I made fondant from scratch today. Then I flavoured it and dipped the results in choolate. I’m pretty sure this makes me more productive than the entire Federal Government put together this week. And probably much happier, too. (And definitely more hopped up on sugar!)
So, in case anyone missed the news, we have a new Prime Minister, and it isn’t Peter Dutton. Unfortunately, it is Scott Morrison, who, while marginally less appalling than Dutton, is not precisely a cause for celebration. But we’ll get onto why that is in a bit, because I think it is proper to finish recounting the events of the day before we get onto the evaluation.
This morning, we awoke to news from Peter Dutton’s office that the Solicitor General had made it clear that he was not in breach of Section 44, adding that “Mr Bennett’s unequivocal advice puts to rest the spurious and unsubstantiated allegations raised against my eligibility.”
So that’s settled, right?
Well… not exactly. Because it turns out that what the SG *actually* said was that “On the facts set out below, in my opinion the better view is that Mr Dutton is not incapable of sitting as a member of the House of Representatives by reasons of s44(v) of the constitution,” but he also noted that he had been “briefed with very little factual information” and that it was therefore “impossible to state the position with certainty”.
Which seems a little bit less unequivocal than Dutton would like us to believe.
Because I am a very conscientious blogger (and may possibly have a somewhat sarcastic lawyer in the family) I sought independent legal advice, and received the response “Look, it is very clear that Dutton has not been not cleared. Surely we don’t need more clarity than that to put a potato on the throne.”
So definitely settled, then.
But Section 44 shenanigans aside – and I admit, I’m still hoping for a referral there at some point – the important factor was that sometime this morning, Dutton’s petition got its 43 signatures, and a party room meeting was called for midday. It should be stated that a number of the signatories (notably Warren Entsch) made it very clear that they were signing because they wanted this whole business resolved, and that they supported Turnbull, not Dutton.
Meanwhile, Sammy J was spotted in the Press Gallery in his guise as Government Coach, just in case anyone wasn’t sure whether this was a complete and utter farce…
After that, it went fairly fast. The spill motion passed by just 45 votes to 40, Julie Bishop was knocked out of the running in the first round of votes, and Morrison collected the votes of the Turnbull and Bishop loyalists to defeat Dutton – also 45 to 40, suggesting that 5 people may have switched sides. Josh Frydenberg got the deputy leadership by a decisive margin, but we weren’t told what the margin was.
All in all, not quite the decisive result that anyone was hoping for, but the Liberal Party are desperately pretending that it is, and who knows, maybe everything is settled now…?
Turnbull, meanwhile has reiterated that he will resign ‘very soon’, but hasn’t said when, and Bishop is expected to retire at the next election, though there is some speculation that she will leave before then, sparking another by-election. Whether this speculation has any basis in reality is hard to say. I think resigning right now would be a fine act of vengeance, if Bishop were so inclined, but I have found that the Liberal Party, while not lacking in self-destructive tendencies, tends to resist fulfilling my political fantasies to quite that degree. Which is rather a pity, but not entirely unexpected, really.
More to the point, Bishop did throw her support behind Morrison in the second vote, so sabotaging him right out of the gate seems uncharacteristic. On the other hand… she was Deputy Leader of the party for eleven years, performing her job competently through a period of unprecedented instability, and she still managed to come third behind both Morrison and Dutton. That would have to rankle.
(I am trying very hard not to assume that the reason is sexism. But I am failing. And I can guarantee you the media will be all over the Liberal Party’s ‘woman problem’ just as soon as they’ve all recovered from the excitement of the week.)
And then there’s this:
I have no idea how reliable this is – I gather Alice Workman is an editor at Buzzfeed – but if it is accurate, maybe the Liberals have decided to fulfil my fantasies of right-wing self destruction after all.
Edited literally twenty minutes after I posted this: looks like Alice Workman is onto something. Bloody hell, we really are gong to be doing this all again in September, aren’t we?
(Hey, Liberal Party? If you really want to fulfil my political fantasies, you could try a) governing and b) treating refugees and people with different skin colours or religions from your own with respect and compassion. Do that, and I might even vote for you! Just saying.)
As Barry Cassidy said when the vote came through, “We have a result, and the winner is Bill Shorten.”
Or there’s Andrew P Street’s take on the matter:
Whichever way you look at it, once again, we have a new Prime Minister who we never voted for.
The good news is, it’s not Peter Dutton.
The bad news is that Scott Morrison isn’t a whole lot better, and he is probably slightly more electable than Dutton, simply by virtue of the fact that his most notable acts of awfulness are a bit further in the past.
Because I live to depress you, here are a few highlights from Morrison’s political career:
- He brought a chunk of coal into Parliament during a debate on energy and climate change last year, like Santa visiting the naughty children on Christmas Eve (which… on reflection is kind of apt), and told parliament not to be afraid of it. He also supported Turnbull’s National Energy Guarantee, which Greenpeace reckons was a disaster. Having said that, it’s also about as close as the Turnbull government ever got to doing anything about climate change, so I’m not going to hold that one 100% against him.
- Morrison is a conservative Christian and a staunch opponent of marriage equality, who claimed that his views during the plebiscite exposed him to ‘hatred and bigotry’. He joined Tony Abbott in abstaining from the vote when it reached Parliament, and was vocal about demanding protections for the kinds of religious freedoms that allow religious folk to discriminate against LGTBQIA people and to ‘protect’ their children from learning about such things at school.
- As Minister for Social Services, he presided over expansion of the Basics card, which quarantines income for people on pensions. Setting aside the paternalistic assumptions inherent in this idea, this is a bad idea because it makes it more difficult for people on pensions to access things like greengrocers and markets that don’t take cards, or to pay rent when they share accommodation.
- As Treasurer, he introduced the notorious Robodebt, which incorrectly targeted 20,000 people, forcing them to repay debts they did not owe, or provide information going back up to seven years to prove they did not owe money. Centrelink automatically removed debt repayments from people’s accounts until they were able to prove that the money was not owed – which, given the very low amount of money provided by NewStart (something that Morrison is opposed to raising), caused these people significant hardship. You can read the Ombudsman’s report here.
- He’s pretty dubious about the Banking Royal Commission.
- He was the Immigration Minister who launched Operation Sovereign Borders, also known as ‘Stop the Boats’, which criminalised asylum seekers and sent them back to harm. He has been mentioned in this blog a few times in this regard. Some lowlights of his time as Immigration Minister include separating an asylum seeker for her newborn child who was in intensive care at Brisbane’s Mater Hospital; the preventable death of Hamid Kehazaei on Manus Island; and… well, lots more…
The Monthly has a good article about him here, and Love Makes a Way, an ecumenical Christian group whose goal is to get children out of detention, published a statement today on just what they think of Morrison’s alleged religious convictions.
So that’s not great.
But there are a few interesting things to take from the election of Scott Morrison to the Prime Minister’s office, the first of which is that the Liberals must think they still have a chance at the next election. I really think that if they were certain they would go down in flames, they would have chosen Julie Bishop, as is traditional. Or they would have gone full ideologue and elected Peter Dutton instead. Scott Morrison is not really middle ground, but he is a bit more appealing to the voters, without having Girl Cooties.
Also of interest is the fact that we don’t actually know when Turnbull will resign, and indeed, there is a lot of uncertainty going on right now. As mentioned above, we don’t know what Julie Bishop’s plans are, or whether someone, sometime, might refer Dutton to the High Court. Once Turnbull resigns, the numbers get a bit tricky, especially with several Nationals MPs still talking about sitting on the cross-bench (but apparently not blocking supply… yet…). So while we are being told not to expect an election just yet… it’s not actually impossible.
And speaking of the next election, one real good we get out of this is that with Dutton out of the picture for PM, we have a reasonable chance that the next election won’t be fought on a platform of Who Can Be The Most Racist. In Morrison’s first press conference, he promised “To not pit one group of Australians against another. To ensure that one can succeed, and all can succeed. That one doesn’t have to fail for another one to succeed,” and in his final statement he talked about “Keeping Australians safe, and keeping Australians together”. Now, one never knows how much faith to put in the words of politicians, but the fact that he brought this up twice gives me hope that he is aiming to avoid the sort of divisive, race-baiting nonsense that Dutton specialises in. I certainly hope so.
In passing, I would like to note that I saw a lot of people online being rather gleeful at the prospect of a Dutton government, not because they liked Dutton at all, but because they felt that he was unelectable and thus the safest way to a Labor landslide next year. I… do understand where they are coming from, but I think that’s the kind of calculation that one can only afford to make if one is white, middle class, and able to pass for straight and Christian. My biggest concern about Morrison is that he is a bit more electable, and smart enough to give Bill Shorten the opportunity to shoot himself in the foot. But I am nonetheless very glad not to have a Dutton government right now. He would, absolutely, have used race to divide Australia further, to his benefit, and I think he could have done a lot of damage both to our national discourse and culture and to individuals, even in quite a short time. And it’s the sort of damage which can be very hard to undo.
And while I hate having to be grateful for the fact that we don’t have an out-and-out race-baiting fascist as our new Prime Minister, given all the other failings listed above, the truth is that we really could have done worse. So yes, I am grateful for that. And will be fighting hard to make sure we don’t get that close again.
I’m going to end with a few little grace notes, because we have few enough people behaving well in parliament right now that we should mention it when they do.
Arthur Sinodinos, a Liberal Senator from New South Wales and a friend of Turnbull’s, has been out on sick leave for some months, battling cancer, but he showed up today, and entered the party room with Malcolm Turnbull as a show of support. Good man.
And Bill Shorten wrote a surprisingly gracious media release.
Oh, and also, Dutton has declared his “absolute loyalty” and support for Scott Morrison as Prime Minister, so clearly we have nothing to worry about and unity is restored:
Oh, I beg your pardon. That was Peter Dutton declaring his full support for Malcolm Turnbull on Saturday. How easily these things become confused!
I’m sure his support for Scott Morrison is every bit as sincere…
Things to do
Just a few things today. I think it would be a good day to write to Scott Morrison, congratulate him on his election, and ask him to stick to his guns on keeping Australians together and not pitting them against each other. I don’t have a lot of hope for his economic policies, or his behaviour towards refugees, but I think he is actually a little bit less racist than Dutton, and we want to encourage that.
We might want to send similarly encouraging letters to Josh Frydenberg, too. He is Jewish – he would, I should think, have a pretty visceral understanding of where that kind of race baiting leads.
But donating to an asylum seeker charity is probably also not a bad option today. They are going to need all the help they can get.