Politics

Malcolm Turnbull's last stand

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @mdavidcartoons)

There is only one way to restore the democratic deficit, says Canberra correspondent John Passant — election, now!

MALCOLM TURNBULL, the present Prime Minister, has pledged to hold a Liberal Party room meeting at lunch time today, Friday 24 August, to determine the leadership of the party, if he receives a petition from 43 members, calling for that.

Some Liberals are frightened to put their name in public to a document overthrowing a Prime Minister. If so, there will be no Party meeting and the crisis will drag on.  At the time of writing, there are not the 43 members necessary prepared to put their names to such a petition.

The result could be postponing the leadership spill until 10 September, when Parliament resumes. This gives Bishop and Morrison time to organise their forces and Dutton to solidify his. And for us, there will be two weeks more of this government of the walking dead.

If the petition does get the 43 signatures, the Party will vote on a spill of the leadership — effectively a vote of no confidence in Turnbull. If that is successful, which it appears it would be, there will be a leadership contest. Turnbull will not contest it.

Malcolm is dead. Long live the King! The question is, will the new monarch be Duke Dutton, Lord Morrison or Lady Julie Bishop? To add further to the farce, at one stage, there were rumours that Tony Abbott would run, but that has been scotched.

The two men running have built their careers on running Australia’s concentration camps.

If Dutton wins the leadership ballot, there is no guarantee he can form a government. Two at least of the Nationals have pledged they will sit on the cross benches. One, Kevin Hogan, has said he will support the Government on matters of confidence and money. The other, Darren Chester, has given no such guarantee. Chester has hinted other Nationals and Liberals might well go the crossbenches.

However, when Labor moves a motion of no confidence in a Dutton Government, it may be the disaffected Turnbull supporters and Nationals will in fact support the Government. Why would the turkeys vote for an early Christmas?

There is another problem for Dutton, one that Turnbull stressed in his press conference on Thursday. It is not clear that Dutton is eligible to sit in the Parliament. Under section 44 of the Constitution, he may have ‘a direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth’. If so, he is ineligible to sit in Parliament.

Labor’s motion in the House on Thursday morning to refer Peter Dutton’s eligibility to the High Court was defeated by one vote — 69 to 68.  

According to the experts, his eligibility is clearly arguable and the current Prime Minister has asked the Solicitor-General if, in his view, Peter Dutton has a case to answer. This supposedly will be delivered to the Prime Minister on Friday morning, before the potential Party meeting. If the Solicitor-General recommends a referral to the High Court to clarify Dutton’s eligibility, it is difficult, but not impossible, to imagine that the Liberal Party would elect him their leader. Turnbull’s revenge would be sudden and sweet, unlike Abbott’s almost 3 years of sniping.

The Senate on Thursday set up an inquiry into the intervention Peter Dutton made for two au pairs and their visas. So even if Dutton survives Section 44 and gets confidence from some on the newly enlarged crossbench, he will still have to navigate that timebomb.

Then there is the Turnbull by-election disaster in waiting. The current Prime Minister will resign from Parliament after he is dumped. As he said, recent experience shows that having an ex-PM on the backbench does not work. The Greens or Labor could win his seat in any by-election. This would mean a new government loses its majority.

If Julie Bishop were to become leader, the conservatives would treat her with contempt and undermining in the same way they have treated Turnbull. The Liberals are two factions glued together by the desire for power. Maybe it is time they went their separate ways. Even if they do not want that, the current fight indicates a split might be a logical, and maybe inevitable, outcome.

No matter who leads this government – whether it is brutaliser A1 or brutaliser A2 – or a brutality apologist, this is a Government that is dead. A face transplant will not revive it.

On Thursday, at the request, according to Turnbull, of Peter Dutton, the Government adjourned the House before Question Time. They only just won that vote — 70 to 68. They adjourned the House to avoid democratic examination and questioning of the Government, because at the moment we do not have a government. This anti-democratic move will not save the Government. Even when the deckchairs are rearranged, their Titanic will still be on course for the iceberg.

No matter who becomes the leader, we have a zombie Government. The failed NEG legislation and the defeated big business tax cuts are but two examples of the Coalition’s inability to govern. Their leadership turmoil only highlights what a decrepit government this is. As Guardian Australia political editor Katharine Murphy told ABC News TV, they are

"... squabbling over the spoils of defeat… they are stuffed."

Things are moving quickly in the pit of decrepit democracy. Australian workers and voters are watching this rabble with sheer disdain, disgust and frustration.

There is only one way for the democratic deficit to be restored. The Coalition Government has lost the support of the people. End the farce. Call an election now.

You can follow Canberra correspondent John Passant 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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