Government is letting shady Shorten get away
AMID the Prime Minister’s existential citizenship crisis, Tony Abbott was making merry mischief on Friday night.
The occasion was a tribute dinner thrown by the Warringah federal conference of the Liberal Party to celebrate Abbott’s nearly 25 years (23, to be precise) as the Member for Warringah, and presumably to mark his recent 60th birthday.
Almost 900 supporters packed the Exhibition Hall in the old Eveleigh rail yards to hear Abbott, Liberal Party federal president Nick Greiner, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton ( the “very best minister in this government”, Abbott billed him), and former- generallikely- future- senator Jim Molan take the stage in what had every appearance of a revival meeting.
“I have now been in the parliament for almost a quarter century,” Abbott said, signing off a classic stump speech.
“I finally know what I’m doing, and I want to assure you I have plenty of public life left in me. So tonight I rededicate myself, I repledge myself, to your service.”
A standing ovation ensued, and then this chant from a couple of enthusiastic tables: “Come back Tony, Come back Tony.”
The air is thick with schadenfreude these days.
But, despite all the wishful thinking in the room for an Abbott restoration, Malcolm Turnbull has two things going for him: a) party-room conservatives don’t believe in leadership spills; and b) no one in their right mind would want the poisoned chalice of the leadership while the citizenship fiasco is crippling government, and before thorny issues such as same-sex marriage and energy are dealt with.
Turnbull-haters might be relishing his collision with the karma train, but that won’t help the Coalition win the next election, which may come sooner than anyone thought.
As Molan tactfully told the crowd: “Our enemy is not ourselves (but) the Greens and Labor. That’s who we have to focus on.”
Correct. The biggest failure of this government is its flat- footed- ness when it comes to the political dark arts, and never has that been more obvious than in the citizenship saga.
Yesterday, backbencher John Alexander became the latest Coalition MP to announce his resignation, after confirming he is a dual national, via British citizenship inherited from his father, and thus ineligible to sit in parliament.
He will now have to contest a by- election, likely before Christmas, to win back his safe- ish seat of Bennelong.
Alexander follows surprise Kiwi Barnaby Joyce, whose by-election on December 2 should see him win back his seat of New England.
This brings the Coalition’s num- bers in the House of Representatives to 74 of the remaining 148 seats, including the Speaker, versus Labor’s 69 seats, with more Liberal MPs, such as Alex Hawke, with citizenship doubts.
But why has the government allowed itself to look incompetent in its candidate-vetting procedures for three months while Bill Shorten gets away with pretending Labor is squeaky clean?
On Friday Shorten brazenly brushed off media questions about dual-national Labor MPs by professing to be “staggered” by the Coalition’s “abysmal ignorance of the Constitution”. What a joke. At last count, as many as 17 Labor MPs are under a citizenship cloud and refuse to produce renunciation papers. Labor’s Justine Keay last week admitted she was still a British citizen when she contested last year’s election.
Other Labor MPs with suspected dual citizenship include: Penny Wong (Malaysia-born, Malaysian father), Tania Plibersek (Slovenian parents), Brendan O’Connor (British-born, Irish parents), David Feeney (Irish father/British rights), Pat Conroy (British father), Peter Khalil (Egyptian parents), Madeleine King (British father), Susan Lamb (British father), Brian Mitchell (British-born, Irish mother), Maria Vamvakinou (Greek born), Josh Wilson (British-born), Tony Zappia (Italian born), Senator Doug Cameron (Scottish born), Senator Katy Gallagher (British parents, mother born in Ecuador), Senator Sue Lines (British father) and Senator Deborah O’Neill (Irish parents).
Shorten’s pretence that Labor has superior vetting processes is falling apart. He is left looking shabby and shady.
The real question is: When did Shorten know his MPs were at risk and who has been telling them to keep quiet?
Other than Abbott loyalist Eric Abetz, few Liberals are asking.
It takes a special political skill for the government to let Labor get away with a cover-up while Coalition MPs are punished for honesty.