Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Today by Sean Kelly

Friendly chats
Turnbull and Shorten met today. Predictably, they disagreed

Supplied by ABC News

Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten met today in Melbourne to discuss the prime minister’s proposal for a disclosure process to end the citizenship circus. Once the meeting was concluded, both men alerted the media to the fact they would be shortly holding separate press conferences.

In the same venue.

At the same time.

Soon after that, the Opposition leader’s office let it be known, via Twitter, that Labor would gracefully stand aside and let the PM go first. Well, perhaps not so gracefully: “we’ll let the current Prime Minister doorstop at 3pm”. Geddit?

From all this, you might conclude that the meeting was a site of bitter contest. In fact, as the prime minister was quick to assure everyone, there were not many disagreements.

And there weren’t. But nor did the meeting itself resolve much. Beforehand both sides put their positions out via the media. The PM wanted the parliament to deal with the citizenship issue by the end of the year; to achieve this, he wanted parliament recalled [$] to deal with any referrals to the High Court just before Christmas. Shorten agreed with the end-of-year deadline, but believed this could be achieved by cutting the 21-day disclosure period the prime minister had proposed to five days, which would allow any referrals to be made within the currently scheduled parliamentary sitting period, at the beginning of December.

After the meeting, at their respective press conferences, Turnbull and Shorten informed us they disagreed about this, in the precise terms already publicly reported.

Shorten also said that he wants politicians to have to provide more information than Turnbull has suggested, including actual proof that they have investigated their citizenship status.

The motives of both leaders are pretty clear. Both men want the issue dealt with this year – Turnbull because he needs his government to move past this mess as soon as possible, and Shorten because he’d like an election sooner rather than later. Similarly, Turnbull does not want to spend a week of parliament fending off the chaos that will occur after disclosures are made – he’d much rather it happen on a single day just before Christmas, when voters’ attention is elsewhere. Shorten wants the opposite: as much chaos as possible, for as long as possible, with as big a spotlight as possible.

I’m not surprised there was no agreement today; there is no incentive for the Opposition leader to make this easy. But I’m not sure what will happen next. Turnbull needs a deal, to quieten matters; Shorten may take the chance to look magnanimous, knowing that none of the options are exactly good for Turnbull.

Meanwhile, the saga about actual, specific MPs goes on and on. Yesterday, it seemed Liberal MP John Alexander would confirm his citizenship status soon, because his office said as much [$]. Last night, it seemed as though he wouldn’t be in any rush. There are new questions about existing doubts focused on another Liberal MP. Doubts were raised about Labor’s checking processes, and Shorten wasn’t entirely reassuring when asked today about Labor MPs in question.

So both sides have problems to deal with, and both may have to fight unexpected by-elections to retain MPs.

That said, there is one persistent problem for the government in all this. It’s widely acknowledged that this is not a good look, that the government needs “clear air” to talk about things that “matter to voters”. And that’s true.

But the bigger problem, to my mind, is not so much the government’s inability to talk about important things; it’s the fact it prevents the government from actually doing those important things. No doubt Turnbull is doing his best behind closed doors – but imagine how much time the citizenship mess is taking right now, how much energy is going into the political wargaming. If Shorten was really cunning, that’s the argument he’d put to the prime minister: Get this done in early December, mate. You want to launch into 2018 with both guns blazing? You’re going to need those last few weeks in December for thinking about actual policy. Because if there’s still any chance of you winning, that’s how it’ll be done.

Somehow, I doubt the chats between the two men are quite that friendly. 

Writing this column has been an honour and a joy, but it’s time for me to do something else. At the end of the year I’ll be leaving The Monthly Today to focus on some longer pieces. If you have any interest in replacing me, we’re now advertising the position. In the meantime, thanks so much for reading. 

In other news



The exhausting omnipotence of Drake

Anwen Crawford

“Drake sets his various pleas to lovely vocal melodies, but you wouldn’t say that he has a great voice. Drake has a Drake voice. Once you’ve heard it, you can’t mistake it – he has a certain nasality of tone – but you’d be hard-pressed to remember it if Drake was only singing in the subway. Drake is worth US$90 million, according to Forbes magazine. A lot of that money comes from touring. Drake tours Australia this month: a general admission ticket within shouting distance of the stage will set you back more than $400, which is no longer an unusual price to pay for the privilege of attending a concert by an A-list performer. ‘Long as the outcome is income,’ Drake once rapped, while boasting – and also complaining – about his tax bracket. Drake’s voice is as ordinary as tax.”read on


Liveworks in review: ambitious, engrossing

The annual festival of experimental art energised Sydney’s Carriageworks over ten days

Fiona McGregor

“As night fell, the performers got more feral, stopping to rub their arses on tree trunks, or pull their pants down and squat in the bushes. At one stage, our group engulfed a man walking his dog; with no idea what was going on, infected by the humour, he stayed for a while. A smart, funny experiment in flocking, [Lz Dunn’s] Aeon showed how easily we follow, and stick together. The soundtrack was an intriguing mix of bird calls and city noise, but performances that rely on technology always risk losing a key component: my speaker wouldn’t have been the only one to conk out well before the end.”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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