Alfred Hitchcock famously delineated the difference between suspense and surprise in filmmaking. Put simply, surprise is a sudden explosion interrupting a conversation, while suspense is letting the audience know the bomb is there a minute earlier.
The Morrison government manages both states simultaneously. While it has been hit with so many explosions it’s a wonder it has any limbs left, there are still many bombs sitting under the table. Here’s a rundown of them as we enter the last week of parliament for the year.
The sound of invisible hands clapping
Soon after he was ousted, former PM Malcolm Turnbull famously described fellow knifees Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott as “embittered … miserable ghosts” and promised he’d never hang around that way. While he left parliament immediately, he’s not exactly gone quietly into the night. There was the Q&A appearance, that anti-Abbott Instagram account, the various swipes at Peter Dutton and the hard right that did him.
Of course, it could be argued that some of this wasn’t meant to be heard by reporters. Also, the same people who saw his malign influence behind the personnel issues afflicting the government (see below) condemned him for keeping silent during the Wentworth campaign.
He took it up a notch over the weekend, making two very explicit and direct interventions. First, advising Scott Morrison that he should go to the polls early, so as to spare the Liberal government in NSW, which goes to the polls in March next year and is currently being “poisoned” by the federal chaos. The second was an attempt to counter Morrison’s own intervention to save the member for Hughes, Craig Kelly, from preselection defeat.
The Kelly gang
If there was a perfect symbol for the current parliament’s combination of surrealism and blinding incompetence, it would have to be this: the government is currently quaking to rubble over the preselection of a backbencher that no one has heard of (although we here at Crikey have done our best to make his contribution to Australian public life better known).
The Sydney Morning Herald reported this morning that Turnbull contacted senior NSW Liberals, trying to kill off a mooted move to protect sitting MPs from preselection battles across NSW with state emergency powers, aimed specifically at saving Kelly, who has more or less promised to quit the party and join the crossbench if he loses preselection.
As a synecdoche of the whole situation, on Sunday night, Kelly shouted the following at Liberal mayor Carmelo Pesce, after he refused to shake Kelly’s hand:
You’re a fucking prick! Are you fucking kidding me? You’re not going to fucking shake my hand?
They were, incidentally, at a gymnastics club to hand out awards to kids. Because no one reads a room like our boy Craig Kelly.
In other news from the unappeasable right of the Liberal party, Senator Jim Molan — a man who only has his job because TWO other people were found to be ineligible under Section 44 of the constitution — called for a similar intervention from Morrison, saying he wouldn’t be “taken for granted”. And, perhaps even more ominously, Tony Abbott, who was temporarily sated by the end of Turnbull, has mentioned that he thinks he could be prime minister again.
Banksy shreds (the governments majority)
The resignation of Julia Banks was certainly an explosion. It blew up Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s budget announcement. It provided a lot of damaging optics — the image of the men of the Liberal party scarpering as she gave her resignation speech contrasted unflatteringly with Banks surrounded by female crossbenchers, or sharing a moment with Labor’s Anne Aly.
But beneath the smoke is another potential time bomb. With the government holding less than half the seats in the lower house, it’s more and more vulnerable to losing damaging votes (to the extent it’s even planning on sitting). While Banks has promised to provide the government with supply and confidence, there is one area she is not going to help them out…
Section 44 is still a thing
Banks’ current dissatisfaction with the Liberal party can be traced fairly directly to the leadership spill that failed to install the hard right’s preferred candidate Peter Dutton. During the spill it became public that Dutton might himself fall victim to the constitutional section that had wiped out 17 members of parliament and implicated countless others. Dutton’s potential breach surrounds a child care centre that benefits from government subsidies. Having been coy while she was still a member, Banks has declared that Dutton has a “very clear” case to answer and ought to refer himself.
Given that the majority of her fellow crossbenchers support the referral, it will be interesting to see if Labor risks Morrison’s promised retaliation — to refer three Labor MPs if Dutton is sent to the high court — by backing a motion to oust Dutton.