Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Today by Sean Kelly

So many things are out of the government’s hands


Today had the air, slightly, of the hours between the close of polling booths on election day and the moment at which results start to filter through. Things happen in those hours – the world does not stop for Australian politics, however much our government’s recent statements on North Korea assume otherwise – but does anybody notice?

Things happened in Canberra today, which I’ll come to, but they were overshadowed, not so much by other things that happened as by the anticipation of things that haven’t quite happened yet. It’s quite stunning, the amount of attention mere anticipation can attract.

That anticipation was directed towards the result of the two High Court challenges to the postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage. Yesterday, those against the plebiscite put their case. Today, the solicitor-general had his chance to respond, after which those against were to get a chance to respond to him. It was rumoured that, afterwards, we might get a decision. That’s because of the need to decide whether the plebiscite can go ahead before the plebiscite goes ahead – the other order, you see, doesn’t work quite as well. And that timeline is pretty short – ballot papers are scheduled to start landing in mailboxes next Tuesday.

As the afternoon dragged ever onwards, it began to seem more likely that the decision would come later this week. And at day’s end, the High Court confirmed this – tomorrow is judgement day, 2.15 pm is judgement time. I should add, for completeness, that there seems to be a hint in the wind, observers of the court say, that the government will triumph – but such predictions cannot be counted upon.

The upshot of this is that today was all about waiting.

This is a problem for the government. You can tell this from the determined way the prime minister went about things last week, delivering a consistent run of actions and announcements in an effort to give the impression that the government was doing anything but waiting. Governments tend to look better when they are governing, rather than waiting for other people to tell them that they can get on with governing. All in all, the PM made a decent fist of it.

Today, the government’s effort was less successful. As I said, some things did happen. The Opposition continued its Barnaby hunt. The government, for its part, spent a lot of time dealing with the question of what exactly was going on with the AGL-owned coal-fired power station known as Liddell.

But the problem with both of those issues is that they, too, are all about waiting. Barnaby’s fate hinges, like the postal plebiscite, on the High Court, meaning we’ll get a re-run of today’s anticipation game in a few weeks. Liddell’s fate, too, depends on things, to some extent, out of the government’s hands: whether AGL is open to selling, and whether other companies are interested in buying.

Still, waiting for energy companies and the High Court is not so bad. The other thing that happened today was that the prime minister had a conversation with Donald Trump. Mostly they spoke about North Korea. On that topic, all of us, the prime minister included, are waiting, and what we are waiting for is two crazy people, and what we are waiting to find out is whether they have the wit to stop a nuclear war.

The results on that one might not be in for quite some time.

In other news


Sly late style

JM Coetzee’s ‘Late Essays: 2006–2017’ shows his deep respect and sympathy for fellow writers

Barry Hill

“It dawned on me while reading Late Essays that Coetzee’s cold style, the reserve in it – a product of his formal intelligence and a persona shaped by the cruelties of his upbringing – might mask a tenderness he was deprived of yet seeks to express.” READ ON


Superheroes on TV

Marvel’s ‘The Defenders’ are here to save a medium that seems to be doing fine on its own

Craig Mathieson

“The superhero, a creation of mythic deliverance and pop art tragedy, has reached television, potentially leaving viewers with cape fear. Will the medium succumb? Based on The Defenders, a new series streaming on Netflix that consolidates four unnaturally powered individuals into a heroic quartet, hopefully not.”  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.



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