“Did you find the CO?”
“There’s no fucking CO here. Let’s just get going.” — Apocalypse Now
The Turnbull camp within the government — for this is a government increasingly openly divided between loyalist forces and the far right working for an Abbott restoration — has been consoling itself since the dismal events of July 2 that at some point reality would kick in — that Labor would realise it’s still in opposition and Bill Shorten would stop going around like he won the election. The simple fact that Malcolm Turnbull remained prime minister, however narrowly, and thus in control of the political agenda and the House of Representatives, would assert itself.
So far, no luck.
Labor, quelle surprise, has immediately embarked on parliamentary efforts to get a banking royal commission up, and Shorten theatrically announced on Twitter yesterday another same-sex marriage bill (complete with the prefix “Breaking”, as if it would surprise anyone). Back in April, the government — whose main stated objection to a bank royal commission appears to be that our financial system is so fragile, such an inquiry would destroy confidence in it and cause economic disaster — had insisted that that most gummy of toothless tigers, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, had all the powers necessary to effectively oversee the banks — indeed, more power than those of a royal commission! — after restoring some of the money it had stripped from the regulator over the course of three budgets.
The “ASIC is better than a royal commission” line held until the start of this month, when the government announced the banks would be invited for a cuppa and a chat with the government-controlled House of Representatives economics committee once a year. That was after the banks displayed their contempt for the government’s efforts to defend them by declining to pass on the latest RBA interest rate cut (the banks prefer to display their gratitude via donations, not actions). That held for two weeks, until the government signed on to a proposal from its backbench for a banking tribunal (there’s already, ahem, a bank-funded Financial Ombudsman Service, but whatever). Two weeks later, the tribunal is being beefed up even before it is even officially announced.
(You’ve heard of security theatre — this is an elaborate form of regulatory theatre, with the government keen to move the props around and populate the stage to give the impression the banks are under some kind of rigorous scrutiny for their repeated scandals. The audience thus far appears underwhelmed.)
Meanwhile the right within the Liberals have been celebrating the apparent demise of the same-sex marriage plebiscite, chuffed that homophobic abrogations of the basic rights of Australians will remain in place. They’re even more chuffed that the issue will continue to hang around the neck of Malcolm Turnbull, the strong same-sex marriage supporter who is now the only man standing between Australia and same-sex marriage laws of the kind taken as read in some of the world’s most socially conservative jurisdictions.
Reckon Labor is going to do anything but go harder than ever on either issue?
All that would be fine except that Turnbull and his hapless Treasurer are being made to look silly by their own backbench. Remarkably, the superannuation reform legislation is still weeks off because the Treasurer is unable to get his own party room behind his budget, despite weeks of negotiation with backbenchers standing up for the rights of high-income earners to exploit the rest of us via the retirement incomes system. That’s while the government is trying to “pressure” (to use the media’s preferred term) Labor over budget measures it says need to passed to stave off the ratings agencies. On current form, this mob couldn’t apply pressure in a hyperbaric chamber.
Helpfully, someone also leaked to Peter van Onselen and Wayne Errington that Turnbull and Morrison were rolled by the right on negative gearing reform, thus finally explaining how earlier in the year Morrison was happy to talk about the “excesses” of negative gearing one minute and then warning about how reform would destroy the economy the next.
Meantime the Senate backbench is off on a frolic of its own on section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, a law so draconian that it has somehow prevented numerous openly anti-Semitic, racist, homophobic and Islamophobic politicians from being elected and media personalities from engaging in open and unpunished displays of bigotry. Scott Morrison, still futilely trying to turn that “pressure” valve, correctly complains that 18C has nothing to do with actual Planet Earth issues like the budget or economic growth, while his Prime Minister keeps trying to signal he doesn’t mind the idea but it’s not at the top, or even in the middle, of the government’s agenda.
Thus far, to no avail.
It seems, judging by his remarks to his fellow campaigner in this brave fight for free speech The Australian, that Cory Bernardi dislikes it being pointed out that this is a celebration of old white male victimhood. It’s hard to draw a different conclusion given that 17 of the 20 signatories on his notice of motion are white males and the average age is 55. Sorry, Senator, but it’s not “racist” to point out who it is that wants greater freedom to engage in race-based abuse of others from a position of political authority. As one of your media supporters might say, not every old white male wants to amend 18C, but nearly every person who want to amend 18C is an old white male.
“In office but not in power” is how Tony Abbott described the government last week, a phrase most famously used by former UK chancellor Norman Lamont. It was an apt lift — Lamont was another disgruntled right winger sacked for being a dud. He used the phrase in his “resignation” speech in 1993, talking about the ineffectual Major government that had been narrowly re-elected the year before after dumping its hardline, unpopular right-wing leader. Sound familiar? Major presided over five years of economic mayhem, scandals and general chaos before being obliterated by Tony Blair. Bill Shorten’s no Blair — he’s more a Kinnock — but given the Turnbull government’s sheer lack of authority at the moment, it’s hard to dispute Abbott’s analysis.
There’s no CO here. And everyone else has decided to get going.