Putting 'Modern' Malcolm and 'Humble' Barnaby to bed

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Deputy Prime Minister Joyce and Prime Minister Turnbull at New England by-election (screen shot via @9NewsSyd).

Ingrid Matthews discusses the hollow triumphalism of recent speeches from Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce.

NOBODY with ears could mistake the words of recently re-elected National Party leader Barnaby Joyce for stirring speechmaking.

But in a close run thing, the indulgent nonsense from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, when the House of Representatives eventually reconvened to debate marriage equality, was the bigger oratorical mess.

Joyce first. The footage of his breathlessly anticipated return to Canberra shows the old mate muddling through a poorly-conceived and grossly misleading analogy on eligibility for our Federal Parliament.

Said, Joyce of his decision to stay on in the Cabinet and the Parliament until disqualified by the High Court of Australia:

“We threw ourselves under a bus. Matty Canavan came out the other side, I got stuck under there for a little while.”

The camera zooms in briefly on that footy ruck neck and his lanyard strap: "VISITOR".

It was a momentary reprieve from an otherwise grim reality. The thumping Joyce victory is disappointing and dangerous. I lived and voted in New England from 1989 to 2002, and visit every year to see family and stand with community against coal and coal seam gas mining. I have written at length that Joyce talks the farming talk while walking the mining walk.

The Joyce victory is a betrayal of traditional custodians and their country, of farmers and food production, of looming climate catastrophe. It is also telling of a hyper-masculine culture that many voters knew why Mrs Joyce and their daughters were not on the campaign trail and voted for him anyway.

Reported the ABC:

'Some Nationals also feel that locals may have voted for Mr Joyce on principle, or in sympathy because they felt the High Court citizenship ruling had been harsh.'

What principles? Joyce tracked across the electorate – was there a New England pub he did not visit? – telling his constituency he did not understand why a fine bloke like his good self was disqualified from the Parliament. This actively encouraged ignorance of, and disrespect for, the Constitution. Which is his call — except that Joyce votes on laws that govern this country and collects a hefty Parliamentary salary under that same Constitution.

But the by-election was not about the Constitution because Joyce is apparently some kind of unreconstructed retail politics genius. “If you want to focus on the person in the weatherboard and iron they will give you the grace of their vote,” he said. That is code for the poor white rural (Australianised rustbelt) vote, as Joyce told Fairfax here.

The reality is that New Englanders know on which side their bread is buttered. The cachet of having the Deputy Prime Minister as the local member is real. Government largesse rains down upon New England at a greater rate than in any other electorate. At the same time, you could count the number of New England farmers who support Government handouts on no hands. Agrarian socialist entitlement is as intractable as it is invisible to its beneficiaries.

Anyway, it worked. A victorious Joyce said he is “completely and utterly humbled”, as shown below with an equally humble Prime Minister. You can practically smell the humility.

But I said the Turnbull speech trumped Joyce’s in a close run thing — a triumph in itself in this week of misplaced triumphalism.

The highlight of the Turnbull “gay marriage” speech – such a staunch supporter, just ask him – was this piece of patronising gibberish:

“Co-dependency is a good thing. If we believe two gay people are better off together than living alone, comforted only by their respective cats, then why should we deprive that relationship of equal recognition?”

The question is equality before the law – specifically Sections 5 (definition of marriage between a man and woman) and 88EA (recognition of overseas marriages not between a man and woman) of the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) as enacted under Section 51(xxi) of the Australian Constitution (the marriage power).

It is not about religion, or sex education, or de facto relationships, or cats. It is fundamentally not about whether “we believe two gay people are better off together than living alone”. They can do that now, without scrutiny by the entire electorate. Yet having put thousands of people through an unnecessarily protracted and intrusive survey process, the Prime Minister endorses legal recognition of rainbow couples’ marriage by grossly insulting single gay people, complete with cat schtick. Classy, huh?

Finally, Turnbull cited former British Prime Minister David Cameron — the bloke who brought on Brexit. That still-unresolved matter has seen an increase in hate crimes, cost millions and was essentially designed to outsource petty internal differences between two white conservative men who attended Oxford University.

Coincidence or what?

"And for those to see this [sic] as an ideological issue”, Turnbull brayed in that paternalistic hector that he imagines portrays gravitas and great moment,

“... recall British Prime Minister David Cameron as he spoke for marriage equality six years ago: ‘To anyone who has reservations, I say Yes, it is about equality, but it’s also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”

There it is. Turnbull outs himself as a conservative by quoting an actual Tory. How agile.

One of the most irritating features of the Turnbull Government years is the Parliamentary press gallery insisting on the existence of "moderate" Malcolm. This is not true.

Turnbull is an ideological chameleon, a man of ambition rather than loyalty, who once reportedly said:

“I could never succeed in the Labor Party as it would be unforgiving towards someone who had been a successful businessman.”

The idea that Turnbull may have joined the Labor Party is ridiculous. Turnbull married into blue-blood Liberal heritage, as he reminded us in the second reading speech extracted above. As we watch Trump unravelling live on his Twitter stream, the proposition that being a businessman somehow trains an individual for public life is exposed as the self-serving lie it has always been. It does not matter how enthralled our Fourth Estate remains by “the Prime Minister [who] held court as he regaled all and sundry with witty anecdotes about his days as Kerry Packer's lawyer”.

Whatever. This is a lawyer who, as a politician, basically concedes that his team are announcing a new legislative package designed to criminalise and otherwise control their political opponents. That is not democracy but authoritarianism.

"Moderate" Malcolm was never real and now Turnbull himself has finally put it to bed.

Ingrid Matthews is a sessional academic who teaches law and human rights. You can follow Ingrid on Twitter at @iMusing or via her blog oecomuse.

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