Today, the headlines and news bulletins should be saying “Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce”. Of course, they’re not because the Deputy Prime Minister is on a week’s leave. And the Coalition is still in disarray. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull decided he could not entrust his terminally tainted deputy with the job and sent him on forced leave to “consider his position”.

The Nationals’ embattled leader returned fire by publicly accusing the PM of being “inept”. He also used his career contemplation break to give a damning interview to The Sydney Morning Herald in which he painted himself as the victim, depicted his plight as a “witch hunt”, and boasted he wasn’t going anywhere. Personally, I still believe in Hinch’s Law: “Any man who says three times ‘I will not resign’ — will.”

Meanwhile out west, the renegade state Nationals were doing their own 2018 version of “we warn the Tsar”. And in New England, Barnaby’s betrayed wife was saying she didn’t want the beetrooter to lose the Deputy PM slot. It’s all got so tawdry that cynics were seeing that plea as an alimony protection ploy for the ex-wife and kids.

As the saga drags on, I’m bracing for news reports like “In other news — at the White House, Prime Minister Turnbull …”. Just what a beleaguered government needs to start the year.

***

The sad thing is, Malcolm Turnbull ended last year, and started this one, on a comparative high. The first Newspoll shaved a point off Labor’s lead and the PM widened his lead over Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister. That was all BBB (Before Barnaby’s Bullshit). The pragmatism of the Four Horsemen (Turnbull, Morrison, Cormann, Birmingham) had started to work with the crossbench last year and could kick some goals this year. Especially on company tax.

Last year, with crossbench support, they upped Labor’s $2 million cut-off for a 25% levy to $10 million and finally $50 million. They’re going to be pushing it uphill to get multibillion-dollar companies the same blanket reduction unless there are some insurances that all the saved taxes won’t go to share buy-backs and dividends. That there will be, finally, decent wage rises. I’m no expert (as Twitter keeps pointing out) but what if companies had to provide a contract to the ATO showing a built-in wage increase of X dollars over Y years?

I say that because Walmart made headlines, after the Trump tax cuts, with a $1000 bonus for all workers. I think the fine print said something like “only for full-time employees who have been here for 20 years”.

***

That NN (national nincompoop) George Christensen would post a picture of himself on Facebook brandishing a pistol, at a time when 17 schoolkids and teachers were being buried after another school massacre in the US, is unfathomable. That he would also use the occasion to seemingly threaten Green MPs is mind-boggling. In his “joke” post he said: “You gotta ask yourself, do you feel lucky, Greenie punks?” That’s why I said on Sunrise: “I think the man should apologise on his knees. This is the most disgusting thing I have seen since I’ve been in Canberra.”

***

On umpteen recent plane trips, I’ve been reading a great book I got for my birthday earlier this month. It’s called There Being No Objection — an Australian Senate Miscellany and was edited by Tim Bryant and Brien Hallett and published by the Department of the Senate in 2013.

A couple of things grabbed me early. I realise that I should have read Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice before I got understandably pilloried for being photographed nodding off during the Governor-General’s speech during the opening ceremony. According to Odgers: “The opening ceremony is not constitutionally required, and is otherwise objectionable in principle, for example … by involving the Governor-General in contentious and partisan statements composed by the prime minister in the opening speech.” Exactly.

But the book lets us down badly when talking about the Whitlam government Dismissal. It says: “Many can remember where they were on December 11 1975 and would be able to identify David Smith, the Official Secretary to the Governor-General, as he read the proclamation dissolving the Senate and the House or Representatives.”

Actually, I have no idea where I was on December 11, 1975. But I do know where I was on November 11, 1975 — when The Dismissal actually happened. How could such an error survive a reprint? It answers one question for me though. It dawned on me why I read far fewer books than I should and would like to. Even with fiction, I read like a subeditor.

***

A doppelganger question: what’s Bill Gates doing running the banking royal commission?

 

Peter Fray

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