Grattan on Friday: 2018, the year of governing badly


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Looking back on the federal politics of 2018, voters can conclude
they’ve been given a rough trot.

What’s been dubbed “the permanent election campaign” to which we are
subjected these days is a curse. Too often it encourages expedient
rather than sound decisions and ugly behaviour dominated by noise and
stunts.

Added to that, we’ve had from the Coalition this year an extraordinary
series of leadership, policy and individual meltdowns. A government
that started 2018 with a one-seat majority ends it in a minority,
after the loss of a byelection and a defection to the crossbench.

This has indeed been the year of governing badly.

As the Coalition struggles towards Christmas it has been buffeted this
week by a sex scandal involving an obscure Nationals MP and an attack
from its own side over its energy policy.

The cavorting of Andrew Broad in “sugar baby” land has left the
Nationals looking for a candidate for the Victorian seat of Mallee,
safe in normal circumstances, but not to be taken for granted in these
days of community independents and when the incumbent has been
disgraced. (Broad will be around until the election –
there is no byelection.)

Senior Nationals want a woman to run. The party’s deputy leader,
Senator Bridget McKenzie, is not ruling out seeking preselection but
has no connection with the area. One government source says “it would
be pretty late for her to be carpetbagging” into the seat. A strong
local would seem better.

Whether the Liberals will make it a three-cornered contest is an open
question (though they probably wouldn’t field a candidate if McKenzie
ran).

In 2016 the Nationals contested Murray after a Liberal retired, and won the seat; the Liberals might think they could
benefit in this contest from any backlash against the Nationals over
Broad’s conduct. On the other hand, would they want to spend money on this seat in an election when dollars will be tight?

The Nationals have often been a steady and stabilising force within
the Coalition. Coming out of this year they look like a chaotic rump,
unable to manage their personal and political lives.

Barnaby Joyce destroyed his leadership with an affair and has been
undermining his party as he attempts to get it back. McCormack is a trier
facing a job that often looks beyond him. He’ll last to the election
(well, presumably) but probably not after that.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is the ultimate trier, believing the
only possible salvation for the government is constant activity. For a
very short time, he looked reasonably effective. But then all the
freneticism started to appear contrived and fake.

One big challenge Morrison has not been able to handle is the
Coalition’s “woman problem”. Minimal female representation in both
Coalition parties, claims of bullying in the Liberals, and the
defection to the crossbench of Liberal MP Julia Banks will inevitably
put off female voters. The Broad scandal feeds into the negative
narrative.

Morrison himself has a “blokey” image that might turn away some female
voters although Liberal sources dispute this.

It’s ironic that neither Coalition party will embrace quotas but
Morrison wanted a female candidate in Wentworth (only to be rebuffed
by the preselectors) and now Nationals president Larry Anthony urges a woman for Mallee.

Women are thought to be useful in desperate circumstances, it seems.

Amid all the year’s bedlam in conservative politics, one major policy
issue remains a complete muddle – or more precisely it is the intersection of
two issues, energy and climate.

The bitter battle within the Liberals over energy didn’t just bring
down Malcolm Turnbull – it stopped the formulation of the sort of
viable policy business pleads for, to give certainty to investors.

This week the Berejiklian government called out its federal
counterpart; state energy minister Don Harwin declared it “out of
touch” on energy and climate policy, saying “it’s time for them to
change course”. But at a testy meeting of the COAG energy council
federal minister Angus Taylor was defiantly unmoved.

Also this week came criticism from the Energy Security Board, which
says in its 2018 Health of the Electricity Market report that when
investment is needed “it is not helpful for the Commonwealth
government to be threatening powers of divestment, price setting and
discretionary asset write-downs.”

Energy policy both symbolises the deep ideological divide in the
Liberal party and is at the core of it. The party won’t be credible on
policy until it can formulate a broad position that is acceptable to
stakeholders and the community. If it goes into opposition next year,
doing so should be a top policy priority.

Its plan for a National Energy Guarantee was scuttled by the
government itself during those crazy coup days in August. But this was
not before devising the scheme had given then energy minister Josh
Frydenberg a chance to show his credentials, as a policy formulator
and a negotiator.

Frydenberg lost the NEG but won his colleagues’ respect. He received
an overwhelming vote for Liberal deputy; as things stand, he’s well
placed to lead his party at some future point.

Now treasurer, Frydenberg is one of the few senior Liberals who has
looked half way impressive this year. His next test will be the April
2 budget, although naturally ownership of that will lie as much or
more with Morrison.

The timetable for a May election is now set. The government wants to
maximise the period it has to try to regroup.

When parliament rose there was speculation the government might not
want it to return in February because the Coalition faced a House
defeat on a amendment to facilitate medical transfers from Manus and
Nauru. This might make a March election more attractive, so the
argument went.

But the government doesn’t seem so concerned about that vote now,
believing some of the crossbenchers will drop off the amendment or
want to weaken it.

Looking to 2019: the betting is firmly on an ALP victory, in the
absence of a surprising turn of events. A win by either side would at
least bring an end to the revolving prime ministerships, thanks to
rule changes.

Assuming Labor won a solid majority, hopefully the voters might also
get a little respite before the continuous campaigning started up
again.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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View from The Hill: Malcolm Turnbull and his NEG continue to haunt the government



File 20181204 34148 17lkcuy.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The former PM via twitter effectively inserted himself into Question Time – in real time.
Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

If anyone needs further evidence of the self-defeating weird places
the Liberals seem to find themselves in, consider what happened on
Tuesday.

Malcolm Turnbull made another intervention in the political debate,
this time talking about the National Energy Guarantee, when he spoke
at an energy conference on Tuesday morning.

“I’ve strongly encouraged my colleagues to work together to revive the
National Energy Guarantee. It was a vital piece of economic policy and
had strong support, and none stronger I might say, than that of the
current Prime Minister and the current Treasurer,” he said.

This and the rest of Turnbull’s observations on energy policy provided
abundant material for a question time attack by a Labor party bloated
from dining on the unending manna that’s been flowing its way from
some political heaven.

As Scott Morrison sought to counter this latest attack by concentrating on
Labor’s substantial emissions reduction target (45% on 2005 levels by
2030), suddenly a tweet appeared from Turnbull.

“I have not endorsed “Labor’s energy policy”. They have adopted the
NEG mechanism,“ Turnbull said – adding a tick of approval – “but have
not demonstrated that their 45% emissions reduction target will not
push up prices. I encouraged all parties to stick with Coalition’s NEG
which retains wide community support.”

Here was the former PM effectively inserting himself into Question
Time – in real time.

Morrison quickly quoted from the tweet, but it couldn’t repair the
damage done by Turnbull’s earlier comments.

All round, it was another difficult day for the government on the energy front.

The Coalition parties meeting discussed its controversial plan
providing for divestiture when energy companies misuse market power,
with conduct that is “fraudulent, dishonest or in bad faith” in the wholesale market.

The government has put more constraints on its plan than originally
envisaged. Notably, rather than a divestiture decision resting with
the treasurer, it would lie with the federal court (although precisely what this would mean is somewhat unclear).

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told a news conference: “This power will be on the advice
of the ACCC [the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission] to
the Treasurer, and then the Treasurer will make a referral to the
Federal Court. The Federal Court will then be empowered to make that
judicial order.”

There had already been backbench criticisms of the divestiture proposal expressed to Frydenberg last week; the changes dealt with some of these.

But the plan is still leaving some in Coalition ranks uneasy.

According to the official government version, in the party room 18
speakers had a say, with 14 supporting (though a couple of them were
concerned about the interventionism involved) and four expressing
varying degrees of reservation. No one threatened to cross the floor.

Backbench sources said the strongest critics were Jason Falinski,
Russell Broadbent, Tim Wilson and former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop,
while milder criticisms came from Craig Laundy, Scott Ryan and Jane
Prentice.

There were two main worries about the measure – the potential negative
impact on business investment and its inconsistency with Liberal party
free market principles.

Bishop – who, it might be recalled, was recently saying there should
be a bipartisan deal with Labor on the NEG – highlighted the
investment implications and the issue of sovereign risk.

She said: “This is not orthodox Liberal policy. We need to do more
consultation with the industry and we need to be cautious of
unintended consequences of forced divestiture”.

Addressing the concerns, Morrison told the party room that a variety
of principles were at play.

The energy sector was not “a free market nirvana” but rather “a
bastardised market,” he said. The law was targeted at situations where
sweetheart deals came at the expense of consumers.

Energy minister Angus Taylor said governments of the centre-right,
including the Menzies and the Thatcher governments, had acted to
ensure markets operated for consumers.

Taylor invoked an example of the beer drinkers against the brewers,
when Thatcher had been on the side of the beers drinkers.

Frydenberg produced a quote from Menzies’ “Forgotten People”
broadcasts about the need to balance the requirements of industry with
social responsibilities.

The legislation, which is opposed by Labor even with the changes, is
being introduced this week. But there is no guarantee that it can be
passed by the time of the election – not least because there are so
few sitting days next year.

So the most controversial part of the government’s “big stick”, which
has caused so much angst with business, may never become a reality.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Hokey-pokey politics as the government is shaken all about


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In the topsy turvy Liberal universe, just when the right is trying to
tighten its grip on the throat of the party, the government is haring
off to the left, with this week’s legislation to allow it to break up
recalcitrant energy companies.

As former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop – who as a backbencher
has become very forthright – said in the Coalition party room on
Tuesday, “this is not orthodox Liberal policy”. Bishop canvassed the
danger of sovereign risk.

To find a rationale for a frolic into what in other circumstances the
Liberals would no doubt denounce as “socialism”, one might see it as
driven by the veto of the so-called conservatives.

Those on the right (led by Tony Abbott and his band) have long stopped
the government putting forward a sound energy policy, despite the
strong pleas from stakeholders across the board.

Instead, trying to respond to the pressing electoral issue of high
electricity prices, the government has reached for its “big stick”
including the threat of divestiture – a policy that’s being attacked
by Labor as well as business.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen was correct on Thursday when he said:
“this is what we see when a government’s policy agenda falls apart”.

Having to defend this draconian policy, first from critical Coalition
backbenchers (who won some changes) and then in parliament, the
government found itself tied in knots.

Given this is such a radical proposal, it was also in an enormous rush with the legislation, introducing it on Wednesday and wanting the House of Representatives to pass it by Thursday.

But that timetable was stymied by Labor. Passage through the House
will have to wait until February.

Meanwhile there will be a Senate inquiry, reporting in March. This
puts off a Senate vote until budget week in April – ensuring a lot
of noise about this controversial measure just when the government
will want all the attention on a budget crafted to appeal to voters
for a May election.

Even if the divestiture legislation gets through the Senate next year,
a likely Labor election victory would mean we’ll probably never see
this particular “big stick” wielded. It’s highly doubtful the threat
will have been worth the angst, or the trashing of Liberal principles.

The final parliamentary fortnight of 2018 coincided with the first
fortnight of the hung parliament.

For Scott Morrison, it has been an excruciating two weeks, with the
backlash from the Liberals’ trouncing in Victoria, Julia Banks’
defection to the crossbench, Malcolm Turnbull’s provocative
interventions, and an impasse with Labor over the plan to protect LGBT
students.

The government’s stress culminated in Thursday’s extraordinary battle
to prevent a defeat on the floor of the House.

This test of strength was over amendments, based on a proposal
originally coming from new Wentworth member Kerryn Phelps, that would
make it easier to transfer people needing medical treatment from Nauru
and Manus to Australia.

As both sides played the tactics, a remarkable thing happened in the
House of Representatives. Behaviour improved one hundred percent, with
none of the usual screaming and exchanges of insults. This pleasing
development was, unsurprisingly, driven by self-interest – neither
government nor opposition could afford to have anyone thrown out ahead
of the possible crucial vote.

Earlier, Morrison had shown anything but restraint when at his news
conference he described Bill Shorten as “a clear and present threat to
Australia’s safety”. Once that would have been taken as a serious
claim, which a prime minister would have been called on to justify. In
these days, it’s seen as a passing comment.

In what was a highly aggressive performance, Morrison gave us another
foretaste of what he’ll be like on the hustings.

In the end, by its delaying tactics in the Senate, the government
prevented the amendments reaching the House before it adjourned, and
so avoided a test of the numbers.

Defeat in the House would not have equalled a no confidence vote, but
it would have been a serious blow for Morrison. Looking for a
precedent, the House of Representatives’ clerks office went back to
votes lost in 1929 (which led to an election) and on the 1941 budget
(which brought down the Fadden government).

But the government may have just put off, rather than prevented, the
reckoning. Phelps said on Sky, “I am sad that we didn’t get this
through today … because I believe it would have gone through on the numbers … But you know if we have to wait until February, at least I believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Dodging this vote meant that legislation to give authorities better
access to encrypted messages to help in the fight against terrorism
looked like it would be delayed. Once the House had adjourned, any
Labor amendments the Senate might pass couldn’t go back there until
February.

The government had declared the encryption measure was urgent, and the
blame game started in anticipation of a hold up. Then, mid-debate in
the Senate, Labor abandoned its attempt to amend the bill, which
glided through. In an agreement which may mean something or nothing,
the government undertook to consider the ALP amendments in the new
year.

Shorten didn’t want to be open to the government’s accusations of impeding legislation the security agencies said would help prevent terrorist
acts. “I couldn’t go home and leave Australians over Christmas without
some of the protections which we all agree are necessary,” he said.

The events of this week show why the government decided to have
the minimum of sitting days before the election next year.

The new parliamentary session will open with a deadlock on the
protection of gay students, the divestiture plan up in the air, and
the Nauru-Manus vote hanging over the government.

And by that time Scott Morrison will have had his first and probably
his last Christmas at Kirribilli.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Turnbull versus Morrison in Liberal crisis over Craig Kelly


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison faces a major Liberal party crisis after Malcolm
Turnbull moved to torpedo the Prime Minister’s plan to protect the
preselection of controversial rightwing backbencher Craig Kelly.

Morrison wants the NSW Liberal executive to re-endorse sitting NSW
federal members so Kelly does not have to face a ballot in which he would be defeated.

Kelly has threatened to run as an independent if he loses preselection
and also at times has left the way open to go to the crossbench.

The Coalition is already in minority government after the loss of
Wentworth and last week’s defection of Julia Banks.

Kelly has lost the support of his local branch members, and the
moderates have the numbers to remove him. His preselection opponent,
Kent Johns, has been under pressure to pull out of the race – as he
was persuaded to do before the last election to save Kelly.

Kelly was one of those who scuppered the National Energy Guarantee, in
the party meltdown that ended Turnbull’s leadership. He is a constant
presence in Sky and used his appearances to undermine the Turnbull
position on energy.

After hearing of the save-Kelly plan Turnbull immediately began
lobbying moderate executive members not to agree to the
cross-factional deal. When his lobbying reached the media, he took to
Twitter.

In a series of Sunday night tweets he said: “Today I learned there was a move to
persuade the State Executive to re-endorse Craig Kelly as Liberal
candidate for Hughes in order to avoid a preselection – in other words
to deny Liberal Party members in Hughes the opportunity to have their
say.”

He said he had spoken with “several State Executive members to express
my strong view that the Party’s democratic processes should operate in
the normal way especially after such a long debate in the NSW Liberal
Party about the importance of grass roots membership involvement.”

“It is time for the Liberal Party members in Hughes to have their say
about their local member and decide who they want to represent them.”

“It has been put to me that Mr Kelly has threatened to go to the cross
bench and “bring down the Government”. If indeed he has made that
threat, it is not one that should result in a capitulation. Indeed it
would be the worst and weakest response to such a threat.“

Turnbull said he was “strongly of the view that the normal democratic process should proceed.”

The Australian reports that Turnbull told one executive member, NSW Minister Matt Kean, that if Kelly moved to the crossbench it would “force Morrison to an early election and that will save the Berejiklian government”.

Turnbull had said that when he was PM he and Morrison had agreed to a
March 2 election – before the state poll later in March – but Morrison
was reneging.

The Liberals believe that whichever government faces the people first
in NSW will get a double whack from angry voters. Morrison indicated
last week that the election would be in May after an April 2 budget.

Another NSW rightwinger, senator Jim Molan is arcing up over his
dumping to an unwinnable position on the Senate ticket. Molan is also
looking to Morrison to do something about his position.

“Let’s see what he does, but I’m not here to be taken for granted,”
Molan told 6PR on Sunday.

“I would make the arrogant statement that the Liberal Party needs me
more than I need the Liberal Party.”

UPDATE Kelly survives after Morrison appeal

The NSW Liberal executive has voted to save the preselection of rebel
MP Craig Kelly after Scott Morrison personally lobbied key executive
members.

Morrison, who only landed in Canberra on Monday morning after his trip
to the G20, rang several executive members to appeal to them not to
follow Malcolm Turnbull’s strong urging to veto a deal to endorse Kelly.

The key four executive members to be persuaded to abstain were moderates Wayne
Brown, Harry Stutchbury, Chris Rath, and Sally Betts.

It is understood that Morrison said that while he wanted them to
support the motion for re-endorsement, if they couldn’t do so they should abstain for the good of the government.

The government feared that Kelly – who was among those who destroyed
Turnbull’s energy policy and his prime ministership – would run as an
independent at the election and go to the crossbench in the meantime
if disendorsed.

He had left the way open to do so.

Kelly, who would have lost an ordinary preselection because he did not
have local support, was part of a job lot of federal members endorsed
by the executive after Morrison’s efforts on Monday.

In a statement, a spokesman for the NSW Liberal party said it had “re-endorsed John Alexander OAM MP as our candidate for Bennelong, Jason Falinski MP as our candidate for Mackellar, Craig Kelly MP as our candidate for Hughes, and Lucy Wicks MP as our candidate for Robertson.” It did not mention Craig Laundy who is still making up
his mind whether he wants to recontest. All other NSW MPs have been re-endorsed.

Earlier Turnbull, after intensive private and public lobbying on
Sunday, said on Monday it would be “the antithesis of good government”
to give into Kelly’s threats – if he had made them.

But assuming he had made threats “that is the worst and the weakest
reason not to have a preselection process”.

He said even if Kelly went to crossbench the numbers would not be
there for a successful motion of no confidence against the government.

Turnbull said he had planned to have an election on March 2, ahead of
the NSW election later in March.

Many NSW Liberals believed “it would be in the party’s interest for the federal government to go to an election before the NSW government’s set election date of 23 March. “He described the Berejiklian government as “outstanding”.

If the Morrison government faced the people first Berejiklian could
“go to the polls and be judged on her record rather than being hit by
the brand damage that arose from the very destructive, pointless,
shameful leadership change in Canberra”.

“I know there’s been this proposition put around that no one’s really
interested in the leadership change or the internal machinations of
the Liberal party. The fact is they are and it has done a lot of brand
damage to the Liberal party.

“That’s something the party is going to have to work through. But
there’s no point being mealy mouth about it or pretending that that
damage hasn’t been done”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Malcolm Turnbull accuses his critics of “paranoia”


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has struck back angrily at a report that he has been helping independent Kerryn Phelps, his successor in Wentworth, as chaos continues to fracture the Liberals.

Responding to a front page-lead story in The Australian headed
“Turnbull plays invisible hand”, the former prime minister tweeted,
“Attribution bias – blaming others for the consequences of your own
actions is a common symptom of paranoia.

“Imagining “invisible” people are out to get you is also a classic
symptom. Not often on the front page of course…“

The report said Turnbull had been in regular contact with Phelps and had had a former electorate office staffer work for the new member for three days to help in the transition.

It quoted a senior Liberal source saying they believed Turnbull was advising Phelps on strategy and that his hands were “all over” the defection of Liberal MP Julia Banks to the crossbench this weel.

The report also said that Phelps had counselled Banks before her defection.

The story was another manifestion of the deep bitterness still
consuming the Liberals from the leadership coup, which has been
reactivated by the Banks’ defection. Banks made a stinging attack on
those who ousted Turnbull in her speech to parliament.

Phelps said on Thursday that Turnbull had had no contact with her
during the Wentworth campaign. Afterwards he had offered assistance
for a smooth transition. She said she and Turnbull had not discussed
Banks.

She told Sky that Turnbull “was very kind in being able to allow a couple of his former staff members to come in to do a handover to my staff members to make sure that they understood which grant programs needed to be progressed and which organisations we needed to be in contact with.”

Phelps confirmed that Banks had approached her before defecting.

“Julia reached out to me for some consultation about what that process
might look and feel like, and I indicated that I would be there to
support her in that transition and the three female crossbenchers were
there to support her when she gave her statement,” she said.

Meanwhile embattled right wing Liberal Craig Kelly, who faces losing
preselection, has changed tactics in his fight to survive.

After earlier repeatedly refusing to rule out defecting to the
crossbench, Kelly – wearing a T-shirt with the face of Robert Menzies
on it – told the ABC he would not do so.

He said he had a contract with the people of his Hughes electorate to
serve through the term as a Liberal member.

He did not rule out running as an independent if he lost preselection,
saying “I haven’t considered that”. He claimed to be confident of being
re-endorsed – although the numbers are against him.

Posing with the T-shirt wearing Kelly, Tony Abbott tweeted, “Always
good to be with a real Liberal!”.

The Senate on Thursday voted to alter the government’s sitting
timetable for next year to ensure Senate estimates hearings will he
held on the April 2 budget before the election is called. The
timetable released earlier this week would not have had estimates
hearing before the poll.

Labor is also introducing in the Senate its own bill to protect LGBTI
students against discrimination, after negotiations between the
government and the opposition on a bill reached an impasse.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australian Politics 2018


Grattan on Friday: Turnbull tells Liberals to answer that unanswerable question



File 20181108 74763 1d8mxo.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Malcolm Turnbull used his appearance on Q&A to hold his political executioners to account.
AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has delivered a hefty blow to the struggling Morrison
government by refocusing attention on the one question it has
desperately tried to smother.

That is: why was he sacked?

When he appeared on Thursday’s Q&A special, Turnbull was on a dual
mission. His neat blue jacket told the story. There would be no
reversion to the pre-prime ministerial free-wheeler dressed in
leather.

He was there to hold his executioners to account, to ensure they have
no escape, from him or from the public. And he was primed to defend
his record, to write the history of his three years in office as a
story of accomplishment and success. He wants to be defined by what he
did, rather than by how badly things ended.

Essentially he presented himself simultaneously as the victim and the victor.

The opening question was predictable but central: “Why aren’t you
still prime minister?”

Turnbull’s reply was rehearsed and targeted personally as well as generally.

This was “the question I can’t answer,” he said. “The only people that
can answer that are the people that engineered the coup – people like
Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott and Greg Hunt and Mathias Cormann – the
people who voted for the spill.

“So, there are 45 of them…. They have to answer that question.”

He rammed home the message. People had to be “adults and be
accountable”. Members of parliament “have to stand up and be prepared
to say why they do things”.

So those who chose “to blow up the government, to bring my prime
ministership to an end … they need to really explain why they did it.
And none of them have.”




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Now Malcolm Turnbull is the sniper at the window


So much for Scott Morrison arguing the public have gone beyond the
“Muppet show”, or defence industry minister Steve Ciobo claiming
Australians didn’t care about what had happened.

Labor has kept pressing on the “why” question, even when commentators
doubted the tactic, and now Turnbull has given the opposition a load
of fresh ammunition.

This makes it harder for ministers to shrug off Labor’s harking back
to the coup. To do so drags them into criticism of Turnbull, which is
counterproductive.

Once again Bill Shorten is the beneficiary of his opponents’ self-destruction.

Turnbull saw a “fair prospect” of the issue resonating in next year’s
election campaign because “Australians are entitled to know the
answer”.

In wishing Morrison “all the best in the election”, Turnbull
emphasised that he personally was out of parliament and he’d had
little to say since he’d left – he’d wanted to give his successor
“clear air”.

But there’s an ambivalence in Turnbull’s behaviour towards Morrison.
When his own leadership was doomed he helped Morrison beat Dutton. But
his intervention is now hurting his successor.

Of course Turnbull’s assertion he’s “out of politics” is disingenuous,
or at least premature. What could be more political than Thursday
night’s performance?

Apart from injecting new vigor into the issue of his sacking, his
critique of the Liberal party’s move to the right was powerful and
damaging, encapsulated in his observation about Liberal-minded voters
installing like-minded crossbenchers.

He pointed to Mayo, Indi and Wentworth, seats previously solid
Liberal. “They are now occupied by three Independents who are all
women, who are all small-l liberals, and all of whom, in one way or
another, have been involved in the Liberal Party in the past,” he
said.

By electing these independents the voters were saying “we are
concerned that the Liberal Party is not speaking for small-l liberal
values”, he said.

This brings to mind the speculation about a possible high-profile
independent emerging in Warringah who could give Tony Abbott a run for
his money.

There was much else in the Turnbull hour that was challenging for the
government, including his belief the Liberals would have held
Wentworth but for the campaign’s “messy” final week, and his criticism
of the “blokey” culture of parliament.

Turnbull talked up an extensive legacy for himself, highlighting the
achievement of same-sex marriage (though some would give the praise to
certain pesky backbenchers). Typically, he wouldn’t cede ground over
standing back from the battle in his old seat.

As always with Turnbull, Thursday’s appearance will polarise Liberals,
making it uncertain whether it will help or harm his reputation.
Enemies will see it as being all about Malcolm. His comments will
start another round of divisive debate in the ranks.

But his arguments were potent reminders of the stupidity of what
happened in August and the present poor state and situation of the
Liberal party.

Morrison this week had to deal with an early manifestation of the hung
parliament he now must manage.

Crossbencher Bob Katter saw the opportunity to make some gains for his
north Queensland electorate of Kennedy during Morrison’s tour of the
state, so the maverick MP suggested he might consider supporting the
referral of Liberal MP Chris Crewther to the High Court over a
possible section 44 problem.

By Thursday Morrison had met Katter, and extracted a pledge of
“ongoing support of the government”. Katter had extracted dollops of
money for water projects.

Their respective performances this week emphasised the
chalk-and-cheese contrast between the former and current prime
ministers, a difference being accentuated by Morrison as he seeks to
portray himself as a man of the people.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Katter waves Section 44 stick in a ‘notice North Queensland’ moment


Turnbull was critical of the hard right wing media; Morrison in the
past few days has done an interview with Alan Jones and a Sky people’s
forum in Townsville hosted by Paul Murray.

Turnbull might have had a penchant for trams and trains with selfies
but not the faux bus tour with cheesy videos.

But as Turnbull said of the man who’s inherited the fallout of the
August “madness”: “He has dealt himself a very tough hand of cards,
and now he has to play them … he has to get on with it.”

With Morrison it is not so much a matter of getting on with it –
he’s hyperactive – but of precisely what it is that he’s getting on
with.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Now Malcolm Turnbull is the sniper at the window


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

There’s a nice story about Arthur Fadden – the
Country Party leader who became PM in the 1941 hung parliament amid
conservative leadership turmoil – deciding not to move into the Lodge after a colleague told him
he’d “scarcely have enough time to wear a track from the backdoor to
the shithouse before you’ll be out”.

The warning was prophetic: Fadden was dispatched in little over a
month, replaced in a House of Representatives vote by Labor’s John
Curtin.

Scott Morrison, ensconced in Kirribilli, has already had a longer
spell than Fadden, and his government appears safe in parliament,
despite losing its majority. Regardless of these differences,
Morrison’s likely trajectory seems as clear as that of “Artie” all
those years ago.

The widespread feeling that the Morrison government is doomed will
only be reinforced by this week’s outbreak of hostilities between the
former and current prime ministers.

At one level, it’s hard to believe we’re seeing a rerun of this old
script; at another, it confirms that disunity has become baked into a
Liberal party probably unable to get beyond its dysfunction without a
cleansing period in opposition.

For three years, Turnbull had to endure the sniping of Tony Abbott,
the man he brought down. Now Turnbull is the sniper at the window,
though Morrison didn’t cause his fall (unless you buy the conspiracy
theory).

We can assume Turnbull’s mood is dark. That is understandable. It is also dangerous for the government, especially as many voters neither understood nor welcomed the leadership change.

This week’s fallout from Turnbull’s Indonesian excursion has undermined Morrison on foreign policy – about which he gave his first major address on Thursday – and cast doubt on his personal credibility.

As is now well known, Turnbull’s trip representing Australia at a
conference about oceans included talks with President Joko Widodo, who
was smarting from Morrison’s announcement that Australia would
consider moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. After the
talks, Turnbull met the media and issued a strong warning against such
a move.

On Thursday, an obviously frustrated Morrison told 2GB’s Alan Jones
the former prime minister wouldn’t be sent on any more missions. “He
was there to actually attend an oceans conference, the issues of trade
and other things of course were not really part of the brief,” Morrison said, in what turned out to be an unfortunate gloss.

Turnbull immediately took to Twitter, to set out “a few facts”.

He said Morrison had “asked me to discuss trade and the embassy issue
in Bali and we had a call before I left to confirm his messages which
I duly relayed” to the President. “There was a detailed paper on the
issue in my official brief as well”, Turnbull added.

That left Morrison with some explaining to do. In a statement he said
he’d invited Turnbull to represent him at the oceans conference and to
be “head of delegation”.

“He was briefed on appropriate responses on other issues that could be
raised in any direct discussions with the President, in his role of
head of delegation. Accordingly there were briefings dealing with the
issues he [Turnbull] has referred to,” Morrison said, reiterating
that “the purpose of his attendance was the Oceans conference”.

The different emphasis in the two accounts stands out. Turnbull
suggests he was asked to actively convey messages; Morrison’s version
is that Turnbull was given “responses” to provide.

Obviously it was risky for Morrison to send Turnbull in the first place; equally, it was provocative of Turnbull to speak publicly about the content of his talks and, especially, to air his disagreement with government policy.




Read more:
View from The Hill: When you’re not PM but behave like you are


The week has been another demonstration of those “transaction” costs
of an ill-advised switch of leaders – costs also reflected in Monday’s
Newspoll, showing the Coalition going backwards to trail Labor 46-54%.

After some initial favourable publicity Morrison is now widely referred to, often disparagingly, as coming from a “marketing” background. His political fixes are viewed, cynically but accurately, through that prism.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Morrison’s ratings slump in Newspoll; Wentworth’s huge difference in on-the-day and early voting


Take for example the government’s plan to remove the remaining about 40 children from Nauru by Christmas.

It is responding to increasing public concern. But one can’t help thinking it probably calculates that if just the children (and their
families) are taken off, the immediate public pressure will go away
too. No need for it to feel much urgency about all those male refugees on Manus, because they don’t have the same political salience.

What it says about even the children is, however, grudging and
misleading. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton insists they’ll not stay in Australia, but eventually end up elsewhere, whether the US, another third country or their home country.

In practice, from all we know from the past, many or most will remain here. But the government won’t admit that, supposedly because to do so might encourage the people smugglers. Does it really think they are so easily fooled? What actually deters them is the Australian flotilla ready to turn back their boats.

Dutton on Thursday also effectively ruled out sending people to New Zealand, even if Labor passed the legislation to close the “back door” to Australia.

“My judgment at the moment, based on all of the advice available to me is that New Zealand would be a pull factor at this point in time,” he told Sky.

The strategy seems clear. Fix the issue of the children, then paint Labor’s commitment to send people to New Zealand as one that would encourage the boats to restart.

Presumably Turnbull will be asked about refugees when he does the ABC’s Q&A next Thursday. With a full program to himself, he’ll be quizzed about a lot of matters, including energy and climate change policy, as well as the embassy debate – which did not rate a mention in Morrison’s Thursday speech.

There’s inevitable speculation about whether Turnbull will wear his leather jacket. The real question is what persona the man in the jacket, whether it’s leather or cloth, will choose to adopt. Morrison, for one, will be sweating on the answer.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: When you’re not PM but behave like you are


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull was correct, in policy terms, when this week he called out Scott Morrison’s ill-judged plan for Australia to consider moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The inevitable political consequence, however, is that the ex-prime minister has highlighted that his successor is expedient and a foreign affairs amateur.

Morrison sent Turnbull to Indonesia as head of Australia’s delegation to a conference about ocean sustainability. The trip was in the former PM’s diary when he was deposed; at the time Morrison decided to stick by the arrangement, the “Jerusalem” issue hadn’t arisen.

That announcement only came in the final week of the Wentworth byelection, with Morrison desperately trying to shore up the Jewish vote for the Liberals.

As Turnbull is personally close to President Joko Widodo, when the announcement ruffled Indonesian feathers, it was apparently hoped that Turnbull could do some smoothing.

If this were the thinking it was naïve, to the extent it ignored the inevitable consequences of putting Turnbull centre stage.

The trip might have been unremarkable if Turnbull’s activities had been confined to the oceans conference. But it looks very strange to have a recently-sacked PM conducting top-level talks with the Indonesian government about a highly controversial Australian initiative – with which he personally disagrees.

An observer – or the Indonesians – might ask: would the real prime minister please stand up?

After his Monday meeting with the President, Turnbull made it clear how off-the-cuff the Morrison announcement looked – in contrast to his own administration’s policy.

He said the conclusion he and his government had taken “after very careful and considered advice was that a policy that is well over 40 years old, 50 years old, should remain exactly the same as it is”.

Turnbull said Widodo had told him, as he had Morrison, of the very serious concern held in Indonesia about the prospect of the embassy being moved.

“There is no question, were that move to occur, it would be met with a very negative reaction”, in the heavily Muslim Indonesia, Turnbull said.

The hasty nature of Morrison’s announcement had already been exposed. At Senate estimates last week it was revealed that Foreign Minister Marise Payne had been informed only on the Sunday before the Tuesday announcement. The secretary of her department, Frances Adamson wasn’t told until the Monday, the same day officials of the Prime Minister’s department and the Defence department also learned of it.

There’d been no proper public service process sitting behind such a
consequential proposal.

Morrison early on tried to fudge the immediate Indonesian blowback, although it was obvious via leaking. Turnbull has not just reiterated that criticism directly from the Indonesian President, but backed it up with his own support for making no change.

Forced to respond on Tuesday to Turnbull’s remarks, Morrison said a decision has not yet been taken, and “we will follow a proper process” – which seems rather late in the piece. He also stressed that “Australia decides what our foreign policy is and only Australia”.

Morrison is in an awkward situation. An outcome has been promised by year’s end. If the government opts against moving the embassy, it will disappoint Israel, which welcomed the rethink, as well as making even more obvious what a sham the original announcement was.

If it endorses the move, there will be a fresh reaction from Indonesia and others. And Turnbull’s critique will be already on the record.

The rightwingers inside the Liberal Party and among the commentariat opposed Turnbull being sent to the oceans conference, and they will feel vindicated following his remarks about the embassy.

Turnbull must know his comments are damaging to his successor. But like his refusal to help with a robo call or a letter in Wentworth, he’s going to do things his way now. Whether this will mean further interventions before the election remains to be seen. He has declared himself “retired” from politics but he’s also said “I’ll continue to have things to say about important matters of public interest”.

From another ex-prime ministerial corner Tony Abbott, without a blush, has started calling for party unity, an appeal that’s hard to take seriously given the disunity he’s caused.

Writing in Monday’s Australian Abbott argued: “Scott Morrison won’t have the problems that I had as PM because no one is stalking him for his job.

“He won’t have the problems Turnbull had as PM because he is a much more tribal Liberal, and because he’s done the best he could, under the circumstances, to acknowledge the two biggest personalities on his backbench”. (A rather immodest reference to himself and Barnaby Joyce, and their “envoy” jobs.)

Now that Abbott has seen the fall of the man who brought him down, he is apparently willing to behave better, despite Morrison declining to meet the hard right’s agenda on such matters as quitting the Paris climate agreement.

As he talks togetherness, some believe Abbott has his eye on post-election opposition leadership. More immediately, possibly he’s looking to his seat, where his wrecker image could be a liability if he faces a credible independent.

Whatever the motive, many Liberals will be cynical about the unity pitch, though the Prime Minister might be relieved. Given Abbott’s bitterness about Morrison after the 2015 coup, relations between the two are always delicate.

The continuing federal government shenanigans can only be causing despair in the Liberals’ Victorian division, as the state campaign begins, with the Coalition opposition trailing 46-54% in the latest Newspoll.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Morrison’s ratings slump in Newspoll; Wentworth’s huge difference in on-the-day and early voting


Although people do distinguish between state and federal when they vote, there is also overlap and the dumping of Turnbull was unhelpful for the Victorian Liberals. In the Newspoll, three in ten people said the federal leadership change had made them less likely to vote for the state Liberals.

If the state Liberals are trounced, some of the blame is likely to be tossed Canberra’s way, adding to Morrison’s pre-Christmas woes.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Media power: why the full story of Murdoch, Stokes and the Liberal leadership spill needs to be told



File 20180920 107692 j03jv5.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is notorious for meddling in politics.
AAP/Dan Himbrechts

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

The first German chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, said there were two sights the public should not see: the making of laws and the making of sausages. To this list of enduringly nauseating spectacles we should add one more: the political machinations of media moguls.

ABC political editor Andrew Probyn has skilfully violated this standard of public taste by laying out what look like very plausible entrails of the evident involvement of Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Stokes in the recent Liberal Party leadership spill.




Read more:
How the right-wing media have given a megaphone to reactionary forces in the Liberal Party


It is impossible to independently verify Probyn’s account because he has been careful to mask his sources. But it is plausible partly because some elements are corroborated by separate reports in the Australian Financial Review and Sydney Morning Herald, partly because Probyn worked for both Murdoch and Stokes for lengthy periods and may be assumed to have good contacts in those places, and partly because there is circumstantial evidence to support some of what he says.

The Australian reports that Stokes has denied having communicated with Murdoch over Turnbull’s leadership. Interestingly, however, the newspaper does not quote its own proprietor on the matter, which is the obvious way to corroborate Stokes’s claim.

Murdoch, of course, is notorious for meddling in politics. In Australia, it can be traced back to his endorsement of Gough Whitlam at the 1972 election, his campaign against Whitlam in 1975, which was so virulent even his own journalists held a strike in protest, his support for John Howard in 1996, his somewhat ambivalent support for Kevin Rudd in 2007 and his full-frontal support for Tony Abbott in 2013.

Front page of the The Sun newspaper, April 11 1992.
Wikicommons

These campaigns were all in support of the winning side, and much the same has been true of his equivalent campaigns in the UK and the US. After John Major led the British Conservative Party to victory in 1992, Murdoch’s London Sun newspaper proclaimed in a front-page banner headline: “It’s the Sun wot won it”.

All this has created a perception of Murdoch as political kingmaker, a perception that frightens the life out of politicians and thus confers great power on Murdoch.

But as two Australian scholars, Rodney Tiffen and David McKnight, have persuasively argued in their separate studies of Murdoch, while his media outlets routinely shred and humiliate their political targets, the evidence is that Murdoch observes which way the wind is blowing and then finds a rationale for endorsing the likely winner.

The Economist’s Bagehot column was on to this 15 years ago, as Tiffen records. Referring to the London Sun’s boasting of its political power, the column observed:

[T]hat probably says more about Mr Murdoch’s readiness to jump ship at the right time than about the Sun’s ability to influence the votes of its readers.

Even so, perceptions can swiftly harden into political reality.

According to Probyn, when Murdoch was seen to turn against Turnbull over the past couple of months, the alarm went off in the prime minister’s office.

This is where Stokes, chairman of Seven West Media, is said to have entered the picture.

He is a friend of Turnbull’s and they are said to have discussed the apparent campaign by the Murdoch media to oust the prime minister.

Stokes and Murdoch have a chequered history, to put it mildly. They have fought long, bitter and costly legal battles, but as Margaret Simons says in her biography of Stokes:

In the cosy club of media, neither love nor hate lasts forever. The only constants are power, money and self-interest.

So, according to accounts by Probyn and the Financial Review, Stokes rang Murdoch to ask what was going on and Murdoch is said to have told him: “Malcolm has got to go.”

But on the question of who should replace him, the moguls were all over the shop.

Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph was touting Peter Dutton. Three days later, when Turnbull spilled the leadership positions, Dutton nominated, lost, but lit the fuse for the ultimate detonation of the Turnbull prime ministership.

Stokes was opposed to Dutton for complex reasons, but didn’t seem to know who to go for instead. On the day before the leadership spill, his newspaper, The West Australian, was promoting Scott Morrison. The next day it was promoting Julie Bishop, a West Australian.

This shambolic confusion among the moguls is comforting in a perverse kind of way, because in the end neither of them was able to dictate the outcome.

Murdoch achieved one objective – the ousting of Turnbull – but Dutton, his preferred pick to replace him, is now clinging to political life by a single vote in the House of Representatives thanks to the hovering spectre of the Constitution’s section 44 (v), not to mention trouble with au pairs.

Stokes? Well, he is new to this kingmaking caper. He clearly did not want his friend Turnbull out, but when that became inevitable, he didn’t know where to turn. As my old editor at The Age, Creighton Burns, was fond of saying, he was caught between a shit and a shiver.

The net effect of their efforts has been to bring the Liberal-National government to the brink of disintegration within months of a general election.

This time, Murdoch may have indeed created a winner – Labor leader Bill Shorten – not by the traditional means of showering support on him, but by destroying his opponents, even though they happen to be Murdoch’s own ideological allies.

It is the latest chapter in a long and discreditable history of media proprietors using their power to advance their political ends, usually for commercial rather than ideological purposes.

Sir Frank and Kerry Packer did it; so did successive generations of Fairfaxes. In 1961 the Fairfaxes went so far as to virtually run Arthur Calwell’s campaign out of the company’s executive offices on the 14th floor of its newspaper mausoleum in Sydney’s Broadway. The Sydney Morning Herald’s journalists renamed it the Labor ward in honour of the exercise.

In Britain, the mould for the politically meddling modern newspaper proprietor was set by Alfred Harmsworth (Lord Northcliffe) in the early 20th century.

He and the other mighty British press baron of the time, Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook), were the inspiration, if that is the word, for Rudyard Kipling’s celebrated condemnation:

[The press exercises] power without responsibility: the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.

So Probyn has done Australian democracy a service by exposing the entrails of what looks like another abuse of media power, even if it makes for a nauseating public spectacle.

It also raises serious questions about media accountability.

Australia has never had a publicly trusted or effective system of media accountability. All attempts to create one have been howled down, the loudest and crudest voices belonging to Murdoch’s lieutenants.




Read more:
Australian media are playing a dangerous game using racism as currency


There is already a crisis in people’s faith in democratic institutions. A new report by the Australian Museum of Democracy and the University of Canberra shows only 41% of Australians are satisfied with the way democracy is working. That is a dramatic plunge from the 86% recorded in 2007.

In this climate of disenchantment, it is not surprising there are now calls for a public inquiry into the way Murdoch and Stokes have evidently played a manipulative role in changing the prime minister.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.