Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Crunching Morrison’s numbers
Five Liberals anointed the new PM, backing the spill but not Dutton


“This is a farce,” Malcolm Turnbull reportedly said last Friday, when 40 of his colleagues voted against a spill of the Liberal leadership and effectively voted for him to continue as prime minister. The majority who voted for the spill – 45 – was tiny. Three votes cast the other way would have seen off Peter Dutton’s challenge, or at least the PM would have lived to fight another day.

There has been a lot of commentary on the impact of the defection of cabinet ministers Mathias Cormann, Michaelia Cash and Mitch Fifield. Undoubtedly, if that troika had not defected – particularly Cormann, who endorsed Dutton publicly on the Thursday and has confirmed that he voted for him – Turnbull still would be PM. But we knew that already. Intriguingly, a very small number of Scott Morrison’s backers appear to have worked out, in advance, that the mood of the majority was to turf Turnbull, but that Dutton was not an acceptable alternative. Forty-five voted for a spill, but only 40 of them voted for Dutton. Who are the five MPs who voted for a spill, then voted for Morrison? We may never know, of course, but let’s run through the list.

In the first leadership ballot, brought on by Turnbull himself, the then PM won 48 votes compared to 35 for Dutton. This 35 can be considered Dutton’s base. Sky News published a list of them, and, apart from the usual suspects like Abbott, Abetz and Andrews, there were some surprise inclusions and omissions. James McGrath, for example, who had done the numbers for Turnbull in his successful challenge to Abbott, had defected to the Dutton camp. The list was not definitive and was produced in a hurry, and it has since been reported that vocal Turnbull critic Craig Kelly and former frontbencher Sussan Ley backed Dutton on Tuesday, although they weren’t included on Sky’s list. Adding to the uncertainty, there was one informal vote cast in the Tuesday meeting – an empty ballot paper.

By Friday we had another list. This time it was 43 signatures on a petition, which Turnbull controversially insisted be made public, to call another partyroom meeting. Every single name on Sky’s Tuesday list was included on the petition of 43, except one: Queenslander Bert van Manen. Van Manen’s office would not comment for this story, and he has not indicated which way he voted in any of the secret ballots, except to say that he supported the incumbent PM while he was the incumbent. This is a possible anomaly in Sky’s Tuesday list. The petition added nine new MPs to get us from Tuesday’s 34 to 43 signatures: Kelly and Ley (who most likely should have been there in the first place); Slade Brockman, John McVeigh and the ambivalent Jane Hume, who wound up backing [$] Morrison; the troika of ministers Cormann, Cash and Fifield, who had declared their loss of confidence; and one who only added his name at the very last, to end the uncertainty: Warren Entsch.

We cannot assume that all Dutton’s backers signed the petition, but we can surely assume that most of the signatories voted in favour of the spill motion. At least three did not: Entsch, Karen Andrews and Scott Buchholz have gone on the record to say they did not vote for the spill. In the troubled Queensland branch, MPs do not appear to have fallen in solidly behind Dutton, and Brisbane-based Trevor Evans was one who reportedly had reservations about backing the conservative challenger.

A couple of key players in the Morrison camp were missing from last week’s petition, which may have made up 45 votes in favour of Friday’s spill: Stuart Robert, the new PM’s flatmate and numbers man, and fellow Christian and factional ally Alex Hawke. Both have been handsomely rewarded in the new ministry, promoted to assistant treasurer and special minister of state respectively. Some in the Dutton camp say that’s as good a guide as any to who may have switched from Dutton to Morrison. Member for Tangney in Western Australia, Ben Morton, another who did numbers for Morrison, but who Sky listed as voting for Dutton on Tuesday, may be the exception that proves the rule, given he missed out on a ministry. Fifield reportedly broke for Morrison, after backing the spill.

With the Liberals so deeply split, into two roughly equal-size camps, it takes only a very few players to tip the balance one way or the other. Those swing players, like Robert and Morton, are the Liberals’ new powerbrokers.

since this morning

Liberal backbencher Julia Banks, member for the key Melbourne marginal seat of Chisholm, has declared that she will quit parliament at the next election, describing last week’s “vindictive” spill as “the last straw”, and citing “bullying and intimidation”.

The Morrison government is due to consider a plan [$] that would require some new immigrants to settle for up to five years outside Sydney or Melbourne.

If a push by Labor and the Greens is successful, Malcolm Turnbull may be compelled to appear at a Senate inquiry examining the government’s $444 million grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

In Crikey, Michael Sainsbury writes [$] that incoming foreign minister Marise Payne “has her work cut out for her to meet Australia’s obligations in the Asia-Pacific, something her predecessor largely ignored”.


Labor has called for Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to explain whether generous political donations had any influence on his decision to help a French au pair who was being held in immigration detention. But the minister’s office has flatly denied any wrongdoing, saying that the minister was not aware of the donations when making the decision.

A new ReachTel poll commissioned by The Australia Institute shows that the major parties are neck and neck in Sydney’s Wentworth, where voters are concerned Scott Morrison is not as committed to action on climate change as Malcolm Turnbull was.

The Guardian profiles constitutional lawyer and advocate for Indigenous recognition Shireen Morris, Labor’s candidate for the Melbourne marginal seat of Deakin, held by Liberal Michael Sukkar.

Chris Kenny writes [$] that Turnbull’s critics “were trying to warn him against straying from the conservative path”, but “his clueless media boosters just didn’t see it”.

The AFR’s Joe Aston writes [$] that “contrary to the prevailing wisdom … emanating from the Canberra Press Gallery, there is almost nothing about our Commonwealth’s latest regicide that passes for a battle for the heart and soul of the Liberal Party.”

In The Guardian, columnist Van Badham critiques Hillsong’s “prosperity doctrine” and “neoliberal Jesusing, Scott Morrison-style”.

by Clive James
The perfectly bad sentence
In writing, to reach the depths of badness, it isn’t enough to be banal

by Andrew Ford
Leonard Bernstein: show tunes and symphonies
Centenary celebrations highlight the composer’s broad ambitions and appeal

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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