Thursday, September 21, 2017

Today by Sean Kelly

The government’s frustration with a messy political landscape is obvious

Source ABC

“Peter Dutton blaming ABC for not giving enough attention to 54 refugees going to US. Should blame Tony Abbott for taking over news cycle.”

That was a tweet from the Australian’s David Crowe, and not only was it a fair point, it accurately summed up this entire week.

You can understand Dutton’s frustration – after more than a year of work, and much-trumpeted delays, the prime minister’s deal with America to take offshore detainees was finally delivering results. So why wasn’t it getting more attention?

It wasn’t the only issue you could have said that about. Dutton had also signalled he was open to shifting on the language requirement of the citizenship test. Being a backdown, this is a little embarrassing for the government, but at least it’s on their preferred battleground.

Or North Korea – a huge international issue, the type of thing that temporarily elevates prime ministers to statespeople, and a topic on which Malcolm Turnbull has not been afraid to use strong language.

Or, much more significantly, politically speaking, how about the economy? The Reserve Bank of Australia minutes [$] came out this week, suggesting a strengthening jobs market and the approaching conclusion of the grim “adjustment to the end of the mining boom” phase. Then the assistant governor at the Reserve Bank, Luci Ellis, said [$] she expected the global expansion of the economy to continue, and that this would help the Australian economy as well. (The RBA was much less upbeat about wages growth.)

The PM is getting better at saying such things in interviews, too. He has begun regularly to hammer his line about “half a million more Australians are in a job than there were two years ago, and 80 per cent of those are full time jobs”. He repeats his point about “jobs and growth” not being a slogan, but an outcome. That got ridiculed in parliament – because obviously it is a slogan. But that’s the point. If you’ve got a problem, hang a lantern on it. Turnbull knows people hear the line and tune out: he has to concede as much, then use it to make his case.

And so, bit by bit, interview by interview, Turnbull is getting his message out.

But it’s still not what most people are hearing. Crowe was right that Tony Abbott had temporarily taken over the media cycle. Yet Abbott is not the only culprit. Today it was Malcolm Roberts, the One Nation senator facing dual citizenship doubts. This would be a sideshow, except for the fact that the fate of Turnbull’s government is bound up in related cases.

And over and above both of those is the marriage debate. Every day, another deluge. Today there was Cory Bernardi lamely attacking a South Australian primary school fundraiser that had nothing to do with his claims of “gender morphing”. There was Jennifer Westacott, the head of the Business Council, going in hard – and eloquently – for “Yes”. All week there has been a drumbeat on mental health concerns for LGBTIQ Australians. There was the Roger Corbett trainwreck. The Australian Bureau of Statistics on vote-tampering.

Perhaps this will fade away over time. There was always going to be a rush when ballots first went out. There will be another as the final date to get ballots in approaches, and of course as the date for the announcement of results draws close. But even a quietening of the current volume will leave the debate fairly loud.

This has been Turnbull’s reality for quite a while now: Abbott, marriage, dual citizens. Abbott, marriage, dual citizens.

The Guardian pointed out that Dutton was wrong about the ABC, by the way. He’d accused the station of not running the US refugee deal story when, in fact, it had. But what this tells you is that the government is frustrated, immensely. You can see this, too, in the way Turnbull has dealt with some questions in recent months.

It should find some other way of dealing with that frustration. The dual citizenship fiasco has weeks to run. The marriage debate, almost two months. And Tony Abbott isn’t going anywhere – plus he’s getting louder.

The government is not about to find clear air. It must find a way to operate without it.

In other news


Understanding Vivian Maier

In a world obsessed with sharing images, what should we make of a street photographer who hoarded them?

Matthew Clayfield

“There’s no getting around the fact that the story behind the work, with its air of mystery and its unanswered questions, has played as large a role in her posthumous success as the images themselves. How does someone produce such a monumental body of work – 15,000 negatives and change – and let it go unseen for the term of her natural life?” read on


Trans teens

When human nature and the law intersect

Jenan Taylor

“She’d dreaded the idea of going through the court process again. Their first experience with it, when they’d secured Georgie’s access to puberty blockers in 2011, was, Carol says, nothing short of adversarial. ‘Watching strangers make decisions for your own child is the very definition of powerlessness. As a parent, I’m fully capable of making difficult decisions, but because she is transgender [I’m] considered incapable of doing that.’” (May 2016) 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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