Monday, August 21, 2017

Today by Sean Kelly

Entirely foreseeable problems
Another predictably bad day for the government


Round and round and round we go.

In a time of depressing sameness, there was one shift today. Newspoll, stuck for weeks and weeks at 47–53 in Labor’s favour, shifted a notch [$]. It’s now 46–54 in Labor’s favour.

This is mildly significant because it was beginning to be puzzling, this refusal of polling numbers to shift further towards the Opposition even in the midst of Coalition chaos. A fortnight ago, I wrote that it should provide some hope for Malcolm Turnbull: that voters, however disillusioned they became with his government, refused to more strongly move towards embracing Shorten Labor. That this provided some grounds for a recovery.

But it now looks as though Labor’s dam wall may have broken. This week’s poll shows Labor’s primary vote up two points, to 38, which is its highest level since November last year. The difference is that in November the Coalition also had a primary of 38. That has dropped now to 35. It looks like One Nation has taken most of that vote.

But – and picture me yelling this – this is just one poll. Given how long the polls have been stagnant, I think the observation is worth making, but really, until a few more weeks have passed, we won’t know whether it’s a trend.

Still, I’d rather be asking that question from Bill Shorten’s perspective than Turnbull’s. And recent Essential polls would not give the government solace.

If the numbers this week do lead us towards any conclusion, surely it is to the common sense notion that the past month, and especially the past fortnight, have been absolutely bloody awful for the government.

So, naturally, it made sense that said government would continue along that path today.

After Attorney-General George Brandis yesterday declared he would not be “tricked” by Tony Abbott into arguing the marriage debate on all sorts of crazy topics that had nothing to do with marriage, Abbott, predictably, popped up to announce that in fact the marriage debate encompassed more crazy topics than anybody had ever imagined.

Did you know, for example [$], that “the best way of saying you don’t like the direction our country is headed in right now” is to vote against same-sex marriage?

Did you know, also, that this vote was actually about whether adoption agencies would have to close? (By the way, this is one of those claims responsible media organisations might want to check before repeating it without stating the actual facts. Some Catholic adoption agencies in the UK did close, but that pre-dated changes to marriage laws by several years. People on either side of this debate shouldn’t get away with making demonstrably false claims.)

Abbott wasn’t the only one leaning into battle. Conservative ministers Zed Seselja and Angus Taylor joined in, saying Brandis was wrong, and religious freedoms were an important part of this debate. As a bonus, Abbott’s sister Christine Forster took her brother down, as she has become quite skilled at doing (or perhaps she has always been good at this – oh for a ringside Christmas seat).

Anyway, all of this is predictable. It’s also hard to say, from a government standpoint, that any of these MPs are doing anything they shouldn’t be. It was the government that wanted a plebiscite, and whatever form that vote took, postal or physical, it was always going to involve ministers making public arguments. And given they are ministers in the government of Australia, this was always going to look messy, rather like the government was spending months arguing with itself, which, in fact, it is.

This marriage debate will be hard fought.

Some advocates for same-sex marriage might be tempted to relax off the back of numbers today [$] showing most Australians support equality, and that most Australians “definitely will” vote, and that most people who say they will vote will vote yes. But I’m doubtful that quite that many people will in fact vote. It sounds virtuous, to say you’ll vote, and it is easier to say than do. Also worth noting is that same poll found most Australians want religious protections in place, and that this is precisely the argument Abbott and others are running as a reason to vote no.

The prime minister did the right thing, politically, once parliament had adjourned, announcing what sounded like sensible measures, worked on for some time, to protect people from terrorism in crowded places. He got straight back into governing.

But today showed, yet again, how difficult his task will be for the next while. This plebiscite is going to dominate a lot of media cycles. The Newspoll countdown is relentless. And while many of the government’s misfortunes are not of Turnbull’s making, those two clearly are.

In other news


On the road again

Jen Cloher’s self-titled album is a unique take on the trials of a touring musician

Anwen Crawford

“‘Early morning flight / Press all day / City through a window,’ sings Jen Cloher on ‘Sensory Memory’, from her new, self-titled, album. With an insider’s knowledge, she ticks off the details of touring’s less glamorous side in tight, 14-syllable patterns, delivered in a sing-song melody. Monotony rules. But the song’s disillusionment is complicated by distance.”  READ ON


Religious persecution

Won’t somebody think of the Roman Catholics?

Mungo MacCallum

“You have to pity the poor put-upon Roman Catholics. Not since the time of Emperor Nero have they been forced to suffer such relentless persecution. The entire year has been a constant fight against the ungodly – the insidious humanists, rationalists and secularists (let’s call them what they are: pagan blasphemers) who would deny the Roman Catholics their long-cherished privileges.”  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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