There are, perhaps, a couple of Howard-era ministers deriving some pleasure from watching Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull being undermined by leaks from his own cabinet. Perhaps more than a couple. Whoever leaked about cabinet’s consideration of the excellent idea that it embrace a banking royal commission before one is forced upon them, is doubtless deriving pleasure from it as well. What they wouldn’t have bargained for is the way in which the leak distracted senior ministers, yet again, from the task of talking about policy. Or anything, really, other than themselves. That’s a little bonus.
Julie Bishop was particularly angry about speculation that she was the leaker. Not merely did she not leak to News Corp about the cabinet discussion, she said, she had never leaked any cabinet discussion ever (now we know that whoever fed various leaks over the years to The West Australian was evidently trying to frame her. Or merely having a giggle to her expense). She took to an encrypted messaging app to tell her cabinet colleagues she was not the leaker, which someone duly (no pun intended) leaked to the Courier-Mail.
Speaking of Queenslanders, Peter Dutton says he has a gut feeling about who it is. He has a feeling in his waters, as it were, as to the identity of the leaker. He, like Bishop, is very unimpressed with the leaking, though he didn’t call for an investigation, as Bishop did. Dutton prefers to order investigations into leaks to journalists, not be subject to them, thank you very much.
All of this is because what was once (i.e. last week) whispered, is now shouted: that the Prime Minister is finished. In the space of a few days, between leaks, that crazy decision to delay Parliament, and the visible intent of marriage equality dead-enders to bung on a blue over inserting discrimination clauses in Dean Smith’s bill, the PM has gone from troubled to terminal. There’s even muttering of what, as recently as Monday, was absurd and unthinkable, that something might happen before Christmas instead of the first quarter of next year. If Labor is returned in Queensland tomorrow, expect that muttering to grow in volume as attention is focused on Bennelong.
The trick for Turnbull and Christopher Pyne will be to match up parliamentary debate in both the Senate next week and the House of Reps the following week to minimise or even remove altogether the possibility that anything other than the Smith bill can be debated. The Senate, where the opposition and crossbenchers can determine the schedule, is more problematic, but the government notionally will be able to keep a handle on things in the Reps to make sure that for the week beginning December 4, it’s all marriage equality, all of the time, until December 7, and to ensure that everyone goes home for Christmas on that Thursday evening and same-sex weddings can start ASAP. We may not even get that traditional end-of-year, phoney session where everyone tells the opponents they’ve been smearing and slagging off all year how much they respect them, for fear it will lead to a banking inquiry bill.
It’s a mess. And it won’t end on December 7, even if the government is successful and MPs and senators scatter for the holidays. There’s only one way all this ends.