Monday, September 10, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

The Muppet Show resumes
PM Morrison has taken charge of a rabble


For a brief moment in Scott Morrison’s first Question Time as prime minister today, there was civility. Congratulated on his appointment by Bill Shorten, Morrison leaned over the dispatch box and shook the Opposition leader’s hand. From the back bench, Julie Bishop mouthed “thank you” after Shorten acknowledged her long service as deputy leader. When the questions began, the façade crumbled with one question: “Malcolm Turnbull is no longer prime minister of Australia. Why?” Morrison’s only answer was to rehash John Howard, pointing out that the leadership of the Liberal Party was the gift of the parliamentary party. He couldn’t say why Turnbull had been replaced, in other words, only how. When the Greens’ Adam Bandt asked whether the prime minister would dismiss Peter Dutton for misleading parliament, the one-word answer was “no”. When Shorten asked what the PM was doing about Warren Entsch’s calls for bullies in his party to be named and shamed, Morrison brought up the bashing of Labor’s Peter Baldwin ... which happened nearly 40 years ago. So, having begun Question Time as Prime Minister, Morrison finished it sounding like Prime Muppet.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and unless or until Morrison can clearly spell out his government’s agenda, the empty space will be filled by backbencher Tony Abbott, who does not mince words. In his “headland” speech last week, Morrison conceded that he did not have a to-do list, but talked about keeping the economy strong, keeping Australia safe, keeping Australians together – and he repeated the hollow mantra this afternoon. By contrast, this morning Abbott told 2GB that he thought Morrison was off to a good start and had a to-do list ready: “He’s got a minister for getting power prices down, he’s got a minister for congestion busting in our cities and, as far as I can work out, he’s also got a minister for deregistering the CFMEU … If we can do all of that … I think we’ve got a good fighting chance of winning the election.”

The reality, revealed [$] in The Australian’s Newspoll today, is that the Coalition is facing an “election wipeout” next year with the loss of up to 30 seats. It was the Coalition’s 40th poll behind, confirming the two-party vote remains at 44–56, with the only silver lining being that Morrison had overtaken Shorten as preferred PM. As columnist Peter van Onselen wrote [$], there is no honeymoon there, and, Onselen continued: “Morrison’s folksy style is aimed at appealing to outer metropolitan swinging voters in the way that John Howard always did. And it’s true that this was a problem for Turnbull. But Morrison is no Howard.”

The analysis follows a historic defeat in the NSW electorate of Wagga Wagga on the weekend, which ABC election analyst Antony Green yesterday called for independent candidate Dr Joe McGirr. Liberal premier Gladys Berejiklian blamed the huge swing against the state Liberal government on the leadership turmoil in Canberra – although the SMH’s Alexandra Smith writes that Berejiklian must own the spectacular loss – and commentators are now speculating on whether the Coalition is doomed in forthcoming Victorian and NSW elections.

Then there’s Peter Dutton, whose eligibility to sit in parliament remains in doubt, and whose statement to the house on the au pairs this morning does not appear to have cleared the air. Crossbenchers Cathy McGowan and Rebekha Sharkie were looking for a compelling explanation from Dutton, which remains to be seen if the Greens’ motion of no confidence comes to a vote.

Then there’s the continuing fallout from the leadership spill against Turnbull, which is not going away with Warren Entsch today decrying both bullies in the party and in the media [$], and calling on Lucy Gichuhi and Julia Banks to name names. As backbenchers lose heart in the face of an electoral rout, party discipline is going get worse, not better. Try as he might, the PM will not be able to paper over these wounds. Healing will turn to quackery.

since this morning

The Senate has passed a bill to phase out live sheep exports over a five-year period and stop trade to the Middle East during the hottest part of the year.

The frontrunner to replace Malcolm Turnbull in the seat of Wentworth, Andrew Bragg, has withdrawn [$] from the preselection race, saying that the Liberal Party should instead choose a woman.


A two-part investigation by Fairfax Media’s Kate McClymont reveals disturbing connections between at least three major drug syndicates and the facilitators involved in the $150 million that was allegedly defrauded from the Australian Tax Office in the Plutus Payroll scam.

The Australian reports [$] on a paper titled “Unions Inc” by Liberal Party think tank the Menzies Research Centre, which finds that Australia’s unions are accruing record increases in revenue and assets, despite two decades of decline in membership.

In an analysis of the causes of the GFC, economist Gerard Minack writes that regulatory reforms since the era of Reagan, Thatcher and, in Australia, Hawke and Keating have “increasingly become pro-business, not pro-market … [and have] created corporate boondoggles, limited competition or tilted market power towards capital and away from labour.”

As the banking and financial services royal commission commences hearings into the life insurance industry today, AFR columnist Adele Ferguson warns [$] of a “horror show”.

by Ceridwen Dovey
Can David Sinclair cure old age?
The Australian geneticist believes ageing is a disease we can treat

by Mungo MacCallum
Dutton’s double standards
The au pair controversy may lead some to ask if the minister has any standards at all

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

Chalmers fires up

A scrapper from Brisbane’s backblocks won’t be lectured on aspiration

PM’s humble pie

The government’s economic reform agenda is threadbare

Labor frays on tax

The Opposition risks becoming a rabble

Medivac “floodgates”? Hardly

Peter Dutton’s fearmongering is despicable

From the front page

Chalmers fires up

A scrapper from Brisbane’s backblocks won’t be lectured on aspiration


At home in the Antarctic

The screenwriters living with the crew of Mawson station

Image of the University of Sydney


The Australian’s crusade on free speech in universities

Image of Quarterly Essay 74, ‘The Prosperity Gospel’, by Erik Jensen

Everymen don’t exist

On the campaign trail with Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten – a Quarterly Essay extract