The Politics    Thursday, June 29, 2017

Politics or Pell?

By Sean Kelly

Source
The daily tussle can distract us from much bigger changes in society

There’s been a lot of political gossip-mongering this week. An abundance of quiet phone calls to journalists. A veritable mountain range of speculation.

All of this matters, insofar as it is becoming increasingly likely to lead to the ultimate downfall of Malcolm Turnbull.

One of the calls in recent days that I haven’t yet dwelled upon is the demand by conservatives for a reshuffle of Turnbull’s ministry. Send George Brandis overseas, they say. Take away Christopher Pyne’s parliamentary job. Promote more conservatives. Give Tony Abbott a cabinet spot, even if he might not deserve it, they stage whisper.

I don’t want to spend any more time on this other than to say: don’t do it, Malcolm. Reshuffles always seem like a good idea. Journalists will throw around words like “refresh” and “renewal” and “energy”, quickly followed by “burst”. But they’re almost always very, very bad ideas. You never make friends in politics; you only defer the date on which people become enemies. And a reshuffle mostly speeds that process up. Revenge desires spring up like weeds after rain.

Plus, as others have noted, nothing will satisfy Abbott and his cronies. Throw them a bone and all it will do is give them the scent of blood. Soon enough they’ll come after you for the entire carcass.

As regular readers know, I have long called for Brandis to be sacked. He is a terrible politician and a worse attorney-general. Today there’s this. So my plea for Turnbull to wait is not made lightly. Brandis is a liability, but not as much as a reshuffle would be right now.

The other thing I should mention is that Pyne apologised last night for his leaked comments. The idea that Pyne should apologise – as opposed to the person that recorded Pyne then leaked the tape and all the people who have tacitly given approval to those low acts by capitalising on them is ridiculous. But that’s where we are.

All of this political scurrying is likely to fade, soon, for a little bit. We’re not at the peak quite yet, but rather in the cyclical section where crisis comes and goes. Partly, too, a much bigger news story has come along: the charging of George Pell, Vatican official and Australia’s most senior Catholic, with historical sexual assault offences.

He has only been charged, and we have no idea what will happen in court. Pell has denied everything and pledged to defend himself strongly.

It is days like this that remind you that day-to-day politicking plays a very quiet second fiddle to structural forces in society. It is hard to imagine someone of Pell’s stature even being charged several decades ago.

This is wrapped up with many other changes. A greater awareness of the social prevalence of sexual assault. Changes to our police forces. A disentangling of various institutions from one another.

Prime among these changes is the shrinking role of religion in both private and public life. This week, census results showed that those holding no religion had overtaken Catholics as the top religious category in Australia. This trend is likely to increase.

This will have many impacts over time, and it is difficult to guess at what they will all be. Certainly, the gradual secularisation of our society has contributed to national policy debates over marriage, euthanasia and abortion. In the past week the prime minister succeeded in introducing a new schools funding deal that saw the amount of funding going to Catholic schools decrease when compared to what the sector expected. That, too, was quite recently difficult to imagine.

Pyne, Abbott, Brandis and the rest are not unimportant – but there are always much bigger events afoot. The difference is that daily events are immediately visible; the others, only at a distance of decades.

In other news


BOOKS

A novel idea

Álvaro Enrigue’s ‘Sudden Death’ and the nonfiction future of fiction

Matthew Clayfield

“Mexican-born author Álvaro Enrigue is perhaps bolder than any of them, with ambitions sprawling well beyond mere unreliable memoir. But then he’s also the product of a literary tradition in which genre boundaries, especially between fiction and nonfiction, have been porous at least since the beginning of the last century when Jorge Luis Borges started inventing books and authors and quoting them at length.”  READ ON


ARCHIVE

A good hard look at the Greens

What did the party deliver?

Paddy Manning

“Like the other major parties, the Greens are deeply divided by factions. The Greens’ left, concentrated in New South Wales, is deeply ambivalent about winning seats, particularly if it means compromising on policy. Its leaders openly deride the idea that the Greens could ever win government, and aren’t sure it’s worth trying. ‘Party of protest’ fits just fine. As NSW senator Lee Rhiannon told me, ‘Social change doesn’t happen because an MP introduces a bill.’” (August 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.

@mrseankelly

The Politics

Image of WA Premier Mark McGowan. Image © Richard Wainwright / AAP Images

The gospel according to Mark

Is this the moment WA Premier Mark McGowan goes too far?

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a press conference at Parliament House yesterday. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Forklifters and leaners

Morrison’s ludicrous suggestion that children be used to fill workforce shortages is his most desperate yet

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a press conference at Parliament House today. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

The backpacker solution

The government begs those it abandoned to help it out of a tight spot

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison following a national cabinet meeting last week. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

Living with COVID

In its eagerness to “live with the virus”, did the government anticipate this many Australians dying from it?


From the front page

Image of WA Premier Mark McGowan. Image © Richard Wainwright / AAP Images

The gospel according to Mark

Is this the moment WA Premier Mark McGowan goes too far?

Image of Oliver Twist. Image supplied.

Oliver Twist’s ‘Jali’

With quiet charisma and gentle humour, the Rwandan-Australian performer weaves together vivid autobiographical stories in this one-person show

Image of South Australia Premier Steven Marshall addressing the media during a press conference in Adelaide, August 24, 2021. Image © Morgan Sette / AAP Images

Marshall law

Premier Steven Marshall claimed South Australia was “COVID-ready” when the state opened borders just as Omicron was emerging, but it now faces the same issues as the eastern states

Image of Lisa McCune, Zahra Newman and Peter Carroll appearing on stage in Girl from the North Country. Image © Daniel Boud.

‘Girl from the North Country’

Weaving Bob Dylan songs into a story of Depression-era hardship, Conor McPherson’s musical speaks to the broken America of today