View from The Hill: Albanese would have no excuse for an Eden-Monaro loss after Coalition high flyers implode


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Anthony Albanese, who will campaign in Eden-Monaro on Thursday, has lost any possible claim to “underdog” status in the coming byelection.

The idea of Labor as underdog was always dubious in light of history, despite former member Mike Kelly’s personal vote. But the prospect of one or other of two NSW government high flyers having a tilt at the seat gave it some credibility.

Now, thanks to a rolling implosion within the Coalition parties, Labor starts as favourite to retain the seat, which it holds on a margin of less than 1%.

There’s a sting, however. If the favourite lost, defeat would carry even more serious implications for Albanese than a loss to a star candidate.

NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance’s Wednesday withdrawal as a contender for Liberal preselection, a day after throwing his hat in the ring, took the Coalition parties’ shenanigans to an even higher level of farce.

The last several days have seen a political shootout between NSW Deputy Premier and Nationals leader John Barilaro and Constance. Both are damaged as well as a big blow having been dealt to the Morrison government’s aspiration to defy history (no federal government has taken a seat from an opposition at a byelection for a century).

It started with Barilaro’s plan to run for the seat, which includes his state electorate where he had a very strong vote last year.

Barilaro wanted the Liberal party to step aside for him, but that was not a goer. Then Constance, whom he hoped would support him, stayed in the frame as a potential Liberal candidate, even though it was clear the two NSW ministers couldn’t both run, especially given the state government’s narrow majority.

The Nationals put out research favouring Barilaro; the Liberals had competing research.

By Monday Barilaro had hoisted the white flag – of course citing the family.

He was furious – at federal Nationals leader Michael McCormack, for not helping him, and at Constance for impeding him.

A blistering text went to McCormack, leaked to Sky on Tuesday. On Wednesday the Daily Telegraph reported “Barilaro told a parliamentary colleague Mr Constance was a ‘c…’”.

Constance cited the story in his withdrawal.

He told a news conference: “Stuff that — I hadn’t signed up to contest federally to be called that type of smear.”

“Why would I sit here for the next five weeks defending that type of front page? You can’t.”

But he also said: “I don’t believe John means it. I had that discussion with him. We’ve cleared it up. I forgive him”.

In short, Constance was all over the place, and likely a mix of reasons caused his meltdown.

Despite a touch of wild speculation that Barilaro might rethink, he quickly dispelled any such suggestion, saying: “My decision not to seek preselection for the Eden-Monaro byelection has not changed”.

The other name on the government side who’d been mentioned, Liberal senator Jim Molan, also ruled himself out on Wednesday.

Molan never seemed likely to contest. But he issued a statement saying “no one has tried to force me to not nominate, nor was I ever intimidated by the prospect of competing in a preselection or in a campaign”.

The Liberals will be well behind Labor – which is running Bega mayor Kristy McBain – in beginning their campaigning.

Nominations for Liberal preselection close Friday and then they have to organise a rank and file ballot.

Fiona Kotvojs, who pushed Kelly close at last year’s election, is seeking endorsement.

Pru Gordon, from the National Farmers Federation, a former adviser to two trade ministers and a former official with the department of foreign affairs and trade, is also in the field. A third contender is Jerry Nockles, now at World Vision, who formerly worked for federal Liberals.

The Liberal candidate, whoever they may be, will inherit the legacy of a Coalition display of bad behaviour and self-absorption, which is not a good start when you are asking for votes in an electorate that’s faced drought and fire and now struggles to recover amid economic devastation.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.

Eden-Monaro opens wounds in Nationals, with Barilaro attack on McCormack


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Eden-Monaro byelection has triggered an extraordinarily bitter attack by NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro on fellow National, deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.

In a text message to McCormack, a furious Barilaro said, “You will never be acknowledged by me as our leader. You aren’t. You never will be”. He accused McCormack of feeling threatened by his (short-lived) bid to switch to federal politics.

After giving every indication last week he wanted to contest the byelection, Barilaro on Monday announced he would not be seeking nomination.

This followed his failure to get the Liberals to make way, allowing him to be the only Coalition candidate. But he is also blaming McCormack for undermining him.

McCormack was known to be unenthusiastic about the prospect – in the event of a win – of having the volatile Barilaro in his federal party.

This would have put more pressure on McCormack’s leadership, which pre-COVID was under strain after a failed bid to overthrow him by Barnaby Joyce.

Publicly McCormack, while careful with his words, noted that if Barilaro decided “to put his hand up, he’s got to go through the pre-selection process. That is always the case with every National Party member.”

On Tuesday NSW Liberal Transport minister, Andrew Constance, from the state seat of Bega, which takes in a substantial part of Eden-Monaro in the south, announced his bid and is certain to be the party’s candidate, although the Liberals still have a preselection open.

Constance will come to the byelection with the memory of his prominent role during the bushfires still fresh in the voters’ minds. At that time, he was sharply critical of Scott Morrison’s performance. But Morrison will be now be happy to have him as Liberal candidate, giving his local popularity.

In his vitriolic message, which was leaked to Sky, Barilaro said: “Michael. Please do not contact me. Your lack of public enthusiasm or support for my candidacy went a long way to my final decision.

“Don’t hide behind the ‘members will choose the candidate’ rubbish, as you were the only one saying such lines. Don’t you think my branches would have backed me in?

“To feel threatened by me clearly shows you have failed your team and failed as a leader.

“You will never be acknowledged by me as our leader. You aren’t. You never will be.

“The Nats had a chance to create history, to change momentum, and you had a candidate that was prepared to risk everything to make it happen.

“What did you risk? Nothing.

“Hope you are proud of yourself.”

In his Monday announcement Barilaro said: “The polling showed I could win but sometimes in this game, you let ego get in the way of good decisions and I’ve got to make the best decision for me, my family, for the people of NSW – more importantly for the people of Eden-Monaro”.

The Liberals argued Constance would have a better chance of taking the Labor seat than Balilaro, despite the fact the regional centre of Queanbeyan is in Barilaro’s state seat of Monaro, and he won every booth in his electorate at the NSW election last year.

Eden-Monaro became vacant because of the resignation of Labor’s Mike Kelly due to ill health. Labor has chosen Bega mayor Kristy McBain, who is considered a strong candidate.

The contest is seen as an important test for opposition leader Anthony Albanese.

Labor has history on its side – it is a century since a federal government took an opposition seat at a byelection.

In response to Barilaro’s attack, McCormack said he respected his “personal decision not to contest the Eden-Monaro by-election due to family reasons.

“I have always supported the democratic election processes of the National Party of Australia. I wholeheartedly endorse the right of branches to select their local candidates first and foremost.

“My support of Mr Barilaro has been long standing and I respect his position as Deputy Premier and New South Wales Nationals’ Leader.”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: Michael McCormack’s battle to hold off a second shot from Joyce’s locker


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison dodged a bullet when the Nationals clung on to Michael McCormack. There was palpable relief when the news came through to the Liberals. “We still have a Coalition,” one MP was heard to say during the Liberal party meeting.

But it had been the Prime Minister who created the circumstances for Barnaby Joyce to get his gun out of the cupboard.

If Morrison hadn’t been in such a politically weak position, due to his summer missteps, he’d probably have brazened out the sports rorts affair.

Morrison didn’t force Bridget McKenzie from cabinet because she skewed the grants scheme – for which she deserved sacking.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Bridget McKenzie falls – but for the lesser of her political sins


He acted because the price of keeping her became too high. But then suddenly the cost of ditching her skyrocketed when Joyce seized the moment. Morrison found he had destabilised the deputy prime minister he desperately needs to keep in place.

How things will pan out now is the unanswerable question. Of course no one believes Joyce’s protestation that “I support the vote of the [party] room”. Joyce can’t bear not being the macho top dog and he and his ally Matt Canavan – self-exiled from cabinet and a huge loser from the day – will continue to create trouble for McCormack.

The Nationals don’t release their voting numbers. McCormack people claim he had a healthy margin; the Joyce camp says they were line ball. If McCormack’s backers are right the secrecy harms him, fuelling uncertainty and the opportunity for mischief.

The easy consensus is McCormack must “lift his game”. Might as well tell a jogger to become a sprinter. McCormack isn’t the worst of leaders but he’s never going to be more than average.

And having acquired the reputation of a poor performer, he can’t win. Thus he’s criticised for having a low profile when Morrison was in Hawaii. But could he have raised it when the prime minister’s office was trying to hide their boss’s holiday?

The rebel (for want of a better description) Nats attack McCormack for not standing up to the Liberals, in particular to Morrison. They seek a more distinctive Nationals branding.

Now this is a real issue. A well-functioning National party has to strike a balance within the Coalition between, if you like, growling and purring. Each Nationals leader must find a sweet spot. Assertive but supportive in the government’s inner sanctums. In the electorate, distinctive while also a team player.

But if McCormack follows the wishes of the Nationals to be more aggressive, this carries its potential dangers. On the flip side of that coin is “division”, a bad look for the government as a whole.

McCormack might be a pushover but Morrison has not been sensitive to their mutual interest in the Nationals’ profile. John Howard gave them a few wins, and recognition. Morrison tends to occupy whatever space is available. His very personal central role on drought issues, for example, has overshadowed the Nationals on their home ground.

If Morrison wants to prop up McCormack he needs to pump his tyres. As former Nationals senator John (“Wacka”) Williams told Sky, there was a message in Tuesday’s events for Morrison: “Don’t make the Nationals irrelevant”. The Nationals had to be treated with respect and get some pats on the back, Williams argued.

The Nationals’ schism triggered a reminder that Morrison is in a no win situation internally on climate change policy, as he faces an increasing need to nuance it.

In Tuesday’s Coalition parties meeting (coming immediately after the vote) a bevy of Nationals – Joyce, Canavan, George Christensen and David Gillespie – sent hardline messages on climate among talk of regional jobs and industry. Joyce said some people were trying to push their hobby horse issues out of the fire tragedies. To one Liberal source, these outpourings from the Nationals’ losing side were a bit weird and not very coherent.

They were met by a counter from some moderate Liberals. Earlier, in the separate Liberal party meeting, Queenslander Andrew Laming criticised those who went on policy “solo flights” on climate. The government’s policy was based on the science, which had been overwhelmingly accepted, Laming said – to contest the science undermined the policy.

McCormack’s next test is immediate – recrafting his frontbench. He has two cabinet vacancies, with Victorian Darren Chester expected to fill one.

What happens with the key resources portfolio vacated by Canavan will be crucial, given the coal issue and energy battles. Whether McCormack should have invited Canavan back is a moot point. Canavan (a loud voice for the coal industry) has a sharp policy mind; also, he might have been less trouble for McCormack if still on the frontbench than rampaging round the backbench.

Among the complexities of the reshuffle is that with the fall of McKenzie and Canavan the Nats have no Senate minister, but the remaining three senators (all women) are parliamentary newcomers. Still, one of these women will surely be in line for promotion, at the least to an assistant minister. McCormack sources believe all six women in the 21-member party voted for him; certainly most did.

The significance of the Nationals new deputy, David Littleproud, should not be overlooked in considering the future. Littleproud is competent, ambitious and articulate. He was frustrated at having his portfolio sliced back after the election.

His presence could assist McCormack. At 43, he has plenty of time and, in the National party tradition, an incentive to support his leader and inherit the mantle rather than trying to snatch it.

But if McCormack can’t survive until the election, the party would be better off turning to Littleproud than to Joyce, who would carry a maximum risk factor, not least for Morrison.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.

Watching our politicians fumble through the bushfire crisis, I’m overwhelmed by déjà vu



Scott Morrison’s much-parodied trip to Hawaii in the midst of the bushfire crisis is just one example of a leader not being where he should be.
Scott Marsh/AAP

Marc Hudson, Keele University

As someone who has studied Australian climate policy and politics closely, this summer’s bushfire crisis have been both heartbreaking and bewildering. The grave warnings politicians ignored for so long have now come to pass.

The fires may be without precedent, but these dark weeks have also brought an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. It’s hard to believe, but the Morrison government’s fumbling response to the fires and the broader climate crisis is in many ways history repeating.

From the disastrous optics of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s trip to Hawaii to blaming conservationists for the fires, our politicians keep making the same blunders and rolling out the same failed strategies.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was savaged by critics for refusing to meet former fire chiefs.
AAP

Here are five recurring themes in Australian politics when it comes to climate change and bushfires:

1. Blaming ‘greenies’

As the fire season ramped up in November last year, New South Wales Nationals leader John Barilaro accused the Greens of preventing governments from conducting hazard reduction burning, implying the party should shoulder blame for the fires.

“We’ve got to do better and I know that we don’t do enough hazard reduction […] because of the ideological position from the Greens,” he said.




Read more:
How should leaders respond to disasters? Be visible, offer real comfort – and don’t force handshakes


Such sentiment, which has been thoroughly debunked, regularly surfaces when bushfires rage.

Following the 2003 Canberra fires and 2009 Victorian fires, the forest industry said conservationists were preventing state governments from conducting hazard reduction burns.

After Victoria’s fires, former West Australian MP Wilson Tuckey also blamed the Greens, and parties seeking their preferences, for preventing controlled burns and causing the crisis.

Wrongly blaming green groups for preventing controlled burns is a recurring political theme.
Jason Edwards/AAP

2. Stoking a city-versus-country divide

In November last year, Nationals leader Michael McCormack sneered that those who made the link between climate change and bushfires were “raving inner-city lunatics” and “woke capital-city greenies”.

McCormack continues a long tradition of those opposed to strong climate action claiming only inner-city dwellers care about the issue.




Read more:
Weather bureau says hottest, driest year on record led to extreme bushfire season


It began in the late 1980s, when the the “greenhouse effect” first became a public issue. Some politicians derided it as just another greenies scare campaign, including frontbencher in the Hawke Labor government, Peter Walsh.

Walsh, contemptuous of the Greens movement, continued to rail against climate action after leaving politics. He reportedly described the science around global warming as “highly speculative” and as late as 2008 claimed action on climate “would land us in Middle Ages.”.

Nationals leader Michael McCormack, pictured in Question Time, has ridiculed those making a link between climate change and bushfires.
Lukas Coch/AAP

3. Experts ignored by politicians

Since April last year, former fire chiefs have implored the Morrison government to act on climate change and better prepare the nation for extreme fire seasons ahead. The government would not meet the experts to hear the advice, let alone implement it.

Successive governments have form when it comes to ignoring experts on climate matters. In September 1994 the CSIRO’s then top climate scientist, Graeme Pearman, briefed the Labor government’s cabinet about the likely impacts of climate change, as a debate over whether to institute a carbon tax heated up. Despite the warning, no tax was implemented.

Pearman retired a decade later under the Coalition government, reportedly having been asked by his superiors to resign for expressing views on climate change at odds with government policy.

A group of esteemed former fire chiefs were denied a hearing with the Morrison government.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

4. Leaders not fronting up

Morrison’s decision to take a family holiday in Hawaii as the bushfire crisis grew lost him serious political skin.

Some argue, rightly, that symbolism is less important than substance, and so Morrison’s trip is itself irrelevant. But symbolism creates or destroys both morale, and the possibility of stronger political action.

In 1992 newly minted Labor prime minister Paul Keating sent environment minister Ros Kelly to the Rio Earth Summit, prompting one journalist to observe he was “preoccupied with winning the upcoming election (and) said he wasn’t going all the way to Rio to give a six-minute speech”.

It made Australia the only OECD nation not represented by its head of state, and sent the message that Australia was not taking a serious approach to the discussions.

A cartoon by The Conversation’s Wes Mountain depicting the reaction of Nationals leader Michael McCormack (left) and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg (right) to Scott Morrison’s Hawaii trip.
Wes Mountain/The Conversation

5. ‘Jobs, jobs, jobs’ mantra

The Bureau of Meteorology this week confirmed this season’s horror bushfire crisis is linked to climate change. Planetary warming is clearly a threat to the nation’s economic well-being.

However Australian governments have routinely created a false dichotomy between environmental protection and jobs. Most recently, we’ve seen it in the Coalition government’s support for the Adani coal mine in central Queensland, and its repeated mantra of “jobs jobs jobs”.

The strategy has been used before. After the Franklin Dam fight in 1983, concern over environmental issues entered the political mainstream. But as former Labor science minister Barry Jones said later, that changed in 1991 when economic recession hit.

“Jobs, jobs, jobs became the priority and in some quarters there was a cynical reaction suggesting that environmental issues were luxuries which characterised affluent times […] This is a criminally short-sighted view,” he said.

Franklin Dam protesters in southwest Tasmania in 1982. The debate thrust environmental concern onto the political agenda. Sadly, it was short-lived.
NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF AUSTRALIA

What to do?

Only sustained citizen pressure will prevent a repeat of the past 30 years of political failures on climate change. The public must stay informed and demand better from our elected representatives.

Politicians can, when pressed, make better decisions. In April last year, the New Zealand government banned offshore oil and gas exploration after years of public pressure. And the following month, the UK Parliament declared a climate emergency after months of protests by activist group Extinction Rebellion.

It’s often said those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. But the world must act radically in the next decade to avoid catastrophic global warming. We cannot afford another 30 years of the same old mistakes.




Read more:
A season in hell: bushfires push at least 20 threatened species closer to extinction


The Conversation


Marc Hudson, Researcher on sociomaterial transformations, social movements, Keele University

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

View from The Hill: Coal turns lumpy for Scott Morrison and the Nationals


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison’s government is struggling with a fresh crisis,
the combination of a bitter domestic within the Nationals and the
conflicting imperatives of pitching to voters in Australia’s north and south on the highly charged issues of energy and climate change.

Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce on Monday turbocharged his push to regain the Nationals leadership with a media blitz.

Obviously the former Nationals leader would like his positions back
now (despite saying “we’ve got to go to the polls with the team
we’ve got”) but if that’s not possible he’s staking his claim for
after the election.

There was a manic edge to Joyce’s Monday interviews, focused on leadership and championing coal. Explaining why, while he wouldn’t move for a spill, he’d feel no “guilt” about standing if the opportunity came, he described himself as the “elected deputy prime minister of Australia”. That claim was based on occupying the position when the Coalition won the election.

Bizarrely, he also questioned that emissions could be measured. “It is a self-assessment process by the major emitters … And then it’s compiled by the government. So basically, it’s a proposition about a supposition,” he said on the ABC.

Although these days he sounds more over-the-top than ever, Joyce resonates with Queensland Nationals fearing a loss of seats – they have boundless faith in his campaigning power, and are highly critical of the ineffectiveness of party leader Michael McCormack.

One of their key KPIs for McCormack has been that he must successfully pressure Morrison for the government to underwrite coal-fired generation.

But McCormack hasn’t been able to deliver, and that became obvious on Monday, when Morrison indicated the government won’t be nominating a Queensland coal project for underwriting.

“For such a project to proceed, it would require the approval of the Queensland state government,” the Prime Minister said.

“Now, the Queensland state government has no intention of approving
any such projects at all. So I tend to work in the area of the
practical, the things that actually can happen”.

Annastacia Palaszczuk might derive some wry amusement to find the
PM sheltering behind her skirts.

The Queensland rebels are less amused, seeing this as evidence that
McCormack has lost the battle (if he ever joined it) and worrying the Prime Minister is “cutting Queensland adrift to sandbag Victoria”.

Morrison certainly knows that to embrace a coal project would be
counterproductive for the Liberals in Victoria, where a number of
seats are at risk.




Read more:
Politics with Michelle Grattan: Ian McAllister on voters and issues in the coming election


But it is not just Victoria, or even just Liberal seats.

A hard-fought state election is underway in NSW, and the Nationals have much at stake.

They have several seats on or near the north coast where concern about climate change would top commitment to coal.

Lismore is a case in point, where the Nationals have their member retiring, and polling is showing a strong Green vote.

The regional vote is seen as crucial to the NSW election outcome,
and it is very volatile.

The destabilisation in the federal party is the last thing the NSW
Nationals need right now. If the state Nationals do badly on March 23, there will be recriminations and that will flow back into the federal backbiting and panic.




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Mark Latham in the upper house? A Coalition minority government? The NSW election is nearly upon us and it’s going to be a wild ride


How McCormack will go managing his rebellious party in the coming
weeks is problematic.

He displays poor judgement under pressure, as he did on Monday, after Joyce said the Nationals could pursue policies in their own right because “we are not married to the Liberal Party”.

“I understand when you have a marriage that it’s a two-way
relationship,”. McCormack shot back. “You don’t always get what you
want, but you have to work together … That’s what I do with the
Liberals.”

The man who lacks “cut through” had cut through, in an unfortunate way, to Joyce’s marital failure.

On Monday night, the row over coal took a new turn, threatening a
dangerous further escalation.

A batch of moderate Liberals, in a co-ordinated effort, waded into the debate, with public comments opposing taxpayer funds being used to build or pay for any new coal-fired power station.

They included Trevor Evans, Jason Falinski, Tim Wilson (who likes to call himself “modern” rather than “moderate”), Trent Zimmerman, Jane Hume – and Dave Sharma, the candidate for Wentworth.

Their comments were made under the cover of supporting the Prime Minister, but they had been wanting to say their piece for quite a while.

Once again, raging energy and climate wars are burning out of control in government ranks.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: Michael McCormack fails leadership test in handling of Broad scandal


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

It took disgraced Nationals MP Andrew Broad 24 hours after the “sugar baby” story broke to announce the inevitable – that he won’t recontest his Victorian seat of Mallee. They do things slowly in the Nationals.

In Michael McCormack’s case, at glacial pace. The Nationals leader’s handling of the Broad scandal has been appalling. His failure to instantly inform Scott Morrison of a potentially explosive situation – the prime minister only learned of it on Monday – is inexplicable, and must severely strain the relationship between the two men at the top of the government.

McCormack on Monday muddled his account, saying he had only been told “a couple of weeks ago”, when he urged Broad to go to the police over the actions of a woman he met on a “seeking arrangement” website.




Read more:
National Andrew Broad forced to quit frontbench amid ‘sugar baby’ allegation


McCormack’s timetable was blown out of the water within hours by an Australian Federal Police statement that said Broad had referred the matter to it on November 8.

On Tuesday, McCormack’s performance was extraordinary.

He explained his confusion over timing by saying, “I don’t carry around the dates and times of what people tell me”.

He hadn’t informed Morrison at the start because “I don’t tell the prime minister everything about every member of parliament. He’s got enough on his mind at the moment.

“And quite frankly I thought it was a matter for Andrew to sort out with his family. Obviously, I wasn’t aware of the entire extent of what had taken place. I wasn’t made aware of that until yesterday.”

Asked whether he wanted Broad to run for Parliament again, McCormack blathered rather than just saying no.

Any diligent leader would have got to the bottom of the matter at once, extracting the full picture from Broad. Any prudent leader would have briefed the prime minister without delay. Any savvy leader would have known the scandal was likely to leak and that, anyway, Broad’s behaviour showed he was in an untenable position.

McCormack must live in some parallel universe if he ever thought his assistant minister’s account of flying off on an overseas date, which resulted in an apparent move to extract money from him, was just “a personal matter between him and his family”.

Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie said in a statement late Tuesday: “The Nationals are not a party where this standard of behaviour is acceptable”.

Yet McCormack kept Broad on as his assistant minister for weeks. And in his Monday morning statement announcing Broad had resigned from the frontbench, the Nationals leader said Broad “will continue as an effective and hardworking Member for Mallee”.

McCormack’s leadership is only secure because we are so close to an election. He was already under criticism from within his party and his conduct over Broad might have brought on a challenge in other circumstances.

The Nationals, supposed to be a party of family values, have bookended the year with two personal scandals. Barnaby Joyce’s affair with his former staffer, now mother of his son, distracted the Coalition in the early months.

How the Morrison government’s grand tactical plan to overshadow Labor’s national conference went awry! The big story about a surging budget position, promising dollars for tax cuts, was expected to dominate the news.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Morrison goes a bridge too far to outsmart Shorten


As things turned out, the government did squeeze out the Labor coverage – but for the worst of reasons.

Labor’s management plans, in contrast, went as smoothly as clockwork.

Tricky issues, notably border security, were stitched up. Potentially controversial polices, including how broadly a Labor government would allow industry-wide bargaining, have been left for decisions by the leadership later.

Even what seemed the risky course of having Kevin Rudd address the conference – as a gesture of reconciliation and party unity – played out without a hitch.




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Rudd says Murdoch media is a “political party”


A raid on New South Wales ALP headquarters in Sydney in pursuit of an ICAC investigation into donations was embarrassingly timed but didn’t threaten the narrative at the conference in Adelaide.

The conference was used as a platform for announcements – on housing affordability, the protection of superannuation, the environment, reconciliation, refugees, the pursuit of gender pay equality. There were few votes and only one of them, on a left proposal for a human rights charter, involved a count – the left narrowly lost.

Controversy over signing up to a nuclear weapons ban treaty, on which Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong have different views, was defused by wording that leaves plenty of latitude.

One significant resolution that was passed calls for a Labor government to recognise Palestine, something that various state conferences have been urging strongly.

The role of the unions was proudly acknowledged.

The ACTU secretary Sally McManus told the conference: “The trade union movement is the early warning system for this nation. We are the earthquake sensors in the ocean that feel the tremors before they reach the shores. We are the smoke alarm trying to wake you from your deepest sleep. The siren that makes you look up before it is too late.

“And we are sounding the alarm now. We see the unfairness, we see the fair go being crushed with growing inequality. It is time to listen and to act. And Australian Labor, Bill Shorten, is doing just that.”

It’s notable that in the election for the ALP national executive, the CFMMEU has gone from one representative to two. Its national secretary, Michael O’Connor, is now a member of it. The conference has left open how much the unions will get as Labor unveils more detail of its industrial policy over the coming months.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.

McCormack puts Chester back on frontbench in cautious changes


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Victorian Nationals MP Darren Chester, controversially dropped from cabinet by Barnaby Joyce, has been restored to the ministry in a minimalist reshuffle by new party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.

Chester takes McCormack’s old posts of veterans’ affairs and defence personnel. He also replaces McCormack as deputy leader of the house. He will be in the outer ministry rather than in cabinet, as he was previously, but is believed to be happy with the outcome.

The dropping of Chester in the December reshuffle – on the stated grounds that the election of Bridget McKenzie as deputy meant Victoria would be over-represented in the Nationals’ cabinet line-up – sparked much criticism. It added to the pressure on Joyce when the news of his affair with a former staffer broke.

In other changes, Queenslander Keith Pitt, also dropped by Joyce, becomes assistant minister to the deputy prime minister.

Mark Coulton, from New South Wales, is elevated to assistant minister for trade, tourism and investment.

Two assistant minister have been relegated to the backbench – Damian Drum from Victoria and Luke Hartsuyker from NSW.

McCormack has rewarded supporters but has been cautious in making changes. Rumours were flying among some in the jittery Nationals of much wider changes though these never seemed likely, given the new leader needs to settle the party down. McCormack said in a statement that “ultimately my focus was on maintaining stability so the government can get on with the job of delivering for the nation”.

The ConversationOn Monday, McCormack was sworn into the infrastructure and transport portfolio that Joyce took from Chester in December.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

McCormack has tough task to match Barnaby Joyce’s 2016 electoral gold standard


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

One man’s disaster is another man’s serendipity. If Barnaby Joyce hadn’t fallen spectacularly, Michael McCormack, 53, the new deputy prime minister, would likely never have become the Nationals’ leader.

In the normal course of events, by the time Joyce had moved on the party probably would have been ready for generational change – for example, to Queenslander David Littleproud, 41, who counted the numbers at the weekend but found he did not have enough for a tilt at the leadership on Monday.

Littleproud, a former agri-banker who was elevated by Joyce in December from the backbench to cabinet, potentially had as many as eight or nine out of the 21 Nationals, according to his supporters.

McCormack, the one-time editor of a regional newspaper who holds the New South Wales seat of Riverina and was a junior minister, comes to the top job with no blood on his hands, and with the Nationals knowing it is in their interests to get solidly behind him ahead of a difficult election next year. Those are significant advantages.

On the other hand, McCormack faces an uphill and possibly hazardous path, as he tries to establish himself within the government – where he’s unlikely to be a Joyce-type squeaky wheel and so could lose battles – and in regional Australia.

Joyce set the electoral gold standard for the Nationals at the 2016 election. When Turnbull was losing multiple seats the Nationals kept all theirs (and took one from the Liberals).

To replicate this or come close, McCormack must project the Nationals as having a distinct identity and relevance, and to cut through with their messages.

As one Nationals source puts it, when the Liberals are in the ascendant, as in 2013, the Nationals can ride on their coat-tails. But when the major partner is struggling, as in 2016 (and likely in 2019), it’s vital for the Nationals to distance themselves and establish their own pitch for support.

For all that Joyce’s position was untenable and his resignation a relief for the government, most of the Nationals – apart from Joyce’s known enemies – lament what they’ve lost. They recognise that even if McCormack proves a good leader he will never resonate in the bush the way Joyce has in the past (how he will in the future, after everything that’s happened, remains to be seen).

McCormack will need to work especially hard in Queensland, a state vital to the Nationals at the election (and where the Liberals and Nationals are formally joined in the Liberal National Party). Joyce was uniquely placed – a sort of dual citizen, the cheeky might say, who holds a NSW seat but previously was a Queensland senator.

Even after he moved to NSW, the Nationals from Queensland still saw Joyce as one of them. They had him there in the Queensland election, which was on when he was fighting his New England byelection. McCormack doesn’t enjoy such a convenient dual identity.

It will be important for McCormack to establish a good relationship with Littleproud, who’s well placed to help with the formidable task of Queensland campaigning. Those who know Littleproud say he is by nature loyal and would not seek to undermine McCormack.

Another Queensland challenge is maverick Queensland backbencher George Christensen – who made a token run in Monday’s leadership vote. He was difficult enough for Joyce to handle, though the two were personally quite close. Christensen won’t be any easier for McCormack, and could be harder.

How Joyce plays things in the next few months will be relevant to McCormack’s ability to run a united team.

As well as always being a centre of interest because he’s such a colourful character, in the minds of some in the party and the media Joyce is not dead forever. Immediately after he was elected as leader, McCormack was asked whether he was “keeping the seat warm for Barnaby until he can mount a comeback”.

Such questions (though I think far-fetched) must be annoying for the new leader. But whether Joyce’s presence becomes a serious irritant depends as much on McCormack’s performance as on Joyce’s behaviour.

Most immediately, Joyce’s travails aren’t over. It was revealed in Senate estimates on Monday that last week Malcolm Turnbull asked the head of his department, Martin Parkinson, to look into whether Joyce had broken the ministerial code of conduct. This investigation has now been abandoned with Joyce’s resignation.

But the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority is still probing whether there was any misuse of entitlements by Joyce and his former staffer – now partner – Vikki Campion.

More seriously, the Nationals’ organisation has on its plate the complaint from former Western Australian Rural Woman of the Year Catherine Marriott, accusing Joyce of sexual harassment.

Leaving aside the row over who leaked the woman’s name (the Nationals deny it was them), this matter is surely a nightmare for the party. How is it going to inquire into it? Is the matter going to be tied up in a protracted legal argument? Will Joyce and his accuser be summoned for questioning?

The ConversationTo state the obvious, the outcome of this inquiry is critical to Joyce’s personal reputation. He’s called for the allegation to be referred to the police. He has also claimed in private conversations that his rejection of the allegation would be backed by text messages.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Under McCormack, the Nationals need to accept they are a minority and preserve their independence


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New Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack (front) talks to the media, while former leader Barnaby Joyce (left) listens in.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Gregory Melleuish, University of Wollongong

The demise of Barnaby Joyce as leader of the National Party is an event of considerable importance in the long-term trajectory of Australian politics.

While his successor, New South Wales MP Michael McCormack, appears to have good conservative credentials, he is largely unknown to the Australian public, having held relatively minor ministerial portfolios such as Veterans’ Affairs.

Joyce was the last high-profile conservative leader left in mainstream Australian political life. With his banishment to the backbenches, it would appear that the triumph of left liberalism in Australian public life has been complete.




Read more:
Barnaby Joyce: the story of an unlikely rise and a self-inflicted fall


This needs to be explained a little further. There was a time when the Australian Labor Party espoused a mixture of what it called “socialism”, or social justice, and conservative social values. In part, this reflected the strength of the Catholic Right in the party. Those days are now gone, as can be seen in the way that the party so enthusiastically embraced marriage equality.

John Howard once famously described the Liberal Party in terms of liberalism and social conservatism. However, recent events would seem to indicate the continued ascendancy of the moderate, or social liberal, faction within the party. Like Barnaby Joyce, Tony Abbott sits on the backbench, hurling the occasional hand grenade at the moderate hegemony.

Two possible conclusions could be drawn from these developments. One is that the Australian population is increasingly adopting left liberal values; the postal survey on marriage equality could be cited as evidence, as even many National Party electorates voted in favour. A counter argument could be mounted that the political class has moved in a left liberal direction, even if the people they represent have not.

Even if left liberalism has become more dominant, this does not mean it has been universally embraced. Many Australians still adhere to more traditional values and do not want their voices to be silenced by what threatens to be a left liberal hegemony.

Of course, the primary role of the National Party is to represent the interests of rural Australia, which it has been doing for some 100 years. The only problem is that, during that time, rural Australia has become an ever-decreasing part of the Australian population. In 1922, when the then Country Party first entered into a coalition with the then Nationalist Party, it won 12.56% of the vote in the House of Representatives and held 14 seats in a 75-seat Parliament.

In 2016, the Nationals hold 16 seats in a 150-seat House of Representatives. The outlook is even gloomier, as the increased immigration of recent years has largely gone to the large cities. The number of National Party members can only decline over time. The rural voice will be heard less and less.

One option for the Nationals would be to merge with the Liberal Party. This has been tried in Queensland, where it seems to have benefited the Liberals while failing at last year’s state election to deliver government to the Liberal Nationals.

The trajectory of Australian social development means that rural Australia is forever doomed to minority status. One consequence of this development is that those holding conservative values are also condemned to being in a minority. One can only say that this is a very difficult situation.

One solution would be to embrace the dominant left liberal ideology. This, however, raises significant problems, as the Nationals represent a constituency that remains quite traditional in its values. The more liberal it becomes, the more open it also becomes to having its constituency stolen by parties espousing more traditional values, such as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.




Read more:
Welcome to the new (old) moralism: how the media’s coverage of the Joyce affair harks back to the 1950s


The reality of any democracy is that the majority should prevail, but minorities need to have protection from the “tyranny of the majority” and the tendency of majorities to impose their desires and values on everyone else. The reality in Australia is that the majority is based in urban areas and will increasingly come to hold left liberal values.

In such circumstances, the situation of those who are either conservative and/or rural becomes increasingly difficult. Their values and outlook will often be at odds with the majority, and their chances of prevailing on any major issue are not great.

The same is true for the National Party. It must recognise that it is a minority and that its constituency can only get smaller over time. This does not mean that it should embrace the left liberal hegemony. If it were to do so it would only risk being displaced by a competitor.

Rather, it needs to embrace its minority status, establish clearly what it stands for, and recognise that perhaps the best it can do is soften the harshness that the tyranny of the majority might seek to impose. It would be foolish to rush into the arms of the Liberal Party and suffer what conservatives within the Liberal Party have suffered at the hands of the moderates.

The ConversationIndependence has long been a primary virtue of rural Australians. It is a value they should continue to embrace. For all his faults, Barnaby Joyce was an embodiment of that spirit of rural independence. Judging by his background, McCormack is cut from similar cloth. It remains to be seen how he will portray himself to the Australian public.

Gregory Melleuish, Professor, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, University of Wollongong

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

McCormack wins Nationals leadership after token challenge by Christensen



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Michael McCormack has been elected as the Nationals’ new leader.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Michael McCormack is the new Nationals leader and deputy prime minister, defeating Queensland maverick George Christensen, who was a late and unexpected starter in the leadership ballot.

McCormack, speaking after the party meeting, paid immediate tribute to Barnaby Joyce, saying he had been an “outstanding leader” whose “legacy will endure”.

The new Nationals leader went into immediate talks with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who’d returned from his US trip only hours before.

There will be a limited reshuffle, with the key decision being who occupies the key infrastructure and transport portfolio that Joyce had. There will also be interest in whether Victorian Darren Chester, dropped from cabinet last year by Joyce, is returned to the frontbench.

McCormack, 53, a former journalist, who is member for the New South Wales seat of Riverina, entered parliament in 2010. Most recently he has held the ministerial jobs of veterans affairs and minister for defence personnel. He is a former minister for small business.

His challenges will be to unite his party behind him, make himself widely known among rural and regional voters, forge a strong relationship with Turnbull, and establish his authority more generally within the government. He will also have to try minimise any disruption that having Joyce on the backbench may cause, as well as keep the perennially difficult Christensen under as much control as possible.

The challenge by Christensen, who at the weekend questioned the value of the Nationals being in coalition, was a token one. The numbers in the vote were not announced, and even the contenders said they didn’t know them.

A more serious potential contender, David Littleproud, from Queensland, pulled out late on Sunday night, under pressure for a consensus result.

Party whip Michelle Landry told reporters that in the partyroom Christensen had talked about the National Party’s values and what it had done for regional Australia.

In his comments after the meeting, McCormack emphasised he was a “team player”. He also said that while the National Party was a party of farmers, it was broader than that – with its MPs coming from many different backgrounds.

The ConversationMcCormack has taken Joyce’s portfolio of infrastructure and transport, and has been sworn into his new ministry and as deputy prime minister at Government House.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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