Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Today by Sean Kelly


Free advice
Another day lost to troublesome government MPs

Supplied by ABC News

Peter Dutton said something late last week that struck me with its plain-spoken appeal to the common sense of his conservative colleagues.

“I offer my frank advice, I argue with the prime minister, he argues with me behind the scenes about different policies or decisions that the government might make. I support him 100% because I believe Bill Shorten would be a disaster for this country.”

It’s true that’s not a glowing recommendation of Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership. But it achieves three things. First, Dutton is honest and upfront about the arguments he has with the PM. This is the type of thing we don’t usually hear in the over-sculpted sound bites of politicians.

Second, it affirms the principle that it is possible to argue with your colleagues, before presenting a united front to the world. That’s the way cabinet, and to a lesser extent government, is supposed to work.

Finally, Dutton nails what so many of his colleagues have obviously forgotten, or decided not to care about: that if they don’t right now give Turnbull their full support, then very soon they will find themselves in Opposition.

For all of the mistakes you can pin on Turnbull, there’s no doubt he’s working hard. Take a look at the PM’s (recently refurbished) website. He has turned up to a lot of events lately, given a lot of interviews, made a number of announcements. But most of those announcements are overtaken by frustrations foisted on him by his own MPs. Many of those interviews see him questioned about things he’d rather avoid.

Today is just one of many days that could stand as a symbol for the recent fortunes of this government. The marriage bill – which Turnbull sees as a significant success – continued to work its way through the Senate. Attempts at moving various amendments were defeated, meaning that all the foreshadowed chaos of this debate has so far come to nothing. Attorney-General George Brandis gave an emotional speech, speaking of what this will mean for young LGBTQI  people, which attracted praise from every quarter. This could easily have been a good day for the government. 

But elsewhere, Liberal senator Ian Macdonald decided to deliver an almost comically sustained analysis of Turnbull’s political troubles [$]. People don’t know what he stands for, Macdonald said. “It doesn’t come across. It seems to a lot of people, a lot of people where I come from, Malcolm tries to pick the issues that everybody likes.” Country people “see him as a city person with city values”. Votes were being lost to other conservative parties. Changing from Tony Abbott to Turnbull had been “the start of a disaster”.

That was the entrée. Main course: a second Nationals MP all but confirmed he would happily cross the floor to vote with the Opposition to establish a banking inquiry. There were even suggestions the Nationals party room might change position, either to allow a free vote on the issue, or to offer complete support.

Because this situation has unfolded over so many days now, it’s possible to forget what a big deal that would be. Here was the PM, last week, on the Today Show:

Karl Stefanovic: But let's make it simple, just to write that one off. While you are PM, under your watch, there will be no banking royal commission?

Prime minister: Karl, there is not going to be a banking royal commission and look, can I just say Karl, the reason for that is that banking royal commission is a long inquiry, it's very expensive. But it doesn't do anything other than write a report. What governments have to do is take action.

It really does not come clearer than that. The PM has said something won’t happen; government MPs are determined to make sure it does. (I should note that what will happen is actually a commission of inquiry, but really this is a royal commission in all but name. The PM might try to argue the technicality but he will be laughed at if he does.)

That said, there was a sign today that the banking inquiry bill may yet fail to pass, for the unexpected reason that the Greens are backing away from it. Their argument is that it’s not as strong as they would like, that it’s a half-hearted attempt that does only some of what needs to be done. The PM may yet get past this latest mess, but it will be thanks to his enemies, not his friends.

And so we have another day that looks like so many other days. The PM, in among his errors, is getting some things right. The government is trucking on. But government MPs don’t care about the prime minister’s efforts to save them. If anyone is going to save the government, it will be them! And so they criticise the prime minister publicly, in the hope that it will help him learn the error of his ways. They vote against the government, in the hope that it will help the government learn what it must do. They leak against their colleagues, in the hope that their colleagues will heed the free advice. Malcolm Turnbull may be defeated in the end, but it won’t be their fault – they’ve been trying to save the government at every turn. If only the prime minister had shut up and listened!


In other news


POLITICS

Once upon a time in the West

Conservatives pine for the days of unapologetic cultural supremacism. Do they really know what they’re getting themselves into?

Richard Cooke

“Fears about culture have long offered a veneer for fears about foreigners. It was exactly ‘culturist’ concerns, for instance, that made Australia decline Jewish refugees at the Evian Conference in 1938; in fact, most modern migration movements have been met with a similar response at one time or another, by everyone from Enoch Powell to Geoffrey Blainey. These objections can be dismissed as simply a more palatable form of racism, or even an exercise in projection. After all, Western hegemonic power has not been sapped by humanities graduates writing woke reviews of Wonder Woman, but rather by military failure in Iraq and Afghanistan. So too Christianity’s moral authority in the West has been undermined less by some Gramscian ‘long march through the institutions’ than by prodigious quantities of church child molestation.” read on


ART

Reflection on a reflection in Jenny Watson’s ‘The Fabric of Fantasy’

This retrospective raises questions about how consciousness affects memory and experience

Kali Myers

“Until fairly recently, nostalgia was considered a disease. It was associated with soldiers and understood as a manic melancholia directed towards a specific object. Until the 19th century, nostalgia was unequivocally understood as a negative. More recently, however, psychologists have suggested that nostalgia can have positive impacts on individuals and societies. It encourages empathy and kindness in children, can help trauma victims reorient themselves towards positive memories, and can instil within an individual a profound, if fleeting, feeling of joy. At the same time, nostalgia on a larger scale is prone to tribalism and is often the driving force of nationalist narratives. A volatile element, nostalgia must be properly bottled, served and consumed: too much of it can lead one awry. In The Fabric of Fantasy, it is not easy to identify nostalgia as a positive or negative force.” READ ON

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for Fairfax and a former adviser to Labor prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

@mrseankelly

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