Whether the Liberals’ Dave Sharma wins in Wentworth on Saturday or not, it’s clear whom he represents: the extremist government of the corrupt Benjamin (or “Bibi”, as Dave would call him) Netanyahu, with whom he forged such close ties during his stint as Australia’s ambassador to Israel.

Not Israelis, not Australian Jews, not even the so-called “Israel Lobby”. Just one particular, powerful political grouping within the Israeli political system, one committed to preventing any “two-state solution” and instead achieving recognition of the status quo — an endless occupation in which Palestinian territories are slowly but systematically, and illegally, annexed, while the rights and land and, frequently, the lives of the occupied people are curtailed by force.

In flagging a following of Trump in moving our embassy to Jerusalem, the Morrison government is abandoning any pretence it remains committed to a two-state solution or is not siding with Netanyahu and his apartheid agenda of one state and two populations: one free, one imprisoned. It is also signalling to the rest of the international community, which refuses to legitimise Israel’s occupation and annexation, that it has abandoned its long-held position on the issue.

And all for what? A handful of votes of hardline Israel supporters in Wentworth who would never have not voted Liberal anyway? In a byelection that should, by any rational measure, be impossible to lose? Sharma would have to suffer an 18% swing to lose — an implausible outcome despite the Liberals’ attempts to scare voters back into the fold with spurious “internal polling” stories handed to friendly outlets. And at the cost of anger from neighbours like Indonesia and Malaysia who are orders of magnitude more important to Australia’s foreign policy, economic and security interests than Netanyahu’s apartheid regime?

It’s a bizarre trade-off, one that reflects remarkable misjudgement. And misjudgement is now the key word about the Morrison government. That’s not the view of its opponents or commentators, but the government itself, which has sought to explain its support for Hanson “it’s OK to be white” motion as a rolling series of misjudgements. Porter’s office made an error in determining the government’s response. Cormann’s office made an error in not correcting the error from Porter’s office. They all erred afterward in trying to reframe the motion as against racism full stop, rather than admitting they screwed up on the night.

And that’s the most charitable explanation — albeit one undermined by various Coalition figures saying there was nothing wrong with the motion afterward. Liberal Senator Mathias Cormann went out yesterday and took one for the team, and as Senate leader he gets to wear the blame, but it’s Christian Porter — he of the vexatious prosecution of Witness K and Bernard Collaery — who seems like the real culprit, and we still don’t know how “accidental” his role was. After all, he’s only the bloke who’s supposed to be in charge of the nation’s laws, so you’d assume his office could do things like read Senate motions from parties known for racial fear-mongering.

There’s a lot of talk about the transactional costs of leadership changes, which is usually code for the antics of political delinquents like Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott. But each new prime ministership brings in new people to the job of governing, which is a constant exercise in judgement, in weighing up different options, selecting between bad alternatives. It’s harder than ever to do that properly in a political environment that’s 24/7, has multiple news cycles each day and constant pressure from social media (Cormann and Porter had to deal with the aftermath of the Hanson debacle, which went off like a bomb on Twitter, while they were in cabinet, which is when Porter wrongly decided trying to reframe the stuff-up as a victory over racism).

Experience can give you perspective and guide you in making those judgements, even if — as Cormann, the government’s most experienced senior figure, showed yesterday — it doesn’t protect you against errors. But your core values should also be an important guide — in the middle of a political crisis, what is really important to you?

At the moment, the impression is that not merely is the Morrison team inexperienced, but it doesn’t really believe in anything beyond keeping power. And that’s a recipe for further misjudgements.

 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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