“What a mess.”
— J Mascis, Freak Scene
Far from being a restoration of the kind of sensible, just-get-on-with-it leadership the nation has been craving for so long, the new Parliament, and the Turnbull government that notionally presides over it, is beginning to look like a combination of the worst of Australian politics since 2010. And we’re still the best part of a month from Parliament actually sitting.
The week began with the Rudd non-appointment still reverberating around Canberra. Just when that was starting to quieten down, Rudd gave a 75-minute interview to Paul Kelly — it’s hard to imagine whom to feel more sorry for in that Clash of The Tedious — to amplify it again, showing that same deft capacity to garner attention to himself that he deployed so often against Julia Gillard. (And, by the way, didn’t you love the way Rudd portrayed himself and Turnbull as best chums, pals who hung out together at Point Piper and at Kevin’s New York pad, making Turnbull’s refusal to nominate him all the more treacherous?)
Turnbull and his Treasurer, meanwhile, were struggling to deal with a problem that, back in the day, also vexed Rudd, Julia Gillard and their Treasurer, Wayne Swan. When banks declined to pass on interest rate cuts under Swan, the Coalition liked to howl with outrage and mock him as ineffectual. Now, with the big banks passing on half or less of Tuesday’s cut, Morrison tried to have two bob each way on the issue, before Turnbull — with better, or at least less worse political antennae than his Treasurer — waded in to give the banks yet another tongue-lashing.
Yesterday Turnbull and Morrison conjured an annual appearance for the big four before the House of Reps economic committee, as another instalment in their exhausting campaign to keep the banks out of a royal commission. Helpfully, on that front, Labor began talking this week about peeling off a Nationals MP or two to secure support a House of Reps motion for a royal commission — the kind of thing that is now a serious threat given Turnbull’s slender majority.
If those replays of the Rudd-Gillard years weren’t enough, we’ve now got a wholly new Senate crossbench that suggests the one Turnbull called a double dissolution to dispose of might not have been so bad after all. It’s like a megamix of the 2014-16 crossbench — Lambie, Day and Leyonhjelm are all back, but now they’ve been supplemented by two companions for Nick Xenophon and, of course, not one, not two, not three, but four One Nation senators. Meanwhile, the Coalition and the Greens, who collaborated on the Senate voting changes that were supposed to end the days of micro-party mayhem on the crossbench, together lost four spots.
Remember all those plaudits for Turnbull boldly seizing the agenda back in March and declaring he was going to go for a double dissolution election if he didn’t get his way on the ABCC bill? It’s hard to recall a political ploy that has blown up as badly as that in recent times. Turnbull’s government hangs by a thread in the House of Representatives and he has ushered into the Senate a deeply toxic and malicious clutch of bigots and crazies.
Their numbers include an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist who sees the repeal of section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act as necessary to enable a discussion about the malign influence of “international bankers” — AKA “the Jews”. These people now have a legitimate platform for their hate — towards Muslims, towards Jews, towards Asians, towards indigenous people, towards women who want divorces, towards climate scientists.
What a mess. And what if 2010-15 ends up looking like we didn’t know how good we had it compared to the disaster we’ve now inflicted on ourselves.