Malcolm Turnbull's democracy at work — just not next week

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Cartoon by Mark Cornwall

The Turnbull Government is in complete disarray and every day brings some revelation of further incompetence, says John Passant.

THE TURNBULL GOVERNMENT is in complete disarray. 

Good! Let’s send this anti-worker, pro-rich, incompetent Government to the dustbin of history now — not in 18 months' time. We can’t afford to wait that long.

Everything this Government touches turns to shite.

For example, it was not so long ago that Prime Minister Turnbull was defending the marriage equality survey as a great illustration of democracy at work. 

Democracy at work would have been passing marriage equality through the Parliament, rather than pandering to the reactionaries in the party room and concocting a delaying, divisive and destructive "survey" that reflected what we already knew but gave a megaphone to the purveyors of hate: the "No" side.

Young LGBTIQ people now have worsening mental health and a higher risk of suicide. A gay friend of mine will never forgive Malcolm Turnbull for this.

Democracy at work would have been the House of Representatives sitting in the week beginning 27 November. Instead, Turnbull postponed the sitting by a week, ostensibly to allow the Parliament to focus on both the marriage equality bill – which the Senate may by then have passed – and the citizenship declarations.

Everyone knows, of course, that Turnbull postponed Parliament in the week beginning 27 November to avoid debate on and possible passage of a bill for an inquiry into the banks. It is almost as if the Prime Minister thinks Parliament is his plaything — some democrat!

Turnbull’s fear was justified. Without Joyce or Alexander as members, the Government’s effective voting strength on the floor is 73, plus the speaker. The Labor Opposition currently has 69 votes, the Greens one, Nick Xenophon Team one, the Katter Party one, with Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan as independents.

The crossbenchers are not united. McGowan is the National Party member you have when you don't have a National Party member. However, the problem for Turnbull is not just the possibility of a victory on a banking inquiry. It would be the manner of such a victory.

It could only happen if government backbenchers crossed the floor to vote with the Opposition and most of the crossbenchers — three may well have done so if they had got the chance. By postponing the sittings for a week, Turnbull’s plan is to focus on marriage equality for a week or two, or more and then rise for Christmas break in between referring one or two, or ten or 20 Parliamentarians off to the High Court for potential breaches of the dual national provision of Section 44 of the Constitution. The Skye is the limit!

That way, anything nasty like a potential inquiry into banking can be brushed off with lies about the focus being on urgently passing the marriage equality legislation to reflect the will of the Australian people. These falsehoods are from a Government that refused to allow a conscience vote on equal love and whose predecessor, the Howard Government, changed the Marriage Act in 2004 to prevent same-sex marriage. They have been stalling for decades.

In other words, Turnbull thinks Parliament is his, to be turned on or off at his whim. It isn’t. And we should not let him get away with this undermining of democracy. A more politically engaged people and time might have seen a people’s march on our Parliament to open it on 27 November and debate a banking inquiry. We want it. Bankers like Mal "Cayman" Turnbull do not.

Imagine if there were a radical party in our Parliament that called for its supporters to march on Parliament to force it to open and legislate for us, not for the bankers. Imagine if unions built the campaign and called their members out on strike to join it, bussing in tens of thousands from around the country. 

And then I woke up.

Turnbull can get away with tactics like postponing Parliament to save his own butt, precisely because there has been no radical group winning mass support among workers and because unions have been quiescent for decades. Strikes are at near historically low levels, as is – as a consequence – the share of factor income going to labour.

Our real wages are falling. We are working harder and harder and longer and longer. Casualisation is rife, while wage theft is endemic. The bosses are getting almost all the benefits of our hard work and low pay.

As night follows day, every new dawn brings some revelation of more incompetence, stupidity or hatred from this Government. 

In the light of the overwhelming "Yes" vote for marriage equality and the rear-guard action form the reactionaries, the Government has appointed Philip Ruddock to report back by the end of March on the impact of marriage equality on religious freedoms.

There is no impact, but that is not what Rudock will find. The churches are still free to preach and practise their god-sanctioned homophobia, including sacking teachers for being gay. Ruddock’s appointment is designed to appease the reactionaries. The Government knows he will make recommendations that effectively undermine the equality that is same-sex marriage.

This is the same Philip Ruddock who moved the amendments to the Marriage Act in 2004 to prevent same-sex marriage.  

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, he said at the time:

" … the changes to the Marriage Act would protect the institution of marriage, while the Family Law Act changes would make it clear that overseas adoptions by same-sex couples would not be recognised in Australia."

This is the same Philip Ruddock who as Immigration Minister called asylum seekers and refugees "parasites, queue jumpers and double dippers". As Alison Dellit in Green Left Weekly reports, this is the same Philip Ruddock who strengthened the legislative, administrative and political attacks on refugees and asylum seekers, and who blamed Aboriginal people for their oppression.

Then there is Barnaby Joyce. The by-election for his seat is on Saturday. On Tuesday night, Gina Rinehart – Australia’s richest person with assets worth $21 billion – gave him $40,000 as a prize for his contribution to agriculture. Maybe the prize was for all the fermented hops he consumes.

Barnaby accepted the money until the bleeding obvious became obvious even to him. It looks like you are Gina’s parliamentary plaything, Barnaby. The $40,000 looks like support for your election expenses. To some observers, it might even look like a thank you for past and future political support.

Just to show Joyce is not alone, during the week, the Prime Minister had an attack of the tax thought bubbles. He promised tax cuts for so-called middle Australia. This is one of those on the never-never promises. Turnbull didn’t say how much or when this might happen. There must be two by-elections coming up soon.

The tax cuts will be a return of the increased revenue governments get when pay increases take workers into higher income brackets and, hence, higher tax rates. In reality, it will be paid for by cuts to social security and spending on public health, public education and public transport.

It is also no accident that, in the run-up to the two by-elections and Newspoll results, the Australian and PNG police forces, special forces and Immigration officials are "conducting an operation" to remove the refugees from their current prison on the concentration camp that is Manus Island.

Then there is John Alexander, facing strong competition for his seat of Bennelong from Labor Party candidate, Kristina Keneally. His racist joke about rape makes him unfit for office. 

Then there are the leaks from Cabinet. As Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop told 7.30, leaking from Cabinet is a serious criminal offence. I wonder when the AFP will be raiding the offices of cabinet ministers to find this criminal.

Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.' Can we really let this mad Government continue and further damage society? In the words of Donald Trump, You’re fired, Malcolm Turnbull.  Let’s work to turn that into a reality now. We can’t afford to wait till 2019 to get rid of this "Billy McMahon" Government.

Read more by John Passant on his website En Passant or follow him on Twitter @JohnPassantSigned copies of John's first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformed (Ginninderra Press 2016), are available for purchase from the IA store HERE.

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