Weekly salon 2/9

1. Washer’s lament – the end of deliberative democracy

Dr Mal Washer was a Liberal member of the Australian House of Representatives from October 1998 to August 2013. While he was there it is said he was doctor to the house, providing medical help and personal counselling to members of parliament.

When Waleed Aly and Scot Stevens spoke to Katharine Murphy about whether the Dutton insurrection was a symptom of how we do politics in Australia, she quoted Washer inter alia. She gave a three-part answer.

First, the major parties once represented stability to the electorate. Not any more. Rather the reverse. What happened is now hard-baked into the system.

Second, what happened coincided with a disruption in the media. With social media and the 24-hour media cycle parliament is now spectacle rather than deliberation.

Third, there is now a cumulative effect of all this instability which is diabolical and extremely stressful for the human beings who play the part of politicians. This was Dr Washer’s insight when she asked him. Politicians no longer trust the system to work. The caucus room was a place where things were worked out. Now politics is hostile territory for human beings. More happens through emotion than through reason.

Murphy said that what was new in this insurrection was that people are still confused about what happened and why, and there was complete enervation and exhaustion as a result.

I’m disappointed that, once again, people were looking at the behaviour of the Liberal-Nationals and assuming it applies to “both sides”. This can be seen by their dating the beginning of the modern phenomenon constant decapitation of leaders with Malcolm Turnbull deposing Brendan Nelson.

On the Labor side we had after Keating, Beazely for a while, then in quick order we had Simon Crean, Mark Latham, Kim Beazley again, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and again Kevin Rudd. When Rudd was defeated at election on 7 September 2013, Bill Shorten “subsequently gained 63.9% of the party caucus vote and 40.8% of the rank-and-file members’ vote, which when weighted equally gave Shorten a 52.02% victory over Albanese.”

Has anyone noticed that Labor has had the same leader for nearly five years? And have been working steadily on policy ever since?

All we need is for the Liberals to introduce democracy into their leadership election process and we can all return to sanity. If there are enough sane Liberals left.

2. Too hot in the kitchen?

Then get out. That appeared to be the official reaction to the matter from Michael Kroger of the Victorian Liberal Party.

Geoff Kennett said that if Julia Banks said she had been bullied, then she had been bullied, and it shouldn’t happen. He regretted her loss as she had skills and knowledge not possessed by other MPs.

    Victorian Liberal MP Julia Banks, the only Liberal to win a seat from Labor at the 2016 election, announced this week that she won’t contest the next election – citing bullying, intimidation and harassment generally, and particularly through last week’s leadership turmoil.

    Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he’ll have no truck with such thuggish behaviour.

    “One of the things we are moving quickly to do is ensure we restore that strong culture in the Liberal Party and bring the party together and show the stability and unity that is necessary, that Australians are looking to me to provide,” he said.

That was from Karen Middleton at The Saturday Paper.

Wikipedia says:

    Political journalist Malcolm Farr described Banks’ announcement as a “blistering farewell” that gives “an indication of the heavy toll this week of chaos and political thuggery will have on the [Liberal] party.” He went on to state that the anti-Turnbull plotters employed “a strategy of bullying and intimidation” and have been “eventually proved to have an incompetence to match their brutality [and are] a disaster for the parliamentary party.”

Banks fingered Labor for pursuing her over her possible Greek citizenship, according to Michelle Grattan. Dutton’s lieutenants were Victorian MP Michael Sukkar, South Australian Tony Pasin, ACT senator Zed Seselja and others, who bungled the process, wrongly assumed they had the numbers and were played for mugs by Morrison’s men according to Middleton.

3. Morrison played them all for mugs

That’s the main import of the Middleton article linked above. Morrison’s moves began way back, she says. For example, Turnbull wanted to junk the corporate tax cuts because they were electoral poison. That was before the Longman bi-election. Morrison and Cormann wanted him to keep them, at least Morrison for the same reason, that they were electoral poison and would damage Turnbull.

Morrison’s tacticians also played “rope-a-dope” with home affairs minister, Dutton, or so some now believe.

Turnbull got wind of something happening, and at the party meting that Tuesday he began with his usual discursive address, then suddenly changed tack:

    “Things can’t go on like this,” he told stunned colleagues, then blindsided them further by vacating the two leadership positions and announcing a ballot on the spot.

    “People who were drinking coffee spat it out,” one MP says of the shock.

Only party whip Nola Marino knew and was there with ballot papers ready.

At the end of it all, Matthias Cormann has lost some skin, and his role as special minister of state overseeing electoral issues and parliamentary expenses, which went to Morrison loyalist Alex Hawke.

Dutton supporters were played for suckers, and they know it, making a happy bunch. Not.

4. Julie Bishop’s revenge

Julie Bishop, who had superior public appeal to either Dutton or Morrison, had her nose put out of joint when she attracted only 11 first round votes, none from her WA colleagues.

Her revenge so far is to stay in her seat to keep out Christian Porter, who occupies a marginal seat, and Cormann, who is in the senate. Also she may do a Bradbury – that is be the only one standing if ScoMo loses the next election.

Australian Public Affairs had done a very fine summary of her legacy as foreign minister.

In short, it’s mixed.

    While she deserves credit for last year’s Foreign Policy White Paper, which was surprisingly candid about changes in the Asia-Pacific region and the challenges posed by China’s rise, she at times clung to unrealistic hopes about US commitment to the region, and Australia’s ability to rely on it.

She cultivated good relations around the world, but must wear some of the blame for heavy cuts to Australia’s aid program.

Perhaps her most enduring legacy will be her initiative known as the New Colombo Plan which sends Australian students to work, study or learn a language in 40 countries across the region. The scheme was her idea, initiated in 2014, and has so far sent almost 30,000 students abroad. The 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper specifies support at 10,000 students a year at least.

I have an issue with Julie Bishop that I cannot forgive her for.

On 8 October 2012 Julia Gillard smashed Tony Abbott over his sexism and misogyny. (That’s the first time I’ve seen the vision.)

Abbott did reflect on his behaviour, as suggested by Gillard. After that he slobbered over every woman unfortunate to come near him.

And Julie bishop attacked Gillard without mercy over the AWU affair, pronouncing her guilty, although she knew as a lawyer that the matter had been long dealt with and had no merit. For example see:

As usual, every question asked by Julie Bishop, while Abbott sits silently by.

Throw enough muck, and some will stick.

Gillard over 2012 had fought back from 39-61 TPP in the polls to be somewhat competitive at 48-52. From that November 2012 on it was downhill all the way for Gillard.

What Bishop did was unforgivable. I haven’t, and I won’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I admire Julie Bishop for her positive qualities, and on the whole she has done well representing Australia. She is by far the best fundraiser in the Liberal Party by all accounts, and the most assiduous in supporting members in marginal seats. She may in the future bring healing to the Liberal Party in opposition, though I fear that only an actual generational change will serve.

5. The dirty words of politics didn’t used to be so vile

Laura Tingle writes that Malcolm Turnbull had the numbers on the NEG both in the party room and on the floor of parliament, if Labor had supported it, which they had signalled they were willing to do.

But bipartisanship is to be avoided at all costs, at least by the Liberal Party.

Turnbull didn’t seek consensus, he avoided it, by not showing them any legislation, then just declaring that Labor would not to support it.

Further up Katharine Murphy talks of parliament becoming theatre.

Turnbull could not countenance up to a dozen of his side of parliament sitting with Adam Bandt on one side, and everyone lese on the other.

    OMG! Being seen to vote with Labor on issue??? Could things truly get more horrifying???

How it looks is more important than the actual policy.

6. Apart from all that

Sorry about the surfeit of politics, but we need to get our heads around what is happening. I didn’t include the polls this time, where both Newspoll and Essential had Labor at 55-45. I think that’s a good outcome for the LNP, given the timing, so we’ll see how things go from here. Essential has some interesting additional polls.

Today’s Insiders on TV was excellent.

Climate change, sustainability, plus sundry other stuff