It is not clear who is running the country today
Australia’s House of Representatives dissolved itself today for the first time in living memory, and it was a fitting metaphor for what could be the most unrepresentative government since the dismissal in 1975. What we have seen today is a right-wing hijacking of our democracy by a group of extreme conservatives behind unpopular challenger Peter Dutton, whose policy positions are directly at odds with those of the majority of Australians: be it on climate change, marriage equality, or even support for a tolerant, multicultural country. What’s more, the plotters know it, and they don’t care. Our dead meat prime minister, in what will surely prove to be the last time we see him sitting in the parliament, voted along with his colleagues to adjourn the house. And then, in the words of Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke, we watched “the first walkout staged by a government”. Shame, called Labor, standing, as Coalition MPs shuffled back to their hidey-holes.
In a dramatic press conference in the prime minister’s courtyard this afternoon, Turnbull lashed out, saying that Australians would be “rightly appalled by what they’re witnessing in their nation’s parliament today and in the course of this week”. A month ago, according to the polls, the Coalition was competitive with Labor. He decried the “madness” of the minority behind Dutton, supported by others outside the parliament, who have sought to “bully and intimidate” the rest of their colleagues and “pull the party further to the right”. Towards the end, Turnbull said he had “never given in to bullies”, when the tragedy is that he has been giving in for almost his entire term as prime minister.
Turnbull said the House of Representatives had been adjourned “at the request of Mr Dutton”, which is strange, and then said that there would be a partyroom meeting at midday tomorrow if he received a majority resolution in writing to do so. That would give time for the solicitor-general to prepare advice on whether Dutton is eligible to sit in the parliament. “I don’t want to elaborate on this any more than I need to”, Turnbull said, “but the issue of eligibility is critically important. Imagine the consequences of having a prime minister whose actions and decisions are questionable because of the issue of eligibility, i.e., are they validly a minister at all.” Turnbull confirmed that if a spill motion were carried, he would not stand and – sealing his fate – confirmed he would resign as an MP. “I’ve made it very clear that I believe that former PMs are best out of the parliament, and I don’t think there’s much evidence to suggest that that conclusion was wrong.” Assuming there were a spill tomorrow, Turnbull said, there should be an election as soon as possible: “The public will be crying out for one, clearly.”
The mortal blow came mid-morning when kingmaker Mathias Cormann, flanked by fellow cabinet ministers Mitch Fifield and Michaelia Cash, announced they had withdrawn support for the PM. Cormann said that he had intended to remain loyal to Turnbull yesterday, but that five cabinet colleagues – not counting himself – who had voted for Turnbull on Tuesday, had switched to Dutton. Cormann insisted that his close friend Dutton was the best person to unite the Liberals, which may confound a rearguard action by conservative Treasurer Scott Morrison to run as a consensus candidate if a spill motion is carried tomorrow. The bookies, curiously, have Morrison as a favourite.
Little-known northern NSW Nationals MP Kevin Hogan – who committed himself to move to the crossbench if there is a spill, regardless of the result – was the only hero on a day when Australia’s democracy embarrassed itself. The humble backbencher had simply had a gutful: “For me this is not about Malcolm Turnbull or Peter Dutton, I don’t actually have an opinion on that, that is a matter for the Liberal Party, and I respect that … this is about the last 10 years. This is about the Labor party dysfunction on this issue, and now what I see as the Liberal Party dysfunction on this issue. I implicitly condone it unless I say something, and this is a statement that I feel I need to make, on what we’ve been seeing for so long. I think we have been a good government but we have got lost in the drama of this … I honestly don’t believe that what I’m saying will change what anyone does anyway, so it’s not me telling anyone to back off, it’s just me making a statement on behalf of my community and I think on behalf of a majority of the country.” Hear, hear.
At least Malcolm Fraser had the decency to go to an election within a month, and arguably received a modicum of retrospective legitimacy from his ensuing landslide victory. Likewise Julia Gillard, when she mounted the calamitous 2010 coup that kicked off this decade of prime ministerial knifings, had the decency to go to an election within two months. As the Senate continued to sit this afternoon, Simon Birmingham tried bravely to bat on in Cormann’s place as business manager, but struggled to answer questions about how many ministers the government now had. His opposite member, Penny Wong, called for an election, now. “Australia does not have a functioning government”, she thundered, “we have a rabble.”
since this morning
On The Today Show, Channel Nine’s political editor, Chris Uhlmann, has accused conservative commentators from Sky News, The Daily Telegraph and 2GB – among others – of “waging a war” against Malcolm Turnbull.
The Australian reports [$] that Treasurer Scott Morrison today decided to block Huawei from rolling out Australia’s 5G network due to security concerns.
The Retail and Fast Food Workers Union has launched [$] legal action in a bid to make Woolworths liable for up to $1 billion in alleged underpayments to its workforce.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
In The Australian, columnist Niki Savva writes [$] that the Coalition’s re-election fortunes “hover between zip and zero”.
The Guardian reports that another young refugee on Nauru is critically ill after refusing to food, fluid and medical treatment, while a 12-year-old girl has been taken to the Nauru hospital after reportedly attempting to set herself on fire.
Labor yesterday released legal advice from Bret Walker, SC, suggesting that Peter Dutton was ineligible to sit in parliament.
Paddy Manning is a contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly. He is a writer and journalist who has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including Boganaire: The rise and fall of Nathan Tinkler.
Australia’s House of Representatives dissolved itself today for the first time in living memory, and it was a fitting metaphor for what could be the most unrepresentative government since the dismissal in 1975. What we have seen today is a right-wing hijacking of our democracy by a group of extreme conservatives behind unpopular challenger Peter Dutton, whose policy positions are directly at odds with those of the majority of Australians: be it on climate change, marriage equality, or even support for a tolerant, multicultural country. What’s more, the plotters know it, and they don’t care. Our dead meat prime minister, in what will surely prove to be the last time we see him sitting in the parliament, voted along with his colleagues to adjourn the house. And then, in the words of Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke, we watched “the first walkout staged by a government”. Shame...