When parliament resumes tomorrow to pass the JobKeeper package — and to see in the Senate whether One Nation supports the establishment of an oversight committee, or whether Pauline will once again do the Coalition’s bidding — opposition leader Anthony Albanese faces a crucial choice.
Will he object to Parliament’s suspension in the mixed manner he has used — railing against it, then calling it “unfortunate” — or will he give a full-throated roar in defense of such democracy as we possess?
Strategically, we can agree that the choices aren’t great. It’s a rotten job being an oppo leader in a national emergency.
Tuck in behind the leader and you disappear. Oppose, and you’re a wrecker. Worse still, Labor’s strategy for Albo all along has been to make him relatable Mr Bloke and hope that Scomo’s happy-clappy kumbaya starts to strike the electorate as odd just as the downturn was due to hit.
Now with the “roni” as the kids* call the virus (*ageing Honi Soit libertarians who missed their shot), bluster and spirit is exactly what’s wanted, and Morrison has stepped up. Albo got cut out by Christian Porter and Sally McManus on the JobKeeper negotiations, at least in the public eye, and now News Corp is pinging him for “disloyalty”.
Furthermore, well, nature is cruel, and Morrison’s got a bit of a bearing and a jaw on him, while Albo looks like they’re making On The Buses again. Tough times.
Nor is there much joy from defending Parliament, our House of Reps being the worst Westminster chamber in the world, no independence of backbenchers, too-small crossbench, question time often a pointless farce.
That’s why Christian Porter has gone the populist route and snorted derision at the suggestion of meeting saying that ministers “have better things to do” than sit in parliament and “read rules and procedures”. They’re daring Albanese to identify himself with “politics” and defend the house.
Well, look, Albanese should. Absolutely. Both because it’s the right thing to do. But also because it’s the only way to establish a real point of difference.
Not a defence preceded by a commitment to bipartisanship, but a full-throated attack on their desperate cynicism, their lack of commitment to democratic values, and to the actual spirit of Australian government they purport to honour. Not an off-the-cuff thing, but something written.
Call them cowards, ask them what they’re scared of, why they can’t govern and be accountable at the same time. Tie it to the Ruby Princess, to the lack of protective equipment, to premiers having to step in and do the job. And implicitly, the next disaster these mediocrities cook up.
Would it play out there if you did that? I have no idea, and not claiming that it will. But it might, and something that really stood apart, and has a better chance of doing so than a mix of mealy-mouthed commitment and gentle chiding.
Look, the roni has probably won Scomo the next election. You’re probably not going to be prime minister, and your own party might not let you get to even have a shot at it (how cozy was that national cabinet? Solidarity forever, hey).
With this you get to really make a stand — to do the right thing at the same time as taking a chance that somewhere out there it will resonate with a wider disquiet at our easy slide into authoritarianism, and the sneering elite cynicism of a Christian Porter.
Corny as it you must speak for Australia, and for those past who did think it mattered if we were some sort of democracy worth fighting for — not a rotten-boroughed bunyip aristocracy backwater.
Give it a go. If it works don’t thank me. If it’s a disaster, the sub-editor botched my copy and changed my meaning. Onwards!