“The vote, in the end, was an anti-climax,” writes Michael Gordon in The Age
today on the RU486 division.
“It was John Howard who signalled that there was no need for a division,
probably because support for the proposed change was so emphatic…” And
because he didn’t want another sort of division to be highlighted.

There are
several comments along these lines in the papers today. RU486 has been a
conscience issue – one on which MPs are free to vote according to their
beliefs. But just because MPs have been free to follow their own consciences,
it hasn’t stopped them from trying to burden the consciences of their
colleagues.

The
debate, in and out of Parliament, has been vicious and vituperative at times.
The Prime Minister is well aware of this. Last week in the Coalition party room
he warned his troops to keep it down. He knows he’s got a problem.

IR’s
through, the Telstra sale’s through and VSU is done and dusted. There’s not
much of a Government policy agenda to unite the team behind at the moment.

Instead,
Howard has to deal with Coalition partners playing pernickety. There’s
not much
love lost between the Liberals and Nats at the moment. There hasn’t
been for a while. The AWB scandals and the future of the single desk is
providing a
very public platform for disagreements between the parties – as
yesterday’s
heated slap down to Liberal Peter Slipper from National Peter McGauran showed.

Media law
changes seem to be the only big new policy item on the agenda – and there
are divisions between the Coalition partners and within the individual parties
over these.

No wonder
the Prime Minister is keen to avoid division. Any sort of division.

Peter Fray

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