Con­ser­va­tives round on Mor­ri­son.

Amid a chaotic fi­nal sit­ting week of par­lia­ment, con­ser­va­tive Coali­tion MPs are fu­ri­ous at the prime minister for what they per­ceive as his be­trayal over re­li­gious free­doms in schools.

The Saturday Paper - - Contents - Karen Mid­dle­ton

Con­ser­va­tive Liberal MPs are ac­cus­ing Prime Minister Scott Mor­ri­son of cre­at­ing a po­lit­i­cal dis­as­ter out of re­li­gious schools’ poli­cies on ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity af­ter he blind­sided his party on the is­sue for a sec­ond time.

Some Lib­er­als who re­main op­posed to same-sex mar­riage are blam­ing Mor­ri­son for turn­ing the re­view of re­li­gious free­doms – com­mis­sioned a year ago dur­ing the mar­riage postal sur­vey, os­ten­si­bly to ease their con­cerns – into an al­ba­tross that is dam­ag­ing the gov­ern­ment.

In a tense ex­change in his of­fice on Wed­nes­day morn­ing, Mor­ri­son ac­cused the group of po­ten­tially do­ing more dam­age to the gov­ern­ment by want­ing it to vote against LGBTQIA chil­dren.

The ten­sion with the con­ser­va­tives on his own side came as Mor­ri­son and Op­po­si­tion Leader Bill Shorten and their par­ties used pro­ce­dural ma­noeu­vres on the last day of par­lia­ment for the year to try to em­bar­rass one an­other on na­tional se­cu­rity and refugee pol­icy.

The ses­sion ended with the gov­ern­ment shut­ting down the house of representatives to avoid los­ing a vote aimed at forc­ing the gov­ern­ment to act on med­i­cal ad­vice and bring all chil­dren and un­well adults in im­mi­gra­tion de­ten­tion on Nauru and Manus Is­land to Aus­tralia.

Had the bill pro­ceeded, and the Coali­tion been de­feated, it would have been the first time a gov­ern­ment had lost a leg­isla­tive vote in the house in al­most 100 years.

In a bid to try to force the gov­ern­ment to al­low the vote, La­bor de­layed an­other bill that gives se­cu­rity agen­cies the power to ac­cess en­crypted com­mu­ni­ca­tions, such as con­ver­sa­tions on What­sApp, Sig­nal and Wickr.

Mor­ri­son and Home Af­fairs Minister Peter Dut­ton had de­manded the bi­par­ti­san joint com­mit­tee on in­tel­li­gence and se­cu­rity speed up its ex­am­i­na­tion of the bill – dur­ing which con­cerns were ex­pressed by the gov­ern­ment’s se­cu­rity watch­dog bod­ies and dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies – to get it passed be­fore Christ­mas. The pair ac­cused La­bor of jeop­ar­dis­ing na­tional se­cu­rity by want­ing to scru­ti­nise it closely.

The com­mit­tee fin­ished its work as re­quested and re­ported to par­lia­ment on Wed­nes­day night, rec­om­mend­ing a raft of amend­ments that the gov­ern­ment adopted.

But La­bor then sought to add more amend­ments in the se­nate to try to have both that bill and the refugee bill – mod­elled on one pro­duced by Went­worth in­de­pen­dent Ker­ryn Phelps, but voted down on Mon­day – sent back to the house for the re­quired fi­nal en­dorse­ment.

Ac­cept­ing the first would have forced the gov­ern­ment to also ac­cept the sec­ond and ex­posed it to the risk of los­ing the refugee vote, re­sult­ing in the Mor­ri­son gov­ern­ment’s hu­mil­i­a­tion.

As a re­sult, the gov­ern­ment chose to shut down the house of representatives in­stead.

Af­ter that, La­bor aban­doned its ex­tra se­nate amend­ments on the en­cryp­tion bill, mean­ing it no longer needed to go back to the house of representatives again and will now be­come law. That en­ables the Op­po­si­tion to avoid be­ing ac­cused of jeop­ar­dis­ing Aus­tralia’s safety by not fa­cil­i­tat­ing pas­sage of the bill.

Ear­lier, Mor­ri­son had called a news con­fer­ence to claim the high moral ground on the whole sit­u­a­tion and launch a blis­ter­ing at­tack on Shorten along those lines.

“This is about Aus­tralia’s na­tional se­cu­rity, it’s not about what hap­pens on the floor of the house or the floor of the se­nate,” he in­sisted.

“You’ve got to look past Can­berra. This is about Aus­tralia’s safety and Bill Shorten is a clear and present threat to Aus­tralia’s safety be­cause he is so ob­sessed with pol­i­tics that he can­not see the na­tional in­ter­est.”

Mor­ri­son ac­cused La­bor of turn­ing the par­lia­ment into “re­al­ity tele­vi­sion” through stunts.

When it be­came clear that the gov­ern­ment would not al­low ei­ther bill to re­turn to the house, the man­ager of Op­po­si­tion busi­ness, Tony Burke, con­demned the de­ci­sion.

“This gov­ern­ment just gave up and this gov­ern­ment just de­cided that ev­ery­thing we were told for the last two weeks was not true,” Burke told par­lia­ment.

“They de­cided the price of fol­low­ing med­i­cal ad­vice on Nauru was so high that they would rather not go through with en­cryp­tion leg­is­la­tion … If you can’t face the par­lia­ment, you can’t gov­ern.”

It was a chaotic end to a chaotic week, es­pe­cially for the Coali­tion and its new prime minister. How­ever, the fi­nal sit­ting day ex­posed La­bor to crit­i­cism that it, too, was play­ing pol­i­tics.

Ear­lier in the week, Mor­ri­son at­tracted crit­i­cism from some of his col­leagues over pro­posed leg­is­la­tion that would give the gov­ern­ment the power to force big elec­tric­ity com­pa­nies to di­vest, if they did not lower their prices.

While some Lib­er­als sup­ported the move – made in the ab­sence of any other gov­ern­ment en­ergy pol­icy – oth­ers re­main con­cerned that it went against the Lib­er­als’ pro-busi­ness ethos, and the gov­ern­ment was forced to amend it.

With Thurs­day’s par­lia­men­tary shut­down, that bill did not make it into law, ei­ther.

Mor­ri­son sur­prised his col­leagues fur­ther on Wed­nes­day by pro­duc­ing a pri­vate mem­ber’s bill aimed at en­trench­ing ex­emp­tions for re­li­gious schools from the Sex Dis­crim­i­na­tion

Act and an­nounc­ing it would be put to a con­science vote in par­lia­ment – with­out hav­ing con­sulted the Coali­tion party room first.

Key con­ser­va­tive sen­a­tors had al­ready laid out their po­si­tions on re­li­gious free­doms dur­ing their reg­u­lar Coali­tion sen­a­tors’ meet­ing, af­ter

La­bor had pro­duced a bill that would have re­moved the ex­emp­tions and, the con­ser­va­tives feared, ex­tended the an­tidis­crim­i­na­tion pro­tec­tions for LGBTQIA stu­dents, teach­ers and other staff at re­li­gious schools.

Dur­ing the meet­ing, gov­ern­ment se­nate leader and fi­nance minister Mathias Cor­mann re­vealed the gov­ern­ment planned to move amend­ments to negate the bill’s im­pact.

Cor­mann also men­tioned the pos­si­bil­ity of a con­science vote, some­thing the con­ser­va­tives op­posed.

On Tues­day night, they de­manded a meet­ing with Cor­mann and At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Chris­tian Porter to clar­ify the gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion and to lay out their con­cerns more fully.

At the meet­ing in Cor­mann’s of­fice, the con­ser­va­tives said if the amend­ments didn’t pass, the gov­ern­ment should vote against La­bor’s bill.

Dur­ing that meet­ing, Cor­mann re­vealed that Mor­ri­son had pro­duced his own bill. The con­ser­va­tives were irate, be­liev­ing he had made an­other cap­tain’s call and be­trayed them by not en­dors­ing a con­ser­va­tive po­si­tion, hav­ing sup­ported the re­li­gious free­dom re­view’s es­tab­lish­ment – and hav­ing him­self pro­posed for­mer at­tor­ney-gen­eral and im­mi­gra­tion minister Philip Rud­dock as its chair – but con­tin­u­ing to refuse to re­lease it.

Mor­ri­son now says he will re­lease both the re­view and a gov­ern­ment re­sponse be­fore year’s end.

The pro­duc­tion of his pri­vate mem­ber’s bill, which went nowhere af­ter La­bor re­fused to agree to a con­science vote, fol­lowed the leak dur­ing the Went­worth by­elec­tion cam­paign of part of the re­li­gious free­dom re­view.

The leak drew at­ten­tion to the lit­tle-known – and lit­tle-used – ex­ist­ing ex­emp­tion for re­li­gious schools that meant they were legally able to dis­crim­i­nate against LGBTQIA stu­dents and teach­ers. In the wake of the leak, and dur­ing a cam­paign for a seat that had strongly sup­ported same-sex mar­riage, Mor­ri­son an­nounced he would leg­is­late to re­move the ex­emp­tion by the end of the year.

It was an an­nounce­ment that also had not been put to the party room first and which also an­gered the Lib­er­als’ con­ser­va­tive wing.

When, af­ter los­ing Went­worth, Mor­ri­son had not acted on his prom­ise by the start of the fi­nal par­lia­men­tary week, La­bor’s se­nate leader Penny Wong brought for­ward her own bill to ef­fect it.

Af­ter the Tues­day night meet­ing be­tween Cor­mann, Porter and the group of con­ser­va­tives, Mor­ri­son in­vited a smaller group of con­ser­va­tive Lib­er­als to his of­fice on Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

The Satur­day Pa­per has been told he ac­cused them of want­ing the gov­ern­ment to vote against LGBTQIA kids. It’s un­der­stood they replied they were just con­cerned about the lack of proper process.

But it was not un­til Mor­ri­son called a news con­fer­ence soon af­ter to an­nounce his own pri­vate mem­ber’s bill that they dis­cov­ered it would def­i­nitely be sub­ject to a con­science vote.

The con­ser­va­tives say this has re­opened a sen­si­tive is­sue, an­ger­ing con­ser­va­tive re­li­gious lead­ers and leav­ing the gov­ern­ment fac­ing al­le­ga­tions that it does not have a clear po­si­tion.

One con­ser­va­tive Liberal told

The Satur­day Pa­per: “When you have no di­rec­tion and you let some­thing as sen­si­tive as this stray the way it has, then you have to wear the con­se­quences.”

Lib­er­als’ anger and frus­tra­tion at for­mer prime minister Mal­colm Turn­bull also in­creased this week af­ter his in­ter­ven­tions in de­fence of his na­tional en­ergy guar­an­tee pol­icy, now aban­doned by the Coali­tion and adopted by La­bor.

Turn­bull re-en­tered pub­lic de­bate with a vengeance, giv­ing a speech in Syd­ney at which he ad­vo­cated the read­op­tion of the pol­icy that led to his demise. That prompted even some of his clos­est sup­port­ers to sug­gest it was time for him to stop talk­ing.

Just be­fore the par­lia­ment went quiet on Thurs­day, Mor­ri­son rose to be­gin the tra­di­tional vale­dic­tory speeches.

“Well, ho, ho, ho,” Mor­ri­son said flatly and with con­sid­er­able irony, be­fore declar­ing this “the most joy­ous time of the year”.

Only, pos­si­bly, be­cause it’s al­most • over.

Prime Minister Scott Mor­ri­son at a press con­fer­ence ahead of ques­tion time this week.

KAREN MID­DLE­TON is The Satur­day Pa­per’s chief po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent.

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