Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Today by Sean Kelly

Time bombs
A day when silly things were said and long-range troubles came into view


Some extraordinary things have been said over the past 24 hours.

This was Barnaby Joyce: “When you talk about ill-discipline because we got a banking royal commission up, it’s something our constituents want. I’m quite happy we got a banking royal commission up. It shows we have the capacity to listen to our constituency, as we should, and deliver for them, as we did. And, you know, that’s a good outcome.”

That is the deputy prime minister – and, obviously, a member of cabinet – saying how happy he is about a banking royal commission that the prime minister explicitly opposed, right up to and including the moment at which he announced it.

Joyce doesn’t so much dismiss the charge of ill-discipline as go all Paul Hogan on it. “That’s not ill-discipline; THIS is ill-discipline.”

Is it lucky or unlucky for Joyce – whose reputation has taken an absolute and deserved pounding in recent months – that he was not the only National drawing attention today?

Bridget McKenzie, deputy to Joyce, told Sky News yesterday, in relation to the reshuffle, “[T]he whole argument about it being about geography is ridiculous.” That ridiculous argument is the one deployed by Joyce to justify demoting respected minister Darren Chester. Oh, and it’s also the argument used by Malcolm Turnbull.

So we have the deputy prime minister saying, Yeah, I’m glad we got one over on the prime minister, and the deputy leader of the Nationals saying both the deputy PM and the PM are telling porkies.

It is a commonplace of politics that discipline is essential right across a party, especially when political recovery is in the process of being attempted. I’ve said before that Turnbull has been poorly served by selfish backbenchers who have insisted on grandstanding. But here we are talking about senior members of the government’s hierarchy.

There is trouble further down, too, with noises about what the demoted National Keith Pitt might do, like start his own party room [$].

It is so hard to tell what we are looking at right now. There are good reasons for the disquiet – the sacking of Chester was foolish, and it amplified the internal frustration with Joyce’s causing a byelection. But there were problems – witness the royal commission – before that. Are the Nationals bickering because they’re exhausted and irritable at the end of a long year? Will they get over it after eating turkey and downing some beers? Or has the junior Coalition partner become a ticking time bomb, destined to explode Malcolm Turnbull’s 2018 hopes?

Speaking of ticking time bombs, one of the features of yesterday’s reshuffle that I missed was Michaelia Cash’s extra duties, including elevation to the powerful expenditure review committee of cabinet [$]. This is interesting given the unanswered questions over the Australian Workers’ Union raids, and even more interesting in light of the federal court’s decision today to allow a search for various documents relating to the raids.

Labor, too, has its share of time bombs, although whether they will go off before the next election is anyone’s guess. A long period of peace in Victoria – Bill Shorten’s home ground – may be coming to an end, or simply tilting in a slightly different direction. Details of the agreement that could bring in the change were obtained by Sharri Markson at the Daily Telegraph [$], which could indicate a willingness by those involved to fight hard and in public. Moving north, Markson also had a “senior NSW ALP source” saying, “There was no one more loyal to Bill than Sam [Dastyari] and now that he’s gone, who is there to hold back the floodgates?”

Labor will be thrilled that Barnaby Joyce was stupid enough to retaliate against Darren Chester for Chester’s work in delivering the deputy leadership to Bridget McKenzie. Joyce’s payback was driven both by a desire for vengeance and the wish to demonstrate his power. But Labor shouldn’t get too cocky: if the NSW right, Dastyari’s faction, decides to make trouble for Shorten, similar motivations will be in play. 

Sean Kelly’s final post for The Monthly Today will be this Friday. The e-newsletter will return, with Paddy Manning, on Monday, 29 January.

In other news


‘Hyper Real’

The visceral National Gallery of Australia exhibition goes beyond verisimilitude to somewhere more challenging

Miriam Cosic

“The ones that linger in the mind tell, or half tell, a story. Tony Matelli’s Josh (2010), suspended centimetres from the ground, is unnerving before one knows the artist’s intention. Is Josh floating? Falling? Circling around him is engaging enough, until one stands directly in front of the eyes: the power with which they hold the viewer’s is unnerving. Sam Jinks’ Woman and Child (2010) is simply beautiful. An elderly white-haired woman, wearing a white shift, holds a baby in her arms: a generation-eliding Madonna and child for our secular times.’’ read on


Queensland. What is it?

To understand the place you must first understand the Bundaberg Bear

John Harms

“Bundy somehow embodies Queensland-ness, and the famous Bundaberg Bear of the TV ads has tapped into that. Understand the leadership provided by the Bundaberg Bear and you will have an idea of Queensland politics. The Bear can handle any situation. He’s smart in the way that is permissible in Queensland. Not Maths I and Physics smart, but people smart. Consider the Swedish-backpackers-camping ad, or the punctured-inflatable-raft-in-the-Whitsundays ad. The Bear knows what Queenslanders want and he knows they’re not exactly sure how to get what they want. So he helps them. They never tell the Bear they think he’s smart. But clearly he’s one of them, they’re thankful to him, and they trust that he has their interests at heart. Just like a Queensland premier.” (October 2005) 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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