Senate president Scott Ryan has called out the right within the
Liberal party and among commentators, declaring that Liberal voters
“don’t want views rammed down their throats”.
In a trenchant critique of federal influences in the rout of the
Victorian Liberals, Ryan, a former vice-president of the state
division, pointed to the swings in seats “that are the cradle of the
They were areas that were in federal seats like Goldstein, Higgins,
Menzies and Kooyong, he told the ABC.
These voters were the “real base of the Liberal party. They sent us a
message,” he said. “They don’t want litmus tests for what it means to be a real Liberal”.
Many Liberal voters were fairly conservative in their own lives,
raising kids, working hard, running small businesses, supporting
strong local communities. “But they’re pretty liberal in their
political outlook. They don’t want views rammed down their throat, and
they don’t want to ram their views down other people’s throat.
“And that has historically been the Liberal way. We’re often
conservative in our disposition – I am – but I’m very liberal in my
He said part of the problem was “tone” – while Victoria was a state
election some of the noise that came out of Canberra “did strongly
influence the scale of the loss, where it happened”.
Ryan said after the loss of Wentworth some had “tried to dismiss those
voters as not part of real Australia … labelling people, dismissing
them – that’s not the Liberal way.
“I want to cast the net wide in the Menzies and Howard tradition [so]
as to give people a reason to be Liberals, not come up with litmus
tests and say if you don’t hold this view on a social issue, or if you
don’t hold this particular view on climate change or renewable energy,
then somehow you’re not a real Liberal.
“This is not the path to electoral success. And I’m sick of being
lectured to by people who aren’t members of the party, by people who
have never stood on polling booths, about what it means to be a real
Ryan declined to name names, but his reference to the media was
directed at commentators on Sky in the evening and the Sydney shock
Liberal voters wanted the government to focus on their issues and “I
think the federal government is doing that,” he said.
Ryan said that the days before Wentworth “were distracted … talking
about what some people call religious freedom”. In Victoria people
weren’t raising anti-discrimination law with him on polling booths.
“What we need to do is say the Liberal party has people with various
views, and all of those views can be accommodated, and internally the
idea of compromise is actually a good thing”.
Too often compromise was seen as a sell out, he said. But John Howard
and Peter Costello had compromised to achieve historic tax reform;
Peter Reith had compromised with the Australian Democrats to get
industrial relations change.
“This idea – and I think this is another thing that a lot of our
voters are tired of – that somehow to compromise to address a problem,
and move on to one of the other plethora of problems governments need
to address – that is not selling out – that is getting the jobs done”.
Tim Wilson, the member for Goldstein, criticised those who were being
ideological about energy policy.
“If anybody thinks that there’s this great public sentiment out there
that people really deep down hate renewables and they’re hugging
something like coal, I say again — get real,” Wilson told Sky.
He said he had sat on polling booths where “every second person either gave you deadly silence, which is a very cold, deadly silence, or there were people mentioning energy, climate, or the deposing of the prime minister”.
Victorian senator Jane Hume wrote in the Australian Financial Review:
“Our quest should always be to raise the standard of living – whether
through economic policies, energy, health or education. If we allow
good policy to be infiltrated by even the perception of an ideological
crusade, Labor will win the messaging war”.
After the Prime Minister met Victorian Liberal federal MPs on Monday
morning Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who is deputy Liberal leader, said
“We had a good, honest discussion about lessons to be learned from the
state campaign. As a group we will continue to be focused on
delivering for our local communities.”
Malcolm Turnbull was no doubt relieved when the prime ministerial jet lifted off from Australian soil yesterday, bound for the United States and his first formal round of discussions in Washington with an American president.
In Turnbull’s own words – applied to Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s domestic troubles – he will be hoping to leave behind a “world of woe”.
After a steadier start to the new year, the Joyce scandal, involving an affair with a political staffer, has cut the ground from under those improved prospects.
This has been reflected in the latest round of polling, which shows the Coalition slipping back against the Labor opposition. Turnbull’s own approval rating has taken a hit.
For these and other reasons, not least the need to establish a sound working relationship with a new administration, the prime minister will be looking to a circuit-breaker.
Whether Turnbull’s “first 100 years of mateship” visit to Washington – with state premiers and business leaders in tow – provides a diversion from his domestic woes remains to be seen.
The hokey branding for the mission refers to the centenary of American soldiers fighting under Australian command on the Western Front in the Battle of Hamel in 1918.
In Washington, Turnbull’s discussions with President Donald Trump will focus primarily on China’s rise, the North Korean nuclear issue, and trade.
How to respond to North Korea’s provocations represents an immediate problem. But in the longer term, China’s expanding power and influence constitute the greatest security challenge facing Australia since the second world war.
In his public statements, Turnbull has been alternately hawkish and conciliatory toward Beijing, but it appears his instincts tend to align themselves with an American hedging strategy.
The Turnbull view of how to manage China’s rise was given particular expression in a speech in June 2017 to the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. In this speech he called for “new sources of leadership [in the Indo-Pacific] to help the United States shape our common good”.
Turnbull’s Shangri-La speech was forthright for an Australian prime minister. He sharply criticised China’s “unilateral actions to seize or create territory or militarise disputed areas” in the South China Sea.
Beijing denies it, but it is clear it has been constructing a defence perimeter on islands and features in disputed waters. This prompted the following from Turnbull:
China has gained the most from the peace and harmony in our region and it has the most to lose if it is threatened … A coercive China would find its neighbours resenting demands they cede their autonomy and strategic space and look to counterweigh Beijing’s power by bolstering alliances and partnerships, between themselves and especially with the United States.
That speech was followed by increased efforts to expand a quadrilateral security dialogue between Australia, Japan, India and the US.
Turnbull’s visit to Japan in January for high-profile talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emphasised shared regional security goals with other members of the so-called Quad.
What steps might be taken to further develop security collaboration between Australia, the US, India and Japan will almost certainly be on the table in Washington.
The Trump administration’s appointment of Admiral Harry Harris, the outgoing head of the US Pacific Command, as the ambassador-designate in Canberra is a signal of its intentions.
Harris has a hawkish view of China’s expanding influence in the Indo-Pacific. His participation in a security conference in Delhi in January along with Australian, Japanese and Indian naval commanders was significant in light of stepped-up efforts to bolster maritime collaboration between Quad members.
However – and this is a sizeable “however” – Turnbull needs to be careful not to be sucked into an American slipstream where China is concerned. Australia’s commercial interests dictate prudence in how it positions itself between a rising China and the US under an unpredictable Trump presidency.
The new US National Defence Strategy exposed differences between Canberra and Washington in their views of “revisionist” China and Russia as threats to US hegemony.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop felt obliged to distance Australia from the Trump administration’s characterisation of attempts by China and Russia to “shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model”. She said:
We have a different perspective on Russia and China, clearly. We do not see Russia or China as posing a military threat to Australia.
Turnbull, for his part, provided a more nuanced response. He said:
We don’t see threats from our neighbours in the region but nonetheless every country must always plan ahead and you need to build the capabilities to defend yourself not just today but in 10 years or 20 years hence.
Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper and 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper (the two documents should be read in conjunction) sketched out a future in which the country needs to buttress its defence capabilities in light of China’s rise.
Apart from China and related security matters, Turnbull will focus on trade in Washington. He will no doubt try to persuade Trump to revisit his decision to pull the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, now rebranded as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
The US withdrawal from the TPP, as one of Trump’s first executive acts as president, was disappointing. A trading bloc in the Indo-Pacific accounting for 36% of global GDP would have served as a counterweight to China’s surging trade and investment ambitions.
The revised CPTPP – including Australia, Japan, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Chile, Vietnam and Brunei – remains significant. But clearly the abrupt US withdrawal has lessened its reach.
Significantly, Turnbull will discuss the CPTPP on the eve of the initialling of the agreement among the 11 remaining participants on March 8.
Trump has indicated he might be receptive to arguments for American re-engagement in the CPTPP process. However, this would require the renegotiation of provisions on such contentious issues as dispute settlements, copyright and intellectual property.
It is hard to see this happening in a timely manner. In a sense, the train has left the station.
The latter is a vast Chinese infrastructure scheme. China is seeking to strengthen its influence in surrounding states by recycling a portion of its foreign exchange reserves in road, rail, port and other such projects.
It is not clear just how Turnbull and Trump might seek to provide alternative sources of infrastructure funding for projects to counter Chinese attempts to buy influence far and wide.
Such a scheme emerged from a pre-summit briefing in Canberra. The fact it is being floated attests to concerns in Washington and Canberra about China’s success in using its financial heft to extend its security interests.
The Nationals’ federal president, Larry Anthony, has appealed to the party to give Barnaby Joyce “time”, as Joyce’s future sits on a knife-edge.
Anthony, who flew to Canberra for talks on the crisis late Tuesday, said afterwards: “It’s been an extraordinarily difficult time for the National Party, and clearly for Barnaby Joyce and his family, and for the government.
“It’s important people think very carefully about making any significant decisions. You are never wise to make decisions in the heat of the moment. Barnaby should be given time.”
With speculation on Tuesday about whether he’d last the week, Joyce’s greatest protection in the short term remained the absence of a strong alternative. The atmosphere in Coalition ranks was fevered, with the pressure all the greater because Joyce is due to become acting prime minister next week, a prospect that appals many Liberals. No-one knows what the next media story might bring.
Joyce on Tuesday morning issued multiple apologies, as he desperately tried to contain the damage of his affair with former staffer Vikki Campion, who is expecting his child.
He was “deeply sorry” for the hurt he’d caused his wife and daughters, and “deeply sorry” Campion had been dragged into the controversy. The message to supporters and his electorate was that he was “deeply sorry” a personal issue had gone into the public arena.
Later there was a further apology in the Coalition partyroom, essentially for the trouble he’s caused.
“Every political career has a time of trial,” Joyce told the meeting, adding he was determined to work through his situation. He thanked colleagues for their solidarity.
To the extent there was solidarity, it was driven by necessity.
Angry Liberals are powerless – they have no say in who is Nationals leader.
A report that Malcolm Turnbull was ringing around senior Nationals was denied – Turnbull is said to have returned a call from a National who called him. A Liberal leader wading into a Nationals leadership matter would be as risky as jumping into crocodile waters.
The Nationals’ situation is perfectly described by the “rock-and-hard-place” cliché.
They have a diminished leader, discredited among their conservative base. But the alternatives are less than optimal for a small party that needs strong leadership to extract more for the bush than its numbers would justify.
Resources Minister Matt Canavan is a senator and so not an option. Darren Chester, whom Joyce dumped from cabinet in December, is a Victorian (and a social moderate) – if he were elevated, Bridget McKenzie would have to go from the deputyship because a party with its heartland further north couldn’t have two Victorians at the top.
That leaves Michael McCormack, from New South Wales, solid but not popular enough with his colleagues even to win the deputyship in recent ballots.
On anything to do with the Joyce issue Turnbull’s approach – in the partyroom, in parliament and in the media – is, figuratively, to hold his nose and point his finger at the culprit.
Turnbull on Tuesday again had to answer a batch of questions in parliament including about the definition of a “partner” for the purposes of the ministerial code.
That code bans “partners” working in ministerial offices. Joyce said on Tuesday that Campion was “without a shadow of doubt” his partner now but she wasn’t when she was on his staff.
“Partner is not defined in the relevant ministerial standards,” Turnbull said, directing attention to the definition used by the Department of Human Services.
To determine if you’re a member of a couple … we’ll consider the following factors: financial aspects of your relationship; nature of your household; social aspects of your relationship; if you have a sexual relationship; nature of your commitment to each other.
Turnbull told parliament that “Centrelink considers a person to be in a de facto relationship from the time they commence living with another person as a member of a couple.”
The Joyce issue, however, has now gone beyond the detail of the arrangements made for Campion to move offices, and the like. As one journalist put it, it’s become “the vibe”. In many minds, a question of character.
Joyce’s present imbroglio is bringing out allegations of past tacky behaviour. A woman contacted the ABC on Tuesday recounting a strange incident that allegedly occurred at an early-evening cocktail party, hosted by the Collections Council (a peak body for galleries, libraries etc), in Parliament House in 2009 or 2010.
Joyce, then a senator, was one of the few politicians there. The woman, a senior academic and a director of the (now-defunct) council, says she chatted to him – he was charming and merry but not drunk. He gave her his card. When they parted “he grabbed my buttock and squeezed it,” the woman, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Conversation.
She said that before Tuesday she’d only related the incident to her family. A story in the Murdoch papers about alleged bottom-pinching elsewhere – totally denied by Joyce – prompted her to speak out. Joyce’s office said of her claim that it was “being asked to comment on an anonymous person who has never made a complaint”.
Joyce, for all his campaigning strengths, has always been unpredictable, a potential time-bomb. He steadied and focused as he concentrated on pursuing the leadership and then in his earlier days in it. Now the time-bomb has exploded and the Nationals are in a deep funk, not knowing what to do.
A week after the release of a book depicting him as not intelligent enough and not mentally fit to be trusted as commander-in-chief, Donald Trump has done it again. On the same day he cancelled a visit to London to open the new US embassy there, a move many interpreted as an attempt to avoid embarrassing protests, he embarrassed himself further by demanding to know why the US deigns to accept immigrants from “shithole countries”.
Before this latest outburst, the White House had spent a week trying in vain to rise above the account of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, which uses the words of people in Trump’s White House and inner circle to argue that Trump, in the alleged private words of secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is a “fucking moron”. Having failed to block the book’s publication and instead hastened it, the White House pivoted instead to denigrating Wolff and one of his primary sources, the former White House chief strategist and Trump ally Steve Bannon.
Trump pursued the mission with both anger and enthusiasm via his favourite medium, Twitter, slamming the book as “really boring and untruthful” and dismissing Bannon as “Sloppy Steve”.
Besides reinforcing his image as a temperamental, ill-informed man-child, Trump’s counter-attack misses the point. Even if Wolff is a huckster peddling dubious quotes, as more than a few journalists claim, others have been spreading the message publicly and privately since the day Trump took office.
Chief among them, via his own actions and words, is Trump himself. But there’s also Democratic senator Jack Reed, who in July 2017 told his Republican counterpart Susan Collins, “I think – I think he’s crazy. I mean, I don’t say that lightly and as a kind of a goofy guy.” Collins responded: “I’m worried.” Republican senator Bob Corker, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, first said that Trump “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful” and later called the White House “an adult day care centre”.
The cabinet, too, are more than worried. Besides Tillerson’s reported contempt, Trump’s secretary of defence, James Mattis, and his chief of staff, John Kelly have reportedly made a pact that one of them will be in the US at all times.
But in Wolff’s account, the foremost figure to question Trump’s faculties is Steve Bannon, the hard-right ideologue who arguably propelled Trump to victory.
Treasonous and unpatriotic
Wolff depicts a Bannon out for himself and his agenda, even at the cost of tearing down Trump and his family. “Javanka”, the husband-wife team of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka, meet with Bannon’s unbridled derision: Kushner is financially compromised, including by Russians, and Ivanka is “dumb as a brick”. The elder Trump himself, meanwhile, is a pliable simpleton.
But far more importantly, Wolff’s Bannon inserts the Trumps into the middle of the alleged collusion with Russia during the 2016 campaign. Donald Trump Jr., Kushner, and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort are “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” for a June 2016 meeting with three Kremlin-linked envoys in Trump Tower in New York City, arranged by Trump Jr. to discuss Russia’s provision of material damaging to Hillary Clinton.
In Wolff’s rendering, Bannon thinks the ultimate downfall of Trump and Co. will be revelations of Russian financial input into the campaign: “It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner shit. The Kushner shit is greasy. They [Mueller’s team] are going to go right through that.”
After the book dropped, Bannon did not deny any of his statements. Under pressure from his billionaire backers the Mercer family, he clarified that the words “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” refer only to Manafort, who is already under indictment on financial, tax and lobbying charges related to the Trump-Russia investigation.
Bannon has become the most conspicuous casualty of the Fire and Fury fallout, not only dismissed as “sloppy” by Trump but now ousted from his position at far-right soapbox Breitbart. But even with Bannon mostly stripped of his influence, the complaints against Trump raise a disturbing question: why are so many people who think Trump is mentally unfit still willing for him to remain in office?
The answer is that no matter how unstable and vacuous he may be, Trump is a very useful vehicle for other people’s ambitions.
The useful idiot
Even after his supremely unedifying first year, Trump still serves as a conveniently empty vessel for all manner of enablers. Having resuscitated his career after six bankruptcies by playing a businessman on reality TV, he now plays the role of chief executive so industries can get pesky regulations rolled back.
As he keeps up his stream of offensive, irresponsible pronouncements, GOP legislators put up with it so they can finally secure their $1.5 trillion tax giveaway. And as white supremacists proclaim their moment has come: as David Duke, former KKK Grand Wizard, explained at the violent Charlottesville march in August 2017: “We are going to fulfil the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in.”
As long as Trump serves that purpose, it does not matter how many conflicts of interest he has, how many women accuse him of sexually harassing or assaulting them. It does not matter how many memoranda or constitutional clauses he does not read or understand. And it does not matter how many Russians he and his inner circle might have met and assisted.
But Trump’s usefulness might well expire when Robert Mueller completes his work. That could be sooner than many people would like – with Manafort indicted and former national security advisor Michael Flynn pleading guilty to lying to the FBI, the next probable target is Kushner – and from there, it’s only one rung up the ladder to Trump himself. Then again, Mueller’s probings could take months or years more to get there. Until then, this emperor’s new clothes nightmare continues with no end in sight.
Despite claims to the contrary by the Zimbabwean military spokesperson Major General Sibusiso Moyo, Zimbabwe is in the throes of its first coup d’état since independence in 1980. Robert Mugabe, the only head of state the country has known in its 37-year existence, is today under house arrest, and the former vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has long aspired to succeed Mugabe, has returned to Zimbabwe from South Africa, after having fled on November 6.
It appears that Mugabe’s decision to sack Mnangagwa – possibly at the behest of his wife, Grace Mugabe – may turn out to have been his last major decision as president.
These events have provoked much interest and anticipation around the world, and not least from Zimbabwe’s former colonial master, the UK. The British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, stated in the House of Commons on November 15 that:
this House will remember the brutal litany of [Mugabe’s] 37 years in office; the elections he rigged and stole; the murder and torture of his opponents … Authoritarian rule, whether in Zimbabwe or anywhere else, should have no place in Africa.
Johnson also warned against any transition “from one unelected tyrant to the next”.
For the past three years, the British government has displayed an interest in reengaging with Zimbabwe. It is an open secret that Britain’s re-engagement identified Mnangagwa as the candidate they could best work with. When the current British ambassador in Harare, Catriona Laing, took up her post in September 2014, her mission was to “rebuild bridges and ensure that re-engagement succeeds to facilitate Mnangagwa’s rise to power”. In September 2017, it was reported that British diplomats were working to secure a Mnangagwa succession “with a US$2 billion economic bail-out underwriting the project”.
According to diplomats with direct knowledge of succession discussions surrounding the rebuilding of post-Mugabe Zimbabwe, Laing has not wavered in her support for Mnangagwa to succeed Mugabe and, since Mnangagwa’s hasty retreat to Pretoria on November 6, it seems the British have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to facilitate Mnangagwa’s unhindered return to Zimbabwe and installation as president of the ZanuPF government. It has been reported that plans to take over the country by force have been in place for some time – and that Mnangagwa was instrumental in those plans
There are unconfirmed reports that a new post-Mugabe deal is under discussion. Under its terms, Mnangagwa would lead a transitional government in Zimbabwe with the support of other political parties leading to full elections in five years’ time. There are suggestions that Mnangagwa has the backing of the Chinese – who recently met with the commander of the coup, General Constantino Chiwenga – while the South African government allowed him to return to Zimbabwe unimpeded on November 15.
So it seems the end of the Mugabe era has come. But one has to ask whether a Mnangagwa presidency would really be a new beginning.
The Crocodile’s credentials
Mnangagwa, known as The Crocodile, has throughout the history of Zimbabwe been complicit in the manipulation of the ZANU-PF election process by promoting violence, intimidation and repression as well as illegal administrative strategies to ensure ZANU-PF election success. He has also long faced allegations of corruption and diamond looting in both Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In 2012, the NGO Global Witness released an investigative report that revealed how ZANU-PF and the military elite used the proceeds from looted diamonds to fund human rights abuses. The report specifically points to the complicit conduct of Mnangagwa and his ally Chiwenga.
Mnangagwa has also been accused of playing a pivotal role in the Matabeleland Massacres of 1982-1987. In January 1983, Mugabe launched a massive security clampdown on the unarmed citizens of the Matabeleland region, violence that was both politically and ethnically motivated. This episode of relentless and persistent state-orchestrated violence, known as Gukurahundi, was perpetrated by an elite army unit known as the Fifth Brigade. It is estimated that 20,000 people were massacred and many hundreds of thousands of others tortured, beaten or raped. Mnangagwa has denied involvement and has blamed the army.
On March 4, 1983, at a rally held not far from Lupane in Matabeleland, Mnangagwa publicly conflated being a citizen of Matabeleland with being a political dissident. According to news reports at the time, he told his audience the government had “an option” of “burning down … all the villages infected with dissidents”, saying “the campaign against dissidents can only succeed if the infrastructure which nurtures them is destroyed”.
He described dissidents as “cockroaches” and the Fifth Brigade as “DDT” brought in to “eradicate” them. In short, he made it clear that the destruction of the civilian population of Matabeleland was part of a deliberate state policy – and the very next day came the country’s worst massacre yet, on the banks of the Ciwale river, when 62 people were killed.
The crimes against humanity perpetrated in Matabeleland left hundreds of thousands traumatised – many still don’t know where their loved ones are buried. The victims of Gukurahundi are deeply divided, stigmatised and discriminated against. Their plight will go unaddressed if the person who succeeds Mugabe is himself responsible for appalling political crimes and harms to which millions of Zimbabweans have been subjected.
If Zimbabwe is to step back from the brink of state failure, it must find a way to address the Mugabe regime’s crimes, including Mnangagwa’s role in Gukurahundi. At the very least, Zimbabwe’s neighbours and the international community alike must stand in the way of those responsible for state-sponsored atrocities and corruption that have been the hallmark of Mugabe’s government for 37 years obtaining or maintaining positions in the post-Mugabe government of Zimbabwe.
In order to promote a stable, secure and reconciled Zimbabwe, the crimes of the regime of Mugabe must be addressed, and this includes Mnangagwa’s crimes and his role in Gukurahundi. The British government seems to have other plans.
Senate president Stephen Parry has announced he will resign immediately from parliament after the United Kingdom government advised that he was a British citizen.
Confirming the latest blow to the Turnbull government, Parry said he was quitting now that the court’s Friday ruling had “given absolute clarity to the meaning and application of Section 44(1)” of the constitution.
Parry’s British citizenship is via his late father who came to Australia as a child. He only checked out his situation with British authorities after the court ruling, indicating publicly on Tuesday that he was awaiting information.
Parry’s departure is feeding into the current’s tensions between the Nationals and the Liberals, with New South Wales National John “Wacka” Williams putting up his hand for the position of Senate president.
The post has never been held by a member of the Nationals or its predecessor the Country party, and the Liberals will want to keep it in their own hands.
Liberal frontrunners would include the chief government whip in the Senate, David Bushby, who is from Tasmania, and South Australia’s Liberal David Fawcett, who is deputy government whip in the Senate.
The government puts up a nominee who is then voted on by the Senate. The Liberal candidate is routinely chosen by Liberal senators but there might be pressure this time to include the Nationals in the decision.
Williams, the Nationals whip in the Senate, is a deputy president and so used to occupying the Senate chair. “I’d like to see more discipline in the chamber, especially at question time”, he said on Wednesday.
Williams pointed out he has only 20 months left in Parliament – he will retire at the end of this term. “For 20 months it would be good if the Liberal party supported the National party to do the job”.
The acting parliamentary leader of the Nationals, senator Nigel Scullion said that “Wacka would make a great president for the Senate.”
But Liberal senator Eric Abetz said: “This is a Liberal Party position, it always has been and always will be.”
There was tension between the Coalition partners last week when Malcolm Turnbull made deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop acting prime minister while he is overseas, rather than Scullion.
Parry is set to be replaced as a Tasmanian senator on a countback by Richard Colbeck, a former minister who was next on the Liberal ticket, although the process will have to be formally decided by the High Court.
Calls continue to come for a full audit of the citizenship of parliamentarians, including from Liberals such as Craig Kelly, but this is being resisted by both the government and the opposition.
In his resignation statement Parry appealed to senators not to further burden by too many references an overloaded Senate committee system. “There are only so many hours that a senator can apply to this work. It is important that the fine reputation of our Senate committees continues to be well regarded here and internationally”.
The government has been thrown into a fresh crisis, with Senate President Stephen Parry announcing he may be a dual British citizen as a result of his father having been born in the UK.
Parry’s bombshell comes after Friday’s High Court decision knocked two Nationals ministers, Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash, out of parliament, triggering a byelection in Joyce’s New England seat.
Attorney-General George Brandis, asked on Sunday whether he could provide an assurance there were no other Coalition MPs sitting in parliament who were foreign citizens, told Sky: “I have absolutely no reason to believe that there are”.
Parry, a senator from Tasmania, is the first Liberal to be caught in the dual citizenship debacle.
He said in a statement issued late on Tuesday that he had examined his situation after Friday’s court decision which gave “absolute clarity” about Section 44 of the Constitution.
Parry did not explain why he did not check his citizenship earlier, notably when Nash announced she had British citizenship via her Scottish father.
Parry has now sought clarification from the UK government. He said if he were found to be a British citizen he would resign from parliament without waiting for the outcome of any referral to the High Court because “I believe the High Court has made it abundantly clear what action is required”.
Parry said his father was born in the UK and moved to Australia as a boy in 1951. “He married my mother in 1960 and I was born that same year in Burnie. I have always regarded my late father as Australian, particularly as he undertook his national service and participated as a member of the Australian Army Reserve and voted in every Australian election since adulthood.”
He said he wrote to the British Home Office on Monday to seek clarity. “This was the first opportunity to do so since the High Court ruling,” he said. The Home Office had sought further details from him on Tuesday, which he had provided, and he was waiting for a response.
“Depending upon the outcome, I may seek further legal advice before reporting back to the Senate.”
Even if Parry quit parliament before a High Court ruling on his eligibility to have been elected, the court would need to clarify his status to determine whether the vacancy would be filled by a countback or a casual vacancy, with the Liberal Party choosing the candidate.
The next candidate on the ticket in a countback would be former Liberal senator Richard Colbeck, who was pushed down the ticket at the 2016 election in a factional power play involving fellow Tasmanian Eric Abetz.
Colbeck, a former minister, scotched any suggestion that if he were elected in a recount he would resign to allow Parry to return. He told The Conversation he was waiting to see what the situation was but if the seat came to him “I’d take it in a heartbeat”. He added that his parents and grandparents were born in Australia.
Abetz said in a statement he was shocked by the Parry news. “Senator Parry has a long and distinguished career of service to the people of Tasmania and Australia. If he is found ineligible, his departure would be a huge loss and I am hopeful that any advice from the United Kingdom will allow him to remain in the Senate.”
Parry, who turned 57 on Tuesday, has been Senate president since July 2014. He was elected at the 2004 election, entering the Senate in 2005. He is a former policeman and a former funeral director.
In his maiden speech he told parliament: “I am a descendant of the First Fleet convicts who arrived on January 26, 1788, onboard the ships the Scarborough and the Prince of Wales.”
Brandis told a news conference on Tuesday that Parry had first informed him of his situation on Monday morning. “Evidently, before the High Court’s decision, it wasn’t something that he’d appreciated may be problematic for him and we still don’t know whether it is problematic until the inquiries, which he has initiated of the UK Home Office, have been completed,” Brandis said. He said Parry expected an answer in the next day or so.
Brandis continued to fend off calls for an audit of all MPs. “If anybody wants to make an allegation that a member of parliament was not duly elected because of Section 44 or for any other issue for that matter, then let them make that allegation.
“But in relation to the government members, and also others including the two Green senators, people have acted honourably, they have come forward as soon as they’ve identified they may have a problem,” he said.
Brandis said the issue of Section 44 of the Constitution, prohibiting dual citizens being elected, needed to be dealt with “one way or another”.
“It may be the issue can be dealt with legislatively without putting the public to a referendum,” he said.
“Where 51% of people either were born overseas or have a parent who was born overseas, it sits oddly with the notion of a multicultural democracy that operation of Section 44 as we now understand from the High Court could potentially disqualify millions of Australians from standing for parliament.”
Acting Labor leader Tanya Plibersek said it was “extraordinary that the president of the Senate – who oversaw several High Court referrals – did not reflect on his own eligibility until just days ago”.
“Malcolm Turnbull must tell Australians whether he knew there were doubts over senator Parry’s eligibility,” she said.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale renewed his call for a comprehensive audit of MPs’ citizenship status.
Turnbull, who is in Israel for the Beersheba commemoration, was asked (before the Parry story broke publicly): “Do you ever feel you’ve had enough? You’d just like to – it’s all been too much? You’ve just had enough of the whole political scene?”
He replied: “I have never had more fun in my life”.
Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly has told the ABC’s Lateline there should be a comprehensive audit; he suggested it should be done by the Australian Electoral Commission.
Malcolm Turnbull’s opponents, including those reflexively opposed to Australia’s asylum-seeker policies, would be hard put to take exception to the substance of a leaked conversation with US President Donald Trump soon after January’s presidential inauguration.
In an early round of congratulatory phone calls from world leaders Turnbull broached an agreement reached with the previous Obama administration for the US to take 1,250 such refugees in exchange for an Australian undertaking to resettle displaced people from Central America.
The latter “understanding” has not been publicised as far as I know, but it was integral to the quid pro quo that enabled an agreement to be reached by the Turnbull government to relocate asylum seekers stranded on Manus Island and Nauru.
The incarceration of would-be refugees, economic or otherwise, who have arrived by boat on Australia’s shores is the running sore of Australian politics.
The Turnbull government has maintained a steadfast “stop the boats” policy, which was instituted by Turnbull’s predecessor, Tony Abbott, to widespread international condemnation and persistent domestic criticism.
The Labor opposition supports such a policy, while seeking to convey the impression it would apply it more humanely. In reality, there is virtually no difference between the two sides of politics.
When Washington Post published leaked details of a fractious conversation between Turnbull and Trump earlier this year, an impression given then was that Australia’s prime minister was treated disrespectfully, and indeed had yielded ground to a bombastic president.
What the now-leaked full transcript shows is that far from yielding, Turnbull held his ground as he patiently – and courteously – sought to explain the complexities of Australian asylum-seeker policy to a cantankerous president who had himself been elected on a “stop the illegals” platform.
A fair judgement is that Turnbull set out Australia’s position in a manner that would not have been out of a place in a barrister’s deposition to an interlocutor who had little clue about the complexities of Australian immigration policy, and seemed to care less.
Typifying the dysfunction of a conversation between two men who appeared locked in a cycle of mutual incomprehension are the following extracts.
Trump: Does anybody know who these people are? Who are they? Where do they come from? Are they going to become the Boston bomber in five years? Or two years? Who are these people?
Turnbull: Let me explain. We know exactly who they are. They have been on Nauru or Manus for over three years and the only reason we cannot let them into Australia is because of our commitment to not allow people to come by boat. Otherwise we would have let them in. If they had arrived by airplane and with a tourist visa then they would be here.
Trump: Malcolm, but they arrived on a boat.
Turnbull: The only people that we do not take are people who come by boat.
Trump: What is the thing with boats? Why do you discriminate against boats? No, I know, they come from certain regions. I get it.
Turnbull: The problem with the boats is that you are basically outsourcing your immigration program to people smugglers, and also you get thousands of people drowning at sea.
And so the conversation continued like a Beckett play, with Trump venting about the bad deal struck by his predecessor.
What emerges from these exchanges is that the US president was either inadequately briefed or had not absorbed what he had been told about a refugee deal leftover from the previous administration.
What it also reveals is that once fixated on a point of view, namely that he was talking about the broader problem of unauthorised immigration not the more specific issue of asylum seekers being brought to Australia by people smugglers, it was difficult for Trump to comprehend the distinction.
In Trump’s first weeks in office, it may have been unreasonable to expect him to be across these sorts of issues. But the transcript reflects some of the challenges America’s allies face in dealing with an administration whose chief executive knows less than he should about issues that come across his desk, and perhaps more to the point is not a good listener.
This article is part of the Democracy Futures series, a joint global initiative with the Sydney Democracy Network. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.
Just weeks after his inauguration as US president, it is clear that Donald Trump is making a further bold claim on power, one that goes beyond the executive orders that are rightly drawing so much attention. He is reinventing the royal fiat by novel means: the rule-by-tweet, or “twiat”. This move is not an extension of popular democracy, but its enemy, and it needs to be resisted.
We are becoming used to Trump’s new way not just of sustaining a political campaign, but of making policy. We wake up to news of another state, corporation, institution or individual caught in the crossfire of his tweets. Corporations and investors are setting up “Twitter Response Units” and “Trump Triggers” in case the next tweet is aimed at them.
The process is so alien to the ways of making policy that have evolved over decades in complex democracies that it is tempting to dismiss it as just funny or naive. But that would be a huge mistake.
A tweet of Trump’s opinion at any moment on a particular issue is just that: an expression of the temporary opinion of one person, albeit one with his hands on more power-levers than almost any other person in the world.
Such expressions matter, for sure, to Trump’s Twitter followers. But, although one might be forgiven for thinking otherwise, they do not (at 23 million) constitute a significant proportion of the world’s population, or even a large proportion of the US population.
The king holds court
A Trump tweet only becomes news if it is reported as news. And it only starts to become policy if those who interpret policy, including the media, start to treat this news as policy. Until then, the Trump tweet remains at most a claim on power.
But once key institutions treat it as if were already an enactment of power, it quickly becomes one. Worse, it inaugurates a whole new way of doing power whose compatibility with democracy and global peace is questionable.
Imagine you are a diplomat, trying to schedule a meeting for yourself, or your political master, with Trump in a few weeks’ time. Is it sensible for you to rely on the confidentiality of the meeting? Could a poorly chosen phrase or look – or indeed your most carefully argued reasoning – provoke a tweet that publicly mocks your whole strategy?
How do you deal with a figure who claims the power to broadcast on his own terms his gut reactions to whatever you say or propose? Yes, you can tweet back, but that is already to give up on the quiet space of discussion that was once diplomacy’s refuge.
The impact of rule-by-tweet is potentially profound: above all, on policy, whether global or domestic, legal or commercial. A new type of power is being claimed and, it seems, recognised: the power, by an individual’s say-so, to make things happen, the twiat. Just the sort of power that revolutions were fought to abolish.
If Trump is the putative Tweet King, who are his courtiers? Surely they’re the mainstream media institutions that regularly report Trump’s tweets as if they were policy.
If a medieval king’s courtiers refused to pass on his word to the wider world, its impact changed. While courtiers could be replaced overnight, contemporary media corporations cannot (for now at least). So why should the media act as if they were Trump’s courtiers?
We must not underestimate the short-term pressure on media corporations to conform to Trump’s claim on power. For sure, there will be an audience if they report Trump’s tweets, and their financial need to grab audiences wherever they can has never been greater.
But, if news values still mean something, they refer not only to financial imperatives, but to what should count as news. And norms about news must have some relation to what passes for acceptable in a democracy rather than an autocracy.
Why is the ‘twiat’ anti-democratic?
Some might say: Trump’s tweets are just the new way of doing democracy, “get with the program” (in the words of Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer). But, as the grim history of mid-20th-century Europe shows, authoritarian grabs on power only ever worked because their anti-democratic means were accepted by those around them as a novel way of “doing democracy”.
The “twiat” is anti-democratic for two reasons. First, it claims a power (to name individuals, pronounce policy, and condemn actions) against which there is no redress. Its work is done once uttered from the mouth of the “king”.
Second, and more subtly, allowing such power back into political decision-making undermines the slower, more inclusive forms of discussion and reflection that gives modern political democratic institutions their purpose and purchase in the first place.
Trump’s claim to a new form of charismatic power through Twitter is, in part, the flip-side of the damaged legitimacy of today’s democratic process. But, instead of curing that problem, it closes the door on it. The presidential tweeting ushers us into a new space that is no longer recognisable as democratic: a space where complex policy becomes not just too difficult but unnecessary, although its substitutes can still be tweeted.
Can anything be done to stop this? A good start would be to stop reporting the tweets of our would-be Twitter king as if they were news, let alone policy.
Let Trump’s tweets have no more claim on democracy’s attention than the changing opinions of any other powerful figure. Refuse the additional claim to power that Trump’s Twitter stream represents.
Fail to refuse that claim, and all of us risk accepting by default a new form of rule that undermines the restraints on power on which both democracy and media freedoms, in the long term, depend.