Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Spill thrills
The Morrison government starts 2020 looking like a rabble


The best observation on the Nationals’ leadership ballot today came from Gippsland MP Darren Chester, who told ABC News Breakfast that he was frustrated, disappointed and embarrassed about the spill taking place on a parliamentary sitting day meant to honour the victims of the ongoing bushfire crisis. “I want to offer an apology to the Australian people … To those people who are suffering the consequences of drought or bushfires, on a day when the parliament is due to debate a condolence motion on bushfires … to have us talking about ourselves is deeply embarrassing and I want to apologise to them for that.”

Is it all over? Unlikely. Due to the Nationals’ curious practice of conducting secret leadership ballots, there are now different versions of the numbers getting around: out of a 21-strong party room, according to the AFR the Joyce camp claims the vote was 11–10; McCormack’s backers say it was more like 15–6. Either way, McCormack was unable to prevent the ballot, and appears damaged. 

The Nationals could not even unite and knuckle down for a whole morning, with argy-bargy breaking out over climate policy in the Coalition partyroom meeting held straight afterwards. The vanquished Joyce argued that there wasn’t any new concern in his New England electorate, while George Christensen said there were five seats hanging on the construction of a new coal-fired power station in Queensland. Moderate Liberals, including Tim Wilson, Trent Zimmerman, Katie Allen and Fiona Martin, hit back, arguing that public sentiment had shifted on climate over summer – including to suburbs like Penrith, which on one day in January was the hottest place on earth, recording a temperature of 48.9 degrees Celsius. “COALITION STOUSH OVER CLIMATE CHANGE” blared Sky News. Even Andrew Bolt called the Coalition a rabble yesterday. And if the rump of disaffected Nationals can’t maintain a façade of unity for half a day, what chance have they of keeping it together to the next election? Someone like Matt Canavan, a clear loser out of the spill having resigned from the resources ministry, is now sitting on the back bench and incentivised to cause trouble. He put out a press release congratulating McCormack and new deputy David Littleproud, and described the Nationals as “the true party of the worker”, fighting for people in high-vis and building dams, coal-fired power stations and roads. This is not going to get better. 

Firstly, Morrison and McCormack have to sort out a tricky reshuffle, with the loss of a senior woman in Bridget McKenzie – in an already male-dominated ministry and leadership team – plus vacancies in the agriculture and resources portfolios, and the position of Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor appearing shaky. And as soon as leadership speculation settles, the fallout of the sports rorts affair will be back to haunt the PM. Already today, after blundering speech from MP Terry Young, Labor’s government accountability spokesperson Kimberley Kitching tweeted gleefully: “It’s going to be difficult for government to maintain position that the PM & PM’s staff weren’t knowingly concerned in the $100M #sportsrorts scandal when their MPs thanked them for delivering the loot as ‘great strategising’ and it’s in Hansard.” Nationals chief whip Damian Drum mounted a ham-fisted defence of sports rorts on ABC’s RN Drive yesterday. What a mess.

By comparison with the Morrison government’s disorder, the Greens appear to have engineered a smooth succession after Richard Di Natale announced his surprise resignation yesterday morning. As expected, Adam Bandt has assumed the leadership uncontested, and the party has elected Larissa Waters as Senate leader and Nick McKim as deputy Senate leader. There was a late flurry of speculation last night that Mehreen Faruqi might contest the ballot, after she tweeted that she was considering a leadership role, but there are complications for the senator from NSW, who took over from Lee Rhiannon in 2018. It is harder for the party room to elect a NSW Greens MP to a leadership position, because they don't have a conscience vote, and can instead be bound by the state branch to take a different position on policy to their colleagues, as occurred during the debate over the Gonski 2.0 package in 2017.

“My old people said no one owns the water. The water is there to be shared … I’ve got a message for this country and its politicians: I’ve got no faith in politicians; we are going to build a grassroots movement that no one’s going to stop. It is our turn. It is our time. We’re going to do it as united, as non-Indigenous and Indigenous people together. We need the water back in our rivers. Put the water back in the rivers.”

Muruwari and Budjiti man Bruce Shillingsworth, a Water for the Rivers activist from Brewarrina, speaking today at the Peoples Climate Assembly on the lawns of Parliament House, Canberra.

“Barnaby Joyce will today try to replace Michael McCormack as Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister. Rising star Matt Canavan is backing Joyce and so is resigning as Resources Minister. He tells why Joyce must again lead – to fight the Liberals for what matters to Nationals voters (like a new coal-fired power station).”

The introduction to Andrew Bolt’s interview with Canavan this morning, on Sky News’s The Bolt Report.

Honouring Bettina Arndt, men’s rights activist
Bettina Arndt has been appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in recognition of her work for “gender equity”. Feminist academic Eva Cox considered giving back her own AO in protest – and says it’s more evidence the system needs to change.


The number of charges that Australia’s largest wheat farmer, Ron Greentree, is facing after the unauthorised clearing of more than 1000 hectares at Boolcarrol, New South Wales.

“Over the past two years, the factors threatening the sustainability of PHIs [Private Health Insurers] have only become more acute … The younger, healthier cohort that financially underpins our community-rated system continues to abandon or shun private cover. Claims costs are rising faster than premium growth, cutting insurers’ profit margins. The Grattan Institute’s description of a ‘death spiral’ may be dramatic, but it’s also pretty accurate: on current trends, APRA predicts we’re only a few years away from seeing private health insurers forced to merge or fold, with the smaller insurers, represented in this room, likely to be the most vulnerable.”

Geoff Summerhayes, a member of the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority board, talking to an audience of not-for-profit health fund directors in Sydney.

The list

“At some point in any interview with the prime minister one is liable to be reminded of a dung beetle: he starts with nothing much at all and by unstoppable single­minded exertion he pushes it through every interrogative thicket and every hurdle of logic and evidence until he’s created a ball of bullshit several times his own size.”

“No one seems to notice Mark Leahy as he slips into the cafe. He’s discreet, 58, wearing thick-rimmed glasses and a buttoned-up shirt, a pen in his front pocket. But as he sits down at the table, he looks tired. It’s been almost two years since he lost his job managing the South Australian Welfare Rights Centre, an organisation that once provided legal advice and advocacy services to those on social security, and a year since he lost his home.”

“Christmas Island was once home to five endemic reptiles, but today it’s quite possible that only one of these species survives in the wild. Biennial island surveys have shown no sign of the forest skink, Lister’s gecko, blue-tailed skink or Christmas Island blind snake. The Christmas Island giant gecko still hangs on, but its numbers are also falling. The island’s reptiles are in crisis, and no one is entirely sure what’s killing them.”

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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