Monday, October 30, 2017

Today by Sean Kelly

Destructive distractions
We are witnessing the chaos everyone predicted

Supplied by ABC News

You’ve been hearing for months that the government risked looking mighty distracted by both the same-sex marriage survey and the dual citizenship debacle. Well, this is what that looks like.

The West Australian reports today that some conservative MPs are looking at amendments to the proposed marriage equality bill put together by Liberal senator Dean Smith. How many amendments, I hear you ask. Oh, not too many. Just … up to 100. Don’t worry too much, though – there could be as few as 60.

Oh, also, we will not in fact be getting a deputy prime minister until the Barnaby Joyce byelection is over. That doesn’t really matter, but along with the fact that Malcolm Turnbull couldn’t for quite some time after the High Court decision confirm who would even be acting PM in his absence (it will be Julie Bishop) it’s a good illustration of the chaos and petty debates [$] that too often infect the Coalition behind closed doors.

Not just behind closed doors. Barnaby Joyce, who should probably be feeling a little embarrassed by his failure to do the proper paperwork on his own citizenship, has instead been taking aim at his Coalition partners [$]. “The only reason you are in government is because the National Party held all their seats and won one (more). Otherwise, you would not have to have this discussion because you would be in what you call the opposition.”

This is a fairly stupid thing to say. It might be true, but so are these statements: the Nationals would be in opposition if the Liberals hadn’t won as many seats as they did; the Nationals would probably be in opposition if Liberal MPs hadn’t decided to oust Tony Abbott; the Nationals’ insistence that Turnbull stick to certain conditions as part of the secret Coalition agreement hasn’t done him any favours.

But putting that aside, the greater point here is that the Nationals and the Liberals are being destructively difficult with each other. There is also the fact that Turnbull vaguely flagged possible constitutional changes, then George Brandis said nup, then Joyce flagged them again. Then there are the other difficult considerations [$] Turnbull will have to make about his cabinet, relating to state-based balances and other number games. 

The bright side of all this for the prime minister is that it is distracting from other things which are … not good.

Like the fact that after asking Indigenous people what they wanted out of constitutional recognition, Turnbull last week turned around and said, “Thanks for your input, but we won’t be taking your advice.” Huh?

There were dialogues around the country held with Indigenous people, including traditional owner groups, community organisations, and individuals. Those dialogues then led to the Uluru meeting, out of which came the Uluru Statement from the Heart, a plainly beautiful document that deserves its place in this nation’s history. From that came the recommendations of the Referendum Council, of which there were two central ones: legislated (not constitutional) recognition of Indigenous people, and a referendum to enshrine in the constitution a Voice to Parliament representing Indigenous people.

In his statement, the prime minister rejected the Voice to Parliament, saying it would be seen as a “third chamber” and somehow compromise the idea that all Australians were equally represented in the parliament. It is possible to debate the idea – the council itself noted disagreements within the Indigenous community – but Turnbull’s statement was a deliberate misrepresentation of the proposal. It was not intended to have veto power over legislation, which would continue to be produced the way it is right now. The “third chamber” argument – made months ago by Barnaby Joyce and denied immediately – was always a furphy, and the PM should not have relied upon it.

Another central argument Turnbull made was that Australians would never back such a voice in a referendum. The first point to make is that Turnbull has not proved himself an adept judge of what Australians do and do not want. The second is that bipartisan support for such a voice may well have been persuasive. The third is that polling today suggests Australians are in favour of the proposal. I have always been sceptical of single-issue polls, but it at least throws doubt on the PM’s certainty.

There is also chaos this week at Manus Island, where Australia’s detention centre was supposed to close tomorrow. Peter Dutton concedes that is unlikely to happen. The Papua New Guinea government is urging Australia to find a solution, while refugee advocates warn of the possibility of violence.

The final matter Turnbull should be glad he has been able to ignore is the Michaelia Cash debacle. I thought Labor let him off the hook in parliament last Thursday; there must be some journalists itching to ask the tricky questions about who knew what when. So far, understandably, the attention has been on Joyce. Turnbull will be hoping it never swerves back.

Oh, and the Queensland election has kicked off, and who knows what the repercussions of that will be. Plus there’s another bad Newspoll [$] out today.

Turnbull will not be happy about the Joyce debacle, nor about his scheming conservative MPs. But even were they to vanish suddenly from the picture, there would be enough to keep him, and his critics, awfully busy.

In other news



A travesty of process

The same-sex marriage survey sets a dangerous precedent

Judith Brett

Once, the defence of Australia’s traditions of parliamentary democracy was the core of the Liberal Party’s conservative mission, but no longer. To appease conservative Liberals preoccupied with defending traditional marriage practices, the Coalition cabinet has foisted on the country a hybrid survey/vote that is a travesty of Australia’s democratic electoral traditions. It is a worrying development, no matter what the result, as it displays the authoritarian’s willingness to bend the rules of the game to achieve outcomes prevented by accepted political and legal processes.” read on


Trump and Russia: a guide for the bewildered

A fuller story of relations between the Russian government and the Trump campaign is only now coming to light

Robert Manne

“In early August 2016 the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) hand-delivered a sealed report on Russian election interference that it demanded only US president Barack Obama and three of his aides should see. The report informed the president of the CIA’s conclusion that Putin was personally directing Russia’s attempt to influence the outcome of the presidential election. It now believed that Putin’s objective was, in the words of the Post, ‘to disrupt and discredit the US presidential race’ and to  ‘defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump’. Presumably because the intelligence was based in part on a human source or human sources inside the Kremlin, its distribution in the White House was so secret that protocols developed while the raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout was being planned were followed. Not all intelligence agencies at first accepted the CIA’s conclusion. By September they did.” 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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