Friday, December 1, 2017

Today by Sean Kelly


Mocking day
The PM should worry as impressions are cemented

Supplied by ABC News

On a day dominated by the deputy premier of New South Wales telling Malcolm Turnbull he should step down by Christmas, a gentle jibe from Labor’s treasury spokesman is unlikely to be among the prime minister’s concerns. It should be.

“He might not have support in the National Party. He might not have support in the Liberal Party,” said Chris Bowen [$], “but we in the Labor Party are more than happy for him to continue as leader of the Liberal Party right up to the next election. We’d be very delighted to have him as leader of the Liberal Party at the next election. He’s got our support to do so even if he doesn’t have the support of the Liberal or National parties. We’re prepared to back Malcolm.”

Ordinarily, I would be tempted to chide Bowen for such words. Oppositions and hubris do not mix well, both because pride comes before a fall, and because voters like to see those who want power feel they have to work for it. An Opposition cruising towards what it believes is a fait accompli risks capsize.

Today, though, I think it’s Turnbull who should be worried. Bowen is engaging in light mockery because he assumes a sympathetic audience; he clearly believes listeners will laugh with him. Bowen may or may not be right, but the fact he and his colleagues are thinking that way is a dangerous sign for the prime minister. Ridicule, as is commonly observed, comes not long before political death.

Political death, though, can be a long and drawn-out thing. Julia Gillard was first challenged in February 2012. Sixteen months later Kevin Rudd finally succeeded in taking back the prime ministership. The period between the empty chair spill against Tony Abbott and his actual removal was seven months. There have been mutterings against Turnbull for some time, but it feels as though they have become forceful only recently. Perhaps leadership turnaround times are speeding up; perhaps parties have turned their back on changes altogether; or perhaps we just have many months of this to go. It’s impossible to say.

How big a blow is the prime minister being forced into a banking inquiry? As a standalone political event it is humiliating – even more humiliating than some pretend. The prime minister and others have suggested that the citizenship debacle, for which Turnbull is not to blame, contributed. Perhaps obliquely, in that Barnaby Joyce’s absence may have let the Nationals run a little wild, but in terms of the numbers in parliament it changed little. Once two Nationals had decided to cross the floor, the vote would have been held and lost with or without Joyce and John Alexander.

But it also seems unlikely that the particular circumstances surrounding the banking bill will be repeated. How many issues will easily command the support of the Labor Party, all of the crossbenchers, and be of sufficient importance to compel government MPs to cross the floor? You would have to think not many. Remember that the banking commission was a long time coming.

The greater problem with the banking backdown is the one you barely notice, because it is merely a quiet confirmation of what voters already believe. The retreat is unlikely to change anybody’s mind about the prime minister. What it will do is worse: cement the feeling that he is not in charge.  

Barnaby Joyce will win in New England tomorrow, and that will be one small headache less for Turnbull. But of Bennelong, David Crowe writes today [$]: “The government is very close to losing Bennelong. Liberal Party polling is said to show Kristina Keneally is neck-and-neck with John Alexander. Labor is outgunning the government on the ground. The combined power of Labor, the Greens, the unions and GetUp! seems likely to deliver the seat to the Opposition.”

A loss in Bennelong would be disastrous. Turnbull would be blamed. It would be the final political event before MPs head back to get an earful from their families and friends while eating turkey and watching cricket. Labor are already the more astute parliamentary tacticians; what they could do against a genuinely (as opposed to temporary) minority government should worry the Coalition.

The prime minister did a good job of biting back against the deputy premier. Asked about it by 3AW’s Neil Mitchell, Turnbull said, “I think what is going on, Neil, is that he is on Alan Jones and he’s just trying to ingratiate himself with Alan and telling him what he wants to hear.” It was exactly the right type of gentle mockery – that lethal weapon – the situation called for. 


In other news


POLITICS

Betrayal

The Turnbull government has burned the bridge of bipartisanship

Noel Pearson

“Looking back, I am astounded at the pragmatism and discipline I mustered in giving voice and life to my convictions about bipartisanship and the radical centre. Notwithstanding the shitstorm of opprobrium from the left. I have never been an opportunist. My detractors allege otherwise, but this was for me all about the long game. The long game of trying to get good-willed Australians from across the political and cultural divide to support ambitious Indigenous reform in the radical centre.” read on


ART

Strength in numbers at Neon Parc

‘Mira Gojak / Elizabeth Newman’ illustrates the possibilities for curated shows in commercial galleries

Quentin Sprague

“The connections between the two artists are left unspoken. If Mira Gojak / Elizabeth Newman were an institutional exhibition, there would be an explanatory wall text and an accompanying essay. We might learn that Gojak studied science before art and be encouraged to think about the interdisciplinary underpinnings that may or may not be evident in her work. Neon Parc’s approach is far more casual: you either get it or you don’t. Chances are if you found the gallery in the first place (it’s tucked away in an industrial cul de sac) you’re an existing convert to the kind of calculated-seeming aloofness that characterises much high-end contemporary practice. But one can also be less cynical: sometimes the most valuable resonances in an exhibition are those that are left unexplained, or, to put it another way, the kind that are perhaps explained only by looking. This is an approach more aligned with what artists themselves are often engaged with: the making of visual objects that direct our thoughts and feelings in a certain way.” READ ON

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.

@mrseankelly

 

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