The jig is up by 5:00 PM Thursday. Canberra’s Liberal Party drovers, dog handlers and the capital’s baggage handlers are stunned to discover that the government’s much vaunted “strong working majority” is no majority at all when self-styled Liberal leadership contender Peter Dutton and several other MPs enact their commitment to smaller government by leaving the House of Representatives early, causing riotous disarray and ignominious defeat – followed by a frenzied volley of finger-pointing.
Welcome to Calamity Turnbull’s 45th parliament of chaos and catastrophe.
Bored to tears, baffled by the lack of any team plan, Immigration Minister “Spud” Dutton, Justice Minister Michael “Fibs” Keenan and Social Services Minister Christian “War on the Poor” Porter and a few other battle-weary MPs, steal away from the chamber early, allowing Labor to defeat an adjournment motion and to present its full case for a Royal Commission into the banks, a hot button electoral issue which has already passed the Senate earlier that day.
All is not quite as it seems. The Mouth that Roars, Christopher Pyne, has given Monkey Pod Supremo “Spud” Dutton permission to bail out early. God knows why. Presumably the human life preserver has more drownings to prevent. Or a new Manus to manufacture. Perhaps Spud’s planning a bit of urgent follow-up on the 2000 recently leaked Nauru incident reports.
It’s a tad embarrassing. A majority government trading on its stability loses control of parliament for the first time since windy Pig Iron Bob Menzies fifty years ago, a PM who also lost the support of the Liberal party room, for all his speechifying, his insufferable egoism and his union-bashing.
“A government which cannot run parliament cannot run the country,” crows Labor in a dig at Pyne who made this claim repeatedly in opposition to Julia Gillard’s successful minority government.
Who is running the Turnbull government? Upstaged by its own arrogance, its complacency and its utter disorganisation, the government, according to the AFR’s headmistress Laura Tingle, is acting as if it “doesn’t give a rat’s” about its prospects. She’s referring to Cory Bernardi’s stunt in getting up a senate backbench mutiny against Calamity Turnbull on 18 C but it’s surely something broader. A mania for self-destruction sweeps the parliamentary Liberal party.
Perhaps the Libs are still in shock; paralytic after their near-defeat. Two months’ preparation and great expense, not to mention the odd crate of Grange, has gone into failing to plan for something Blind Freddy could have foreseen. A small fortune is outlaid on party Whips and on Leader of the House, Christopher Finger-point Pyne to prevent such mishaps – not to flap his gums on the Today Show about Labor’s stunt.
Peter Hartcher calls for Pyne to go but that would wreck Lucy’s seating plan at Point Piper’s select inner circle dinners: Pyne is her husband’s chief cup bearer. Above all other sycophants, even Sinodinos and Brandis, Pyne has a gift for telling his prince what he wants to hear.
Nola Marino, enigmatic, self-effacing Chief government whip, who won her preselection for the WA seat of Forrest with Turnbull’s backing is paid $250,790, an extra 26%, to enforce party discipline while “The Fixer” Pyne gains an extra 75% salary loading for his role as Leader of the House, boosting his salary to $348,320 or enough to give a year’s New Start to twenty-five unemployed car workers.
Perhaps it’s not enough. Certainly leadership and discipline are missing in action on Thursday, something no amount of recrimination and blame can alter even if they play well on television.
The Coalition loses a series of votes before Dutton and Porter are hauled back cursing into the Chamber as the motion comes to a final vote. Crossbenchers Andrew Wilkie and Rebecca Sharkie vote with Labor. The vote is 71-71. Speaker Tony Smith follows convention to side with Labor enabling Labor to put the Opposition case for a Royal Commission at length.
In shock and awe over the inexplicable malfunction of the party’s well-oiled machinery, Liberals fall back on their strongest suit; blame, a fail-safe device which allows master tactician, Pyne to continue to draw a salary only $160,000 less than his prime minister.
Pyne’s has the PM’s backing. Turnbull quickly steps up to tell anyone who might believe him that his favourite is not to blame, a theme his minister and inner circle confidante is always quick to inspire. The former Education Minister consults his lesson plan.
A man yet to be introduced to shame, Pyne tells Channel Nine the Liberals were up for a bit of discovery learning: “What happened late yesterday afternoon was a stuff up and those people who weren’t there obviously they learnt a valuable lesson.”
In brief, the blame lies with them, not him. Pyne doesn’t repeat his line from opposition that Menzies resigned after three defeats in the House. Turnbull would have only two losses left.
No less valuable, and uniquely excited to be Australia’s PM Malcolm “blithe excitement” Turnbull lectures his errant ministers for their “complacency” in leaving early, from the heights of his own unassailable smugness and superiority. Had he not given the party the immaculate gift of himself? A reprimand will surely bring them to heel – and deflect from his own incompetence.
Liberal party helicopter duenna now authority on self-restraint and political propriety, Bronwyn Bishop gives her former colleagues, her own inimitable brand of tongue-lash and finger-wag. The former speaker tells Sky News that Liberal complacency must be rectified right now. She’s about to work her nemesis Tony Abbott into the blame zone but she’s cut short. Besides, Abbott is smirking like a Zen Ninja at Calamity Mal’s latest collision with reality.
Abbott taps his moment of satori to recycle a Norman Lamont line from 1993 that the Liberal Party is “in office but not in power.” Someone looked that up for him on Google. A master of mayhem or perhaps a black belt, he knows he can laugh. Fairfax’s Adam Gartrell comments,
“Abbott’s government was an incompetent mess from top to bottom; a circus that lurched from one self-inflicted crisis to another until it finally tore itself apart. But at least it never lost a vote in the house.”
Greg, “Wikipedia” Hunt, stung by Bronnie’s bromide Googles complacency. It’s no help. Rectifying or removing the complacency of the party of the born to rule may prove even trickier than paying polluters to clean up their act.
Complacency underpins Liberal policy from climate to its economic world view to its strategy. Complacency was the party’s only coherent game plan in its last long election. Hunt goes back to his big new statement on Science he has warned us all is imminent. His job is done.
The parliament is already undone. The government is being pushed under its own Omnibus by a bill which doubtless looked a ripper in planning at Point Piper but turns out to be an utter turkey in terms of tactics. The Coalition’s 26 bills in the first week stunt is designed to make it look as if it has a plan but it will all go to hell when things stall, as they must, in the senate.
The plebiscite hoax is clearly going nowhere. A by-product of “lying rodent” John Howard’s 2004 ramming through of a narrowing of the definition of marriage to exclude same sex couples, it is another legacy, along with babies overboard and the ripping apart of social safety nets; the war on families, of the “Howard’s” ten years of making Australia a smaller, meaner society, a trend which his successors so avidly follow.
There’s always the Coalition war on workers but you can’t bash the unions senseless every session. What do they do now?
Luckily a diversion is always at hand. Cory Barnyard Bernardi, who was stood down four years ago for claiming same sex marriage would lead to bestiality, is able to recruit all but one of his party’s senate backbenchers in a push for a private member’s bill to repeal section 18C of the racial vilification act. His bill will not get lower house support. It has no chance of being more than an attention-seeking time waster and a calculated gesture of defiance of his PM.
Our Racial Vilification law was a response to the reports from the 197-1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody but it is today wrongly held by the barking hard right to impede free speech by which they mean the incalculable cruelties of racial abuse which helps cause vulnerable, alienated, marginalised and dispossessed people to take their own lives.
Thursday’s fiasco takes some heat off Sam Dastyari – who, not content with his proposed halal lunch pack date with Pauline Hanson, is now single-handedly about to destroy Australian politics forever by accepting $1670 from a Chinese firm. ABC radio has a week of Sam slamming. Dastyari’s donations become the soft target of the political week. Never to be overlooked, Cory Kung-Fu Panda Bernardi also goes after Dastyari in a campy demon dragon-slaying worthy of Monkey Magic.
Not to be monkeyed with is Foreign Minister show pony Julie Bishop who has links with Chinese businessmen who have donated half a million dollars to the Western Australian division of the Liberal Party during the past two years, despite having no apparent business interests in that state. Naturally overseas donors are not bound by AEC rules of disclosure, an AEC spokesman helpfully points out,
“While the commission can seek compliance, overseas donors cannot be compelled to comply with Australian law when they are not in Australia”.
Yet clearly they expect a little more bang from their bucks. Helpfully, Huang Xiangmo, chairman of property developer Yuhu Group and a big mover in Australian-Chinese business circles – and himself one of Australian politics most generous donors cautions the Chinese community in Australia not to let itself be viewed as little more than a “cash cow” by either of the two federal parties it makes donations to.
Stuart Robert was forced to resign in February over using his office for fund-raising but there’s not a whisper to suggest that Bishop has any explaining to do. Nor does former Trade Minister, Big Spender Andrew Robb whose trade deal in May was the trigger for a Chinese government-backed propaganda unit and a swag of companies that stand to gain from the China Australia Free Trade Agreement to invest over half a million dollars of political donations in Victoria.
Instead Robb, veteran of the long Yum cha gets the nod to do the Liberals’ review of their election disaster in which Turnbull will be found entirely blameless. Their failure will be found to have been caused by Labor’s illegal Medicare scare tactics.
Yet Robb will be sorely taxed by his task. Apart from his rewriting history challenge, he will be greatly exercised choosing where to invest his fee least he fall foul of the proposed super changes.
Robb figures if he waits a few weeks Mad Dog Morrison will have watered the changes down as the IPA has dictated. In the meantime, however, he’s tasked with an impossibility. Reviewing the Liberals’ last election disaster will be like nailing a jelly to a wall.
Jelly? That’s it. Call in Matt Cormann. His wibble wobble jelly routine is a standout routine and will stand him in good stead should he have to seek real employment in commercial media. Yet, sadly, like everything else this week it’s ineffectual. Labor’s not a jelly on a plate. It’s disciplined. It knows minority government and it has big win in the first week. Even name-calling has to fit.
The PM’s off on his summit season junket which includes a meeting with what some wag is bound to call the G 19.5 in honour of Australia’s less than full-blooded presence. Stand by for some rhetoric worthy of Menzies. Yet even a “put your money back in your pocket and get off those islands in South The China Sea” spray from Mal won’t turn the tsunami like tide of his domestic failure. Week one of the forty-fifth parliament is a washout. His career is wrecked.
Happily, Calamity Turnbull is able to leave the ship of state in safe hands. Johnny Depp’s nemesis, Barnaby part-tomato Joyce is rising to the occasion already by promising never to leave early again. What could possibly go wrong?