Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Today by Sean Kelly

A quiet day, slightly spoiled
Citizenship dramas bubbled along, but not much else


Today was one of those treasures that have lately become rare, and therefore delightful beyond all understanding: a quiet day in federal politics.

There’s been some pressure in recent days on Bill Shorten to release documents proving he has, as he has said, renounced his British citizenship, with some Liberal ministers (though no one in the cabinet) demanding that he do so.

The prime minister has not repeated the demands [$], though. Nor did Christopher Pyne, when asked. The attorney-general, George Brandis, has said [$] the onus should be on anybody wishing to show that somebody is not qualified to sit in parliament, and not on those already elected.

It is, in other words, a classic low-road high-road tactic: send out the attack dogs and let the most senior colleagues keep their noses daintily in the air.

Still, my feeling is that we should be glad Turnbull et al are taking the approach they are. Parliament has descended far enough into chaos without (other, non-Kiwi-based) conspiracy theories chewing up time. And the principle, which Shorten keeps coming back to, is a fair one: MPs should not have to disprove every cock-and-bull theory put up to them. Innocent until proven guilty is a high standard and therefore reserved for the courts, but innocent until some solid evidence suggests otherwise is the minimum we should hope for in public life. If the higher reaches of government are sanctioning the attacks they should call them off, whatever their tactical merits. (I know, I’m hopelessly naive.)

That said, there are still good reasons for a universal parliamentary audit. Some MPs in recent weeks have been willing to brazenly make statements about their citizenship that turn out to be untrue. It is now clear that there are some rules, in some countries, about which nobody seems to have had a very clear idea. In other words, there’s a systemic issue here. And while right now it feels like the High Court will make a decision and that will be the end of it, why should that actually be the case? If the court finds some MPs ineligible, then surely the hunt for other rogue MPs will go on until the next election. Of course, it’s possible the court findings bring down the government and there is an election, in which case I think you’d be safe in saying people will damn well have their citizenship papers in order before nominating.

There’s also a good argument against an audit, which is that an inquiry like that – every single one of our MPs asked to prove they can sit in parliament – would make us look like a joke. Of course, the current situation, too, makes us look like a joke.

Bit of a lose-lose situation, if you ask me.

Anyway, I’m wasting time. Today was one of those rare things, a quiet day in federal politics, and I really shouldn’t do anything to spoil it.

In other news


Wonder, invention, anger and dejection

‘Defying Empire: 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial’ at Canberra’s National Gallery of Australia

Sebastian Smee

“Thank God, then, for art. Defying Empire is full of beautifully made things, sharp indictments and life-affirming declarations, almost all of which provide a necessary human dimension to tired public abstractions, and correctives to ingrained habits of thought. The ambivalence of the great symbolic victory of 1967 helps account for the bittersweet tone of much of the work.”  READ ON


Bannon, Trump and ‘Devil’s Bargain’

Joshua Green chronicles Steve Bannon’s rise to prominence – and offers an insight into what he might be capable of now

Elle Hardy

“There is nothing quite like watching history unfurl before you, and as I scribbled notes last Friday on Joshua Green’s biography of Steve Bannon, Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, my attention briefly wandered to Twitter, only to find out Bannon had just been fired as Donald Trump’s chief strategist in the White House.”  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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