Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Byelection blow-up
Eden-Monaro contest lifts lid on Coalition infighting

The score is playground politics one, people of Eden-Monaro nil. Today’s shock withdrawal of NSW Liberal transport minister Andrew Constance from the upcoming byelection has come less than 24 hours after the way was cleared for him by his Nationals colleague NSW deputy premier John Barilaro. At a press conference on the South Coast this afternoon, Constance explained he withdrew after colourful smears against him appeared on the front page of this morning’s Daily Telegraph, including Barilaro calling him a “c***” for forcing a three-cornered contest in the ultra-marginal electorate vacated by retiring Opposition backbencher Mike Kelly. “I woke up this morning and I said to Jen, ‘Bugger this for a joke! Why would I sit here for the next five weeks defending that type of front page?’ You can’t.” Constance was flattered to be compared with rugby league great Mal Meninga, whose political career ended at his first press conference. “Mal’s a champion, so I’m happy for that comparison,” said Constance. “I love him.” At a time of crisis and unusual national unity, the Coalition candidates at state and federal levels have formed a circular firing squad – boosting Labor’s prospect of retaining the seat – and they have wounded their leaders as well. So far, the priorities of the people of Eden-Monaro have barely rated a mention. 

NSW Nationals leader Barilaro must take responsibility for much of the damage done to the Coalition. After deciding to pull out on Monday, his texts to federal Nationals leader Michael McCormack were leaked to Sky News and reported this morning. Barilaro had been touted as a potential challenger to McCormack, who is so lacklustre as leader that not even his supporters expect him to survive, as I reported in an essay on the junior Coalition partner’s centenary for The Monthly in April. Barilaro texted McCormack: “To feel threatened by me clearly shows you have failed your team and failed as a leader. You will never be acknow­ledged by me as our leader. You aren’t. You never will be. The Nats had a chance to ­create history, to change momentum, and you had a candidate that was prepared to risk everything to make it happen.” He was backed up in this morning’s Australian [$] by David Gillespie, the member for Lyne and a supporter of former leader Barnaby Joyce, who challenged McCormack in February and who is not happy on the backbench. Barilaro, who followed up the leaked texts with his reported comments against Constance, had a chance to come up the middle between McCormack and Joyce – as a leader who would take the Nats’ fight up to the Libs – but he is now left in limbo and there are worries about his state of mind. If it is true that McCormack has baulked at the chance of strengthening the Nationals arm against the Liberals by contesting Eden-Monaro in order to prop up his own leadership, it will hurt his standing within his own party. 

Also playing into Constance’s shock decision to withdraw is fallout from criticism he made of the prime minister over the summer, when he said Scott Morrison probably got the welcome he deserved in fire-struck Cobargo, where residents would not shake his hand. The PM was reportedly underwhelmed at the prospect of Constance joining the Liberals in Canberra. And, after all, it is less than two months since Constance, who almost lost his Malua Bay home on the south coast in the New Year’s Eve fires, declared he would quit politics altogether once the bushfire recovery was complete. He reiterated today that he will not contest the next state election in 2023. Constance confirmed that he would remain as state member for Bega and tend to “unfinished business” as minister for transport and roads. “I need to remain focused on the bushfire recovery and be grateful for the opportunities I already have,” Constance said, adding, “I appreciate people will be confused by my actions over the past couple of days, and for that I am sorry.”

Labor is making hay. A date for the byelection has not been set but the ALP’s candidate, Bega Valley mayor Kristy McBain, is the clear favourite right now – Betfair had Labor priced at $1.05 to win in Eden-Monaro, versus the Coalition at $1.52. Retaining the seat would only confirm the status quo, and so could hardly be claimed as a big win for the Opposition. Still, a loss would bring Anthony Albanese’s leadership into question, so he will campaign hard for McBain. Today he gleefully tweeted footage from the ABC’s Q&A in February, when she challenged Liberal senator Jim Molan over the Coalition’s complacency about the bushfires. Molan, who lives in Queanbeyan and was a mooted Liberal candidate but has his own health issues, confirmed today he would not run. 

So it’s not just Nats vs Libs, it’s Nats vs Nats and Libs vs Libs, both in NSW and federally. McCormack and Barilaro are both damaged leaders, and Morrison and Berejiklian are seen to be running divided governments with senior members who hate each other. Shadow health minister Chris Bowen made easy yards ripping into them at a doorstop today. “When John Barilaro was sending abusive text messages to Michael McCormack, he wasn’t saying … you need to stand up for the people of Eden-Monaro. It was about their own petty internal squabbling, at war with themselves and not at war to try and get a better deal for the people of Eden-Monaro.” 

Standing on the beach in his own electorate today, Constance said that “Politics is stuffed in this country.” And on that point, at least, he was right. 

“As our economy emerges from the worst impacts of COVID-19, we need projects ready to go that will create jobs and stimulate spending, especially in regional Queensland. Construction will commence in July, creating much-needed jobs, and generation is scheduled for the first quarter of 2022.”

Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad announces that a 400-megawatt solar farm, the country’s largest, will be built in the Western Downs, after a deal between state-owned generator CleanCo and the French owner of South Australia’s big battery, Neoen.

“I want to apologise. I think you’ve proven since your time, particularly this critical time, you will end up as one of our great prime ministers. I think you have handled yourself with class, dignity and distinction, and a level of energy I’ve rarely seen. So accept my sincere apologies. You’re a great prime minister and I appreciate your time today.”


2GB’s Ray Hadley, who campaigned for Peter Dutton to replace Malcolm Turnbull as PM in 2018, makes up with Scott Morrison.

Making sense of the Black Summer
Thousands of Australians had their homes and lives destroyed by last summer’s bushfires, and now COVID-19 is shattering their plans to rebuild. Today, Rick Morton on what happens when a pandemic follows a natural disaster.


The number of months since Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick lodged a freedom of information request seeking an unredacted copy of documents relating to a $1.3 billion arms deal with Thales, which the crossbench MP described as FOI “abuse at its worst”.

“It is imperative that government does not choose the path of austerity in response to this crisis … Many countries implemented austerity measures following the GFC with the singular goal of paying down debt … Austerity economics has led to a decade of poor growth, low wages and rising poverty across the UK, with GDP estimated to have been suppressed by up to GBP100 billion a year as a direct result. In 2018, the United Nations found that austerity measures were ‘entrenching high levels of poverty and inflicting unnecessary misery in one of the richest countries in the world’.”

In an open letter posted by think tank Per Capita, 25 distinguished economists call for public investment in the productive capacity of the Australian economy, rather than spending cuts.

The list

“While not a replacement for local organising, the Australians supporting Sanders I spoke to all suggested that the possibilities for international solidarity are deepened by social media. Indeed, this is where I first encountered the ‘Australians for Bernie’ phenomenon. A tweet from a young woman called Ashley Sutherland was, for some unknown algorithmic reason, promoted on my feed. She was wearing circle sunglasses and hoop earrings, holding up a T-shirt with ‘MelBerniens’ imprinted across the chest. ‘Hell yeah just did some texts and calls,’ the tweet read.”

“Samson gives us a rather bare picture of Hydra as an arena for dissipation and exploitation. The men are all drunks and philanderers and treat their wives and girlfriends abominably. They expect the women to cook and clean and play the role of blithe muse. And if the women can’t or won’t, well, the ferry brings new dreamers every week, large-eyed girls with uniform tans and golden legs, smooth and hairless.”

“During the past two decades, Australia’s food and grocery supply chains have become increasingly vulnerable to crisis. This is the story behind the dissonance experienced by shoppers in recent weeks, as supermarkets and governments have united to assure us there are no shortages – yet it has been hard to find a bag of rice, a pack of mince or a bottle of pasta sauce. The reasons take in globalisation, cost-cutting, Australia’s concentrated grocery sector and modern orthodoxies in inventory management.”

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 Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


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The government’s response to the Richardson review needs close scrutiny

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