is bringing light and shade to Australia
A conversation with members of the Italian company ahead of their tour to Brisbane

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


The Monthly Today

Failure to launch

The Berejiklian spill has been cancelled, but coup attempts are unlikely to stop anytime soon

Big stick, no carrot

The Coalition’s fixation on energy prices distracts from wage stagnation

Another Liu blow

What does the scandal surrounding Gladys Liu tell us about Australian politics?

In Liu of a defence

When Bolt asks if Beijing’s writing Morrison’s speeches, the PM has a problem

From the front page


Spiralling admissions

Victoria’s royal commission hears stories of a dysfunctional, under-resourced mental health system

Failure to launch

The Berejiklian spill has been cancelled, but coup attempts are unlikely to stop anytime soon

Image of ‘Sachiko’ my Miwa Yanagi

‘Here We Are’ at the Art Gallery of NSW

An opportunity for rethinking the position of women in contemporary art


The Newcastle trial of Graeme Lawrence

The second most senior churchman in Australia to be found guilty of child sexual abuse