Mor­ri­son may not have lost the vote, but his prime min­is­te­rial au­thor­ity is wan­ing

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - Katharine Mur­phy

Scott Mor­ri­son made it clear when he walked into the Blue Room mid-morn­ing on the last sit­ting day of the par­lia­ment, and hung a lan­tern over his own po­lit­i­cal cri­sis, that there was one thing that had to be avoided at all costs, and that was los­ing a vote on the floor of the House.

A hi­er­ar­chy of needs had been as­serted.

Mor­ri­son, in the grip of fight or flight, told the as­sem­bled re­porters: “I will do ev­ery­thing in my power to en­sure that these sug­gested changes, that would un­der­mine our bor­der pro­tec­tion laws, never see the light of day.”

Just in case we missed it. “I will do what­ever I can, what­ever I can. I’ll fight them us­ing what­ever tool or tac­tic I have avail­able to me.”

The only tool or tac­tic in the prime min­is­te­rial arse­nal, as it turned out, given the num­bers were against him in both cham­bers, and not for turn­ing, was run­ning down the clock.

Not very dig­ni­fied per­haps, this grim, last-day-of-school at­tri­tion; the spec­tre of Cory Bernardi, the Lib­eral de­fec­tor, helm­ing your fil­i­buster for you in the Se­nate. But any port in a storm, and Thurs­day was a typhoon.

Par­lia­ment House is full of clocks, and they tick re­lent­lessly, mea­sur­ing out your po­lit­i­cal mor­tal­ity in un­for­giv­ing in­cre­ments. Tick. Tick. Tick.

The House was set to ad­journ for the sum­mer at 4.30pm, and Cory just had to keep talk­ing. Talk. Talk. Talk.

At 4.27pm Bernardi rose in the Se­nate cham­ber, his fil­i­bus­ter­ing mis­chief man­aged, calmly wished ev­ery­one a very merry Christ­mas, and then left the cham­ber.

The House then rose, and Mor­ri­son’s hu­mil­i­a­tion was de­ferred un­til next Fe­bru­ary, as­sum­ing the par­lia­ment sits again be­fore the next fed­eral elec­tion, which, hon­estly? You’d re­ally have to won­der. When the po­lit­i­cal con­test is this vis­ceral, how long can ap­pear­ances be pre­served?

How long will vot­ers look at you, and think of you as a prime min­is­ter, when you have to re­sort to a Bernardi-led fil­i­buster to fend off a de facto mo­tion of no con­fi­dence in your gov­ern­ment – which is what that vote most as­suredly was.

At what point does in­sist­ing you will stay, re­gard­less of the dif­fi­cul­ties, most of them en­tirely self-in­flicted, be­come not an act of ad­mirable per­sis­tence, but an act of in­ex­pli­ca­ble self­harm?

Let’s ask the ques­tion in the most straight for­ward, prac­ti­cal terms: how of­ten can you use the ad­journ­ment as a man­age­ment tool to shep­herd a non-con­sent­ing par­lia­ment, and still cred­i­bly oc­cupy the prime min­is­te­rial of­fice?

Not very of­ten is the an­swer. Never is a bet­ter one.

Mor­ri­son avoided los­ing the vote, but the des­per­a­tion of the day, the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of the gov­ern­ment and its eb­bing au­thor­ity both in­side the par­lia­ment and out­side it, wasn’t air­brushed away, it was beamed live, to the na­tion, mo­ment by mo­ment.

The prime min­is­ter de­clared at one point that pol­i­tics wasn’t re­al­ity tele­vi­sion, which is a non­sense, when this gen­er­a­tion of par­lia­men­tar­i­ans has made it one, with their hot­house in­trigues, and their petty sagas, and self-in­dul­gences – the grimmest re­al­ity tele­vi­sion in the fran­chise, full of at­ten­tion­seek­ers and des­per­a­dos, look­ing for a plot twist to pro­pel the bat­tered en­ter­prise into the next sea­son.

Mor­ri­son had hoped to emerge by close of busi­ness mi­nus the hu­mil­i­at­ing de­feat and plus a po­lit­i­cal fight with La­bor on na­tional se­cu­rity.

That was the pre­cise plot twist sought.

A na­tional se­cu­rity fight is a handy fight to have, when fights are all that’s left, when your only pitch is that your op­po­nent is a brig­and.

But Bill Shorten knows the fight he’s in, and can see the fin­ish line be­fore him, near and yet so far.

Get­ting to that fin­ish line trumps ev­ery­thing. On Thurs­day night, it trumped face sav­ing. It trumped dig­nity.

Af­ter go­ing toe-to-toe with Mor­ri­son all day, Shorten waited un­til af­ter the tele­vi­sion news bul­letins, then promptly sur­ren­dered un­con­di­tion­ally on na­tional se­cu­rity, wav­ing through the en­cryp­tion laws he’d ear­lier de­manded be amended.

The al­ter­na­tive to ab­ject sur­ren­der was giv­ing Mor­ri­son some po­lit­i­cal grip, and as close ob­servers of the hu­man con­di­tion know – the grip of a drown­ing man can be lethal.

‘How long will vot­ers look at you, and think of you as a prime min­is­ter, when you have to re­sort to a Bernardi-led fil­i­buster to fend off a de factomo­tion of no con­fi­dence in your gov­ern­ment?’ Pho­to­graph: Mike Bow­ers for the Guardian

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.