View from The Hill: It’s not in the ‘national interest’ for the backbench to shut up about China


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Trade minister Simon Birmingham on Sunday weighed into the debate over Andrew Hastie’s warning about China rise. Birmingham said colleagues in future should ask themselves two questions before speaking out on “sensitive foreign policy matters”.

These were: “Is the making of those comments in a public way necessary? And is it helpful to Australia’s national interest?”

On a narrow view, the warning by Hastie – the chairman of the powerful parliamentary committee on intelligence and security – about Australia not being alive enough to the dangers of an ever more powerful China was not “necessary”; nor was it particularly helpful to a government trying to manage a relationship that gets more complicated all the time.

But the idea that backbenchers should not voice considered views on such a major long term issue for this country shows a certain contempt for parliamentary democracy.

Birmingham, speaking on the ABC, said: “There are a range of ways in which any of us can contribute and we can do that with direct discussion with ministers and with leadership in backbench committees and other ways”.

Decoded, the message to the backbench was: boys and girls, when in public just follow the talking points we give you.

Amid the noisy chatter and clatter of our current politics, serious foreign policy discussions among politicians are relatively rare. But the broad community debate grows ever stronger about China and its implications for Australia – including the now-great power’s trajectory, our dependence on it economically, its reach into this country (including through investment and our educational institutions), and how we juggle our respective relationships with it and the United States.

New Liberal backbencher Dave Sharma entered the China debate at the weekend, with a robust thread of nearly a dozen tweets, in support of Hastie.

A former senior diplomat, Sharma is more steeped in foreign policy than most on the frontbench.

“Hastie is right to ring the bell on this issue, and to warn that our greatest vulnerability lies in our thinking, which is Panglossian at times,” he wrote.

Significantly, Sharma also supported Hastie’s comparison with France’s failure to comprehend properly the rise of Germany before World War 2.

“In WW2, we failed to realise early enough that German ambitions could not be accommodated. National Socialist Germany was not a status quo power, but we mistook it as such, or deceived ourselves that it was,” Sharma wrote.

Hastie’s reference to Germany had been sharply condemned on Friday by Senate leader Mathias Cormann, who said it was a “a clumsy and inappropriate analogy.”

But Hastie was verballed over his invoking of Germany. He wasn’t saying the Chinese and Nazi regimes were the same – he was talking about the underestimation of the threats they posed to other countries.

Hastie could have drawn another parallel – with the failure of countries in the 1930s to fully appreciate the looming threat from Japan.

Sharma noted that rising powers inevitably cause convulsions – “the challenge is to accommodate a rising power IF it is sufficiently status quo in nature that it can be accommodated. This was the thesis with China for much of the early 2000s,” Sharma wrote.

“But if the rising power is revisionist in nature, and cannot be accommodated within the existing order – because it fundamentally does not accept the legitimacy of that order – then the future becomes much tougher”.

Given it was clear China’s ideological direction and ambition had become “far more pronounced” under its current leadership, “our strategy and thinking needs to reflect this shift, which is basically Hastie’s point – that we need to remove the blinkers from our eyes, recognise reality for what it is, and act accordingly,” Sharma said.

“This does not mean we should not be pursuing a constructive and positive relationship with China – we should be. Nor does it compel us to make a ‘choice’. But we need to be honest with ourselves about the challenges of managing this relationship and what might lie ahead.”

Of course Australian government policy in the last few years has been reacting to what has been seen as a heightening Chinese threat – even while the government has often been unwilling to admit as much.

The Pacific “step up” is all about China. So was the legislation, enacted by the Turnbull government, against foreign interference. The exclusion of Huawei from the 5G network was an unequivocal message. Australia’s intensified efforts to counter the cyber security threat have China front of mind.

The Chinese predictably reacted with annoyance to Hastie’s comments. But they are much more attuned to the actions Australia has taken and continues to take – measures which have been and are in the national interest. That’s the basic reason why Australia-China relations are strained.

The government’s trying to shut down backbench contributions to this debate is less a matter of the “national interest” than an exercise of attempted control of its MPs in its own interest. In fact it might be counter-productive for the national interest, which may require the Australian public to acquire a much better understanding than they have now of what could be increasingly difficult times and decisions in the years to come.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.

Julie Bishop goes to backbench, Marise Payne becomes new foreign minister


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After five years as foreign minister, Julie Bishop will move to the backbench.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Julie Bishop has chosen to go to the backbench, to be succeeded by Marise Payne as foreign minister, and the energy and environment portfolio has been split, in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s ministry announced Sunday.

Dan Tehan replaces Simon Birmingham in education, in a gesture to the Catholic education sector ahead of a special deal to meet its trenchant criticisms of the government’s schools policy.

Bishop, 62, who won only a handful of votes in the leadership ballot after the “stop Dutton” forces rallied behind Morrison, said in a statement she had told Morrison “I will be resigning from my cabinet position as Minister for Foreign Affairs.” She said she had made no decision about whether she would contest the election.

Unveiling an extensive reshuffle, Morrison described his ministry as a “next generation team”. He has rewarded his supporters but also accommodated some Peter Dutton loyalists.

Energy goes to former businessman the conservative Angus Taylor, previously minister for law enforcement and cyber security, who moves into cabinet. Morrison dubbed Taylor as minister for “getting electricity prices down”.

Environment is taken by Melissa Price, previously assistant minister for the environment. The portfolio remains in cabinet.

Asked where the carve up left emissions, Morrison made clear where his priorities lay, saying the challenge in energy was reliability and dispatchable power.

Peter Dutton, the man who launched the leadership coup though failed to win the prime ministership, returns to his portfolio of home affairs. But immigration has been sliced off, going to David Coleman, previously assistant minister for finance, who becomes minister for immigration, citizenship and multicultural affairs.

This flags Morrison’s interest in the economic side of immigration. “Immigration forms part of national security policy but it also has always played an important role in economic and social policy,” he said.

Christopher Pyne becomes defence minister, achieving his long-time wish to be the senior minister in the area; his old job of defence industry goes to Steve Ciobo, who was previously in trade. Birmingham takes his place in trade.

The Morrison cabinet has six women, one extra compared with the Turnbull cabinet. They are Bridget McKenzie (Nat), Payne, Kelly O’Dwyer, Michaelia Cash, Karen Andrews, and Melissa Price.

O’Dwyer moves from revenue to jobs and industrial relations; she keeps responsibility for women. Industrial relations is back in cabinet. Michaelia Cash has gone into small and family business, skills and vocations.

Alan Tudge becomes minister for cities, urban infrastructure and population. Morrison said Tudge would be “the minister for congestion-busting”. Population has become an increasing pressure point.

Mathias Cormann remains in finance and as Senate leader, but his special minister of state job goes to Alex Hawke.

Paul Fletcher will be social services minister and moves into cabinet.

Sussan Ley and Stuart Robert, who both had to leave the ministry over controversies, are back on the frontbench. Robert is assistant treasurer; Ley is assistant minister for regional development and territories.

Michael Sukkar, previously assistant minister to the treasurer and outspoken conservative, has been dumped to the backbench.

Barnaby Joyce, still on the backbench, has been made “special envoy for drought assistance and recovery”.

Tony Abbott has not been given a job, although Morrison signalled he was open to giving him some Joyce-type role if he wanted.

Two Liberals apart from Julie Bishop, and a National, indicated they did not want to be considered for frontbench roles. The Liberals were Craig Laundy and John McVeigh, while the National was Keith Pitt, who had been assistant to Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack. Pitt said in a statement: “I will always put the national interest and the interests of my constituents above my own. I will always put reducing power prices, before Paris.”

Morrison acknowledged at the weekend that ordinary people had been “absolutely disgusted” by the events of last week.

The exit of Bishop, who had developed a high and well-respected international profile, will send a further confusing message to other countries, which have witnessed Australia’s revolving door of the prime ministership.

Bishop, who entered parliament in 1998, has been foreign minister since 2013 and deputy to every Liberal leader since 2007.

In the aftermath of the coup, the bitterness continued to flow as the machinations were revealed.

A WhatsApp chain of messages was leaked to the ABC, in which tactics to stop Dutton ultimately winning, were revealed.

Fletcher, close to Turnbull, said in the chain: “Cormann rumoured to be putting some WA votes behind Julie Bishop in round 1. Be aware that this is a ruse trying to get her ahead of Morrison so he drops out & his votes go to Dutton. Despite our hearts tugging us to Julie we need to vote with our heads for Scott in round one.”

Cormann describes the Fletcher claim as “100% incorrect”.

Birmingham, a strong Turnbull supporter, told the ABC that a “handful of individuals” had wreaked havoc.

“We had Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership confirmed and re-endorsed just last Tuesday with a clear majority, and yet those who wanted to wreak havoc continued to do so during the week. Now, that was terribly destructive and every single man and woman in the Liberal Party room needs to put that type of behaviour behind us and make sure that we do unify for the future.”

On Monday, Morrison, who has put the drought at the top of his priority list, will make a quick trip to a drought-afflicted part of Queensland. At the weekend he met Major General Stephen Day, who is coordinating drought relief and support

Drought was “the thing that I think Australians very much want the attention of their prime minister on and right now”, Morrison told the popular regional program Australia All Over. Morrison reeled off some “encouraging” weekend rainfall numbers while noting this was “nowhere near what’s obviously needed.”

Over the weekend, the new prime minister spoke with US President Donald Trump (inviting him to visit Australia), Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

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The Conversation

Later this week Morrison will visit Indonesia, but he will not undertake the visits to multiple regional countries that Turnbull had slotted in. Australia and Indonesia have been negotiating a free trade deal, which could be signed during the visit.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Barnaby Joyce succumbs to pressure and will go to backbench



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Barnaby Joyce announces he will stand down as deputy prime minister and leader of the National Party.
AAP/Marlon Dalton

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Barnaby Joyce has capitulated to intense pressure and announced he will stand down, declaring the government needs clear air and he could not continue on the frontbench with an allegation of sexual harassment hanging over him.

He told a news conference in Armidale he would quit as Nationals leader and deputy prime minister on Monday at an 8am party meeting, where a new leader will be chosen.

After hanging tough for more than a fortnight, Joyce said the final straw was the harassment allegation, by a Western Australian woman, that was made to the Nationals federal president Larry Anthony and revealed on Thursday.

He had asked that the allegation, which he denies, be referred to the police. “But it’s quite evident that you can’t go to the despatch box with issues like that surrounding you.”




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: The Nationals have been paralysed by the extraordinary and unpredictable Joyce situation


Malcolm Turnbull, who last week said Joyce “has to consider his own position” and will be relieved at his departure from the frontbench, quickly affirmed in a statement that the Coalition “partnership is undiminished”.

The crisis over Joyce, sparked by revelations in the Daily Telegraph of his affair of his former staffer and now pregnant partner Vikki Campion, has consumed and distracted the government, wiping out what promised to be a good start to the year.

The favourite to replace Joyce as leader is Michael McCormack, a junior minister from New South Wales. He is minister for veterans’ affairs and minister for defence personnel.

Joyce informed Acting Prime Minister Mathias Cormann and his Nationals colleagues before his announcement. He did not speak with Turnbull, who is in Washington. A week ago, Joyce denounced Turnbull’s very personal attack on him.

Today he said it was “incredibly important that there be a circuit-breaker, not just for the parliament but more importantly a circuit breaker for Vikki, for my unborn child, my daughters and for (wife) Nat”.




Read more:
VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on Barnaby Joyce’s ‘week off’


He said that over the past half a month there had been a litany of allegations. “I don’t believe any of them have been sustained.”

He condemned “the leaking, the backgrounding … it will destroy not only our government. It will destroy any government.”

Joyce confirmed he would stay in the parliament, and said he wouldn’t snipe from the backbench. “I have a lot of things I need to do,” he said. He was writing a book, and he wanted to assist his colleagues where he could to keep their seats. And his baby would be born in April. So “I’ll have other things on my mind”.

Joyce’s exit to the backbench means another reshuffle, hard on the heels of the December changes. Meanwhile John McVeigh, a Queensland Liberal who is minister for regional development, will act in Joyce’s infrastructure portfolio.

Joyce has been leader of the Nationals and deputy prime minister since February 2016.

The ConversationWhile Joyce’s stepping down will relieve pressure on the government, there will still be intense questioning next week in Senate estimates about the employment arrangements for Campion, who was transferred from Joyce’s office to that of Resources Minister Matt Canavan, and later to the office of then-Nationals whip Damian Drum.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

MALCOLM TURNBULL WINS LIBERAL LEADERSHIP


Malcolm Turnbull has won the Liberal leadership from Brendan Nelson in a leadership spill this morning. The vote went to Malcolm Turnbull 45 to 41 and Nelson then declined a frontbench job and went to the backbench alongside another Liberal leadership post-aspirant, Peter Costello.

It will now be interesting to see if the former leader of the Australian Republic push will have what it takes to pull the disjointed Liberal Party together and seriously challenge Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party at the next Federal election due in 2010.

Now we just need a serious Labor government to challenge the very ordinary alternative New South Wales government under Barry O’Farrell. Sadly, it doesn’t look very likely – they have become an extremely pathetic excuse for a government (and I’m a life long Labor Party supporter and voter).