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



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Malcolm Turnbull used his appearance on Q&A to hold his political executioners to account.
AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

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

That is: why was he sacked?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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


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

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

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

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

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

How conservatives use identity politics to shut down debate


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One of the worst examples of identity politics came from Malcolm Turnbull on Monday’s Q&A program.
ABC News

Dennis Altman, La Trobe University

Conservatives are currently obsessed with identity politics.

Almost every issue of The Australian comes with a fusillade against the ways identity politics threaten civic discourse. And a Financial Review editorial in September warned:

… thoughts, expression and questioning are now more likely to be silenced in the excess of identity politics, where race, gender, sexuality and group-think declarations have replaced class as the key political dividers.

Yet one of the worst examples of identity politics came from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in his Q&A appearance on December 11. In opposing the idea of an elected Indigenous Advisory Council, he claimed that politicians such as Ken Wyatt and Linda Burney represent Indigenous Australians. In fact, they represent the electors of Hasluck and Barton – few of whom are Indigenous.

It is great that there are Indigenous politicians in parliament (Turnbull somehow forgot the two Labor senators, Pat Dodson and Malarndirri McCarthy). But they are not there to “represent” Indigenous Australians any more than Mathias Cormann is there to represent Belgian-Australians.

Political party identities

The primary identity of politicians in our system is their political party. Sometimes other identities will seem more important, as in the case of the four openly gay Liberal MPs who pushed their party toward a free vote on marriage equality, or Michael Danby’s support for Israel – which goes far beyond the views of his party.

What these cases suggest is the complex and overlapping nature of identities, and the trap of defining anyone by only one identity. Nor does belonging to a particular group, whether through race, ethnicity or gender, mean one automatically speaks “for” that group. Margaret Thatcher or Bronwyn Bishop never sought to speak “for women”.

Identity politics, as we understand them, are often assumed to have emerged from the women’s, black and gay movements in the early 1970s. There is an earlier history, linked to the development of nationalist movements in 19th-century Europe, and the growth of anti-colonial movements across European empires.

Identity politics are born when people feel excluded because of something important to their sense of self – whether it be race, gender, sexuality or language. But they are also thrust upon people, as in the tragic case of those Jews who believed themselves to be 100% German until the Nazis came to power.

A sense of a shared history is crucial to empowering people who have been oppressed, and sometimes made invisible. When I was a schoolboy in Hobart we were taught that there were no Tasmanian Aborigines, who had effectively been wiped out by settlement. Today more than 4% of the state’s population identify as Indigenous.

Not necessarily born this way

Conservatives are particularly disturbed by the idea that gender identities might be fluid, which seemed their central concern in the marriage equality debate.

Ironically many of those who defend ideas of gender fluidity also believe their sexual identity is, in Lady Gaga’s words, “born this way”. In both cases the rhetoric ignores the evidence of both history and anthropology.

Identity politics are neither inherently left nor right. Some Marxists denounced the new social movements as threatening class unity, in terms rather like those who now see identity politics as fracturing a common polity.

One of the common criticisms of Hillary Clinton’s US presidential campaign was that she spoke too often to specific groups, rather than in the language of inclusion. This is an odd argument given Donald Trump’s blatant attacks on Hispanics and Muslims, which were clearly an appeal to white Americans who felt their identities were under threat.

Most critics of identity politics speak as if they were above identity, when in practice their identities are those of the dominant group. Pauline Hanson excludes Aborigines, Asians and Muslims from her view of Australian identity, cloaked in the language of patriotism.

Like Hanson, those who attack identity politics are often most zealous in defending their own versions of identity. Current proposed changes to citizenship requirements are supported by an emphasis on “Australian values”, as if these are both self-evident and distinguishable from more universal values of political and civil rights.

On the same Q0&A program Turnbull defined Australian values as based upon “multiculturalism”, which acknowledges that contemporary society is a mosaic of different and overlapping identities and communities. It is possible to argue that respect for cultural diversity is a national value, while ignoring the question whether Australian law treats all cultural values equally.

In practice, cultural diversity is clearly subordinate to a legal and political system heavily based on British precedents. A genuine multicultural identity might start by extending the term “ethnic” to include people of British ancestry, as much an “ethnicity” as any other.

Identity as a means of exclusion

Identity politics threaten democratic debate when they become a means of shutting down any comment that does not grow entirely out of experience.

Writers have been criticised for creating characters who do not share their author’s race or gender; speakers shunned for expressing views that are deemed “insensitive”.

Writer Germaine Greer may have views on transgender issues that should be opposed. But they should be met with rebuttal, not a refusal to listen. Critics of identity politics are right that zealousness in protecting identities can itself become repressive.

Identity politics become dangerous when they become an argument for exclusion.

The ConversationUnfortunately, the most dangerous examples of exclusion come from those who clam to speak for “the people”, a term which itself depends upon a certain version of identity. The populists who attack identity politics do so while creating their own, limited image of national identity.

Dennis Altman, Professorial Fellow in Human Security, La Trobe University

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

Q&A affair has become theatre of the absurd


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Has Q&A put some spell of madness over the government and their media mates?

A straightforward case of the public broadcaster making a mistake (in my view), acknowledging it and getting a blast from critics has turned into a Coalition and News Corp feeding frenzy that is nothing short of absurd.

In the latest developments on Tuesday:

  • Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said the government leadership team decided before parliament rose to boycott Q&A. This group includes Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, who was, however, surprised and angry when Tony Abbott told him on Sunday he could not appear on Monday’s program. Joyce was present at the meeting; Truss said that “maybe he hadn’t interpreted the decision the way others had”. Joyce, now not commenting, has been made to look bad by both Abbott and his own party leader.

  • Neither Malcolm Turnbull’s office nor Abbott’s office could or would say whether Turnbull will be a panellist, as scheduled, next week.

  • Abbott refused to answer questions on Turnbull’s appearance or non-appearance, declaring that “what I’m not going to do is give further advertisement to a program which was, frankly, right over the top”.

Could Abbott have been oblivious to the irony? He and the government – together with News Corp – have been giving massive publicity to the program. They are all going “over the top”. This is an exercise in obsessive behaviour and attempted bullying.

News Corp is driven by ideological and commercial considerations.

Abbott is driven by – what exactly? Deep tribalism: the belief that the ABC is “them” – defined by the Prime Minister’s Office as anyone who is not “us”. A desire to talk up national security on every occasion. A wish to play to those in the backbench and the conservative base who see the ABC as an enemy.

But surely even Abbott sees the ridiculousness of the situation into which he has put himself and the government.

The ABC is on the whole a very respected institution. There is little broad political gain in taking a battering ram to it, although that racks up brownie points with News Corp and some in the Liberal right.

An Essential poll, published on Tuesday, found most people either thought the ABC was not biased to the left or the right (36%) or didn’t have an opinion (40%); 22% believed it was biased to the left and 3% to the right. People’s perceptions are correlated with how they vote. This poll comes after sustained pillorying.

Monday’s Q&A had no government representative after Joyce pulled out. Abbott might have hoped his friend Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of The Australian, would be a helpful voice. But Sheridan roundly criticised the ban and also the government’s legislation, which Labor supported, that will stifle criticisms from professionals such as doctors working on Nauru and Manus Island.

Abbott is now on sticky fly paper with the ban. If he retreats, it’s embarrassing. If he persists, ministers will be unhappy and the government will stay unrepresented on the program. Turnbull’s position must be clarified soon, unless he is willing to tolerate for days an intolerable personal situation.

Asked how long ministers would not be appearing Truss said, “well, essentially we’re expecting the ABC to demonstrate that it’s learnt from this error of judgement, and that the program will be better run in the future”. Balance was needed in audience and panels and the subject matter should “not essentially be catering to one sector of the audience”.

Obviously the ABC is in a special position in relation to “balance”, because it is the public, taxpayer-funded broadcaster. Privately owned media outlets have the right to be “unbalanced”. But it would be heartening to hear leading figures in the government, just once in a while, speak as though “balance” was a journalistic virtue to be pursued more widely.

Abbott is now impatient for the review of Q&A that the ABC has commissioned from journalist Ray Martin and former SBS managing director Shaun Brown. He linked the quashing of Joyce’s appearance to the inquiry being underway.

The review will take quite a while to be finished. If Abbott lifted the ban for Turnbull he would not have the hook of a completed review – so how would he square this with his decision on Joyce? If he insisted Turnbull not appear, this would further worsen relations between them.

On Tuesday, Martin described Abbott’s ban as silly, and observed: “It’s clearly a political issue at the moment in terms of terror. I think we’ve already started looking towards the next election.”

Martin also defended Q&A host Tony Jones. “I suspect that Tony Jones was just as tough on the Labor government as he has been on the Coalition.”

Needless to say, Martin’s comments – ahead of the review – just give more fodder to critics of the ABC.

But like everything else, they help ensure Q&A doesn’t really need promos anymore.

Listen to the latest Politics with Michelle Grattan podcast with guest, Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane, here or on iTunes.

http://www.podbean.com/media/player/bs9dp-572d2aThe Conversation

Michelle Grattan is Professorial Fellow at University of Canberra.

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