Thursday, September 10, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning


‘We’re not anti-koala’
NSW Nationals pitch Berejiklian government into crisis

Image of NSW Deputy Premier and state Nationals leader John Barilaro

NSW Deputy Premier and state Nationals leader John Barilaro. Via Facebook

From the wrecking-ball school of politics, NSW Deputy Premier and state Nationals leader John Barilaro has today thrown the Berejiklian government into chaos over koala conservation policy just when it is battling both a pandemic and a recession. At a stunning press conference, a barely comprehensible Barilaro announced that all Nationals MPs would join the crossbench over the issue – leaving Premier Gladys Berejiklian with a minority government – but they would keep their ministries and remain in cabinet. Go figure. In a statement, the Nationals said its MPs would not attend joint partyroom or parliamentary leadership meetings until the koala dispute was resolved, and would abstain from voting on government bills, but the party “reserves the right to support bills and motions that are important to regional NSW”. Although he was triggering a state crisis to oppose a planning policy designed to protect habitat of the declining koala population, Barilaro said the National Party “stands for a thriving population” and wanted to see the koala population double. “We’re not anti-koala,” Barilaro said, “and this idea, that somehow the National Party is anti-koala, is wrong.” An emergency meeting between Berejiklian and her wayward deputy was underway this afternoon, and perhaps by the time state parliament resumes next week Barilaro’s koala stunt will be fading into the long history of Liberal–National spats. As of this afternoon, however, Opposition Leader Jodi McKay was right to observe that “the government is no longer functioning”. 

Barilaro’s antics are a free kick for Labor, which has otherwise been struggling – like opposition parties around the country – to cut through during the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, McKay raised some important questions at her presser this afternoon. “I don’t know how you can walk into cabinet and be bound by cabinet solidarity,” she said, “and then walk into parliament and not support government legislation.” Likewise, McKay questioned how the Nationals can be part of the Coalition yet still sit on the crossbench. She urged Barilaro to rip up the Coalition agreement – the deal between Liberal and National parties that underpins the state government. The fact that Barilaro has baulked to do that suggests this is all about grandstanding rather than a serious split. Is this what the NSW Nationals have to do to get a turnout at a press conference these days? Constitutional law expert Anne Twomey has said that all National Party ministers should immediately resign because “their continuance in office would be a fundamental breach of the constitutional principle of responsible government”.

Nature Conservation Council chief executive Chris Gambian said in a statement that the koala planning policy was one small measure to ensure the animals do not become extinct in NSW by 2050. “Wanting to retain the right to kill koalas is an extraordinary hill for the Nationals to want to die on, but here we are,” said Gambian. “The Nationals have dictated environmental policy to the Liberal Party and the whole state for a decade. They’ve ramped up land clearing, defended feral pests, bungled water management and intensified logging after the bushfires.”

Barilaro is a protégé of former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, who says the junior party should keep its distance from the Liberals, and that the Libs should be treated as business partners, not friends. Joyce himself harks back fondly to the days of former leader John “Black Jack” McEwen, who stormed into the office of then prime minister Robert Menzies with a resignation letter in his pocket, threatening to bring down the government if he didn’t get his way on the wool trade. But Barilaro is not a politician of the same stature as McEwen – the former was memorably said to be in the political “Z-grade”. Barilaro last came to attention during his short-lived tilt at the federal electorate of Eden-Monaro, apparently a prelude to a mooted challenge to Nationals leader Michael McCormack, but which exploded within hours, leaving egg on everybody’s faces (and no doubt helping Labor’s Kristy McBain to win the seat). The Nationals need cut-through in the face of rural independents and candidates from One Nation and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, but not if cut-through looks like Barilaro. The Nationals are better off with a safe pair of hands. 

The Nationals and Liberals have split before – twice in Victoria, for example – although (to my knowledge) no prior dispute has brought down a serving government. If Berejiklian has any strength, she will do as upper house Liberal MP Catherine Cusack demanded yesterday and sack Barilaro. That will no doubt trigger a leadership challenge. At a time when 300,000 people are unemployed in NSW – including 30,000 in the regions – who’s got time for cries for help from self-serving pollies like Barilaro, who think it’s all a game? 


“I will not be bullied nor will I be intimidated by the prime minister of this country who contacted me this morning and who I made [it] very clear to, the fact that it is not my decision. It is the chief health officer’s decision to make.”

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk hit back at Scott Morrison over border restrictions, after the PM appealed to her to grant an exemption for a woman unable to leave hotel quarantine to be at her father’s funeral.

“I have never spoken to Scott about anything of a political nature. I’m not an adviser. The idea of me talking to him about this … it’s just not true.”

Comments made last year by QAnon conspiracist Tim Stewart, a longstanding friend of the Morrison family and the man behind the Twitter account “BurnedSpy34”, which was permanently suspended by the social media giant today.

How to collect coronavirus
Cultural institutions in Australia have begun to collect evidence of how coronavirus is changing the country in real time, as part of a movement to collect “social histories”. But how difficult is the task, especially when there’s no national vision for collecting culture in our country.

The amount of JobKeeper or other subsidies paid to ASX 300 companies, according to a new analysis that finds a lack of rigour and transparency in the scheme.

AFR

“The COVID-19 pandemic could reduce economic output in the City of Melbourne by up to $110 billion over the next five years, compared to previous projections. The data shows that compared to pre-COVID-19 forecasts, the City of Melbourne economy will contract by up to $23.5 billion – or 22 per cent – in 2020. Over five years, there could be up to 79,000 fewer jobs than pre-COVID forecasts as an annual average.”

Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp, who has urged Premier Daniel Andrews to abandon Victoria’s coronavirus elimination strategy, releases modelling by PricewaterhouseCoopers showing the devastating economic impact of the hard lockdown.

The list
 

“The first political institution that closet authoritarians come for, they suggest, is meaningful public speech. ‘Fake news’ may have once looked like a harmlessly stupid phrase. Trump and his enablers in the far-right media have deliberately used those two syllables to reap a whirlwind of manufactured unreality, destroying any hope of common ground wherever they go. ‘Fake news’ is the ultimate Trumpian lie, and it’s very difficult for traditional journalism to discredit.”

“Dalgarno’s best achievement is in montaging Chris’s spasmodic thoughts – adrift anywhere between bathing children at home and watching over Sarah having sex with a stranger – which means that Poly remains fundamentally about men and their primitive fear of other men as a threat to their procreative prowess. The novel’s whodunnit subplot overlays and animates this thematic focus.”

“At first glance it would be easy to mistake Route 59’s debut game title, Necrobarista, as a cynical joke at Melbourne’s expense. The game has all the Melbourne clichés: the coffee, the sarcasm, the rain. The darkness. Even the portmanteau title wouldn’t look out of place on a chalkboard on Degraves Street. But its narrative is a thoughtful meditation on grief and mortality, told with a sensitivity shot through with dark humour.”

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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