You wouldn’t necessarily know it from a media obsessed with posturing about Facebook, but it’s hard to overstate just what a disastrous week Scott Morrison and the rotten — in all senses of the adjective — government he leads has just had.
Overlooked this week in the focus on Brittany Higgins and the implosion of the news media bargaining code was how deeply and bitterly divided the Coalition is. Scott Morrison was forced into the humiliating position of withdrawing a key bill — his legislation to push the Clean Energy Finance Corporation into funding gas projects — because his own backbenchers, led by former cabinet ministers Barnaby Joyce and Matt Canavan, intended to make it a vehicle for government funding of coal-fired power stations.
By yesterday the entire Nationals Senate team, led by sports rorter Bridget McKenzie, decided to go further and used the use the bill to pave the way for nuclear power in Australia. (The Nats, bears of little brain, presumably are unaware that if we started building a nuclear power plant tomorrow it would come on line sometime in the late 2030s).
A government so divided it has to withdraw major legislation at the last minute for fear it will be mutilated or blocked by its own backbench is a rare thing indeed. One can only imagine the screaming headlines if it happened under a Labor government.
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So the legislation to extend “clean energy” to fossil fuels like gas is off the agenda — for how long, it isn’t clear. Possibly until Barnaby Joyce becomes leader again and is bound by cabinet solidarity to vote for legislation.
On that front, Joe Aston did some pot-stirring today suggesting Joyce almost had the numbers to knock off interim leader Michael McCormack.
Never forget that Joyce is an accused sexual harasser. His party has never had the fortitude to properly investigate and resolve the complaints about his alleged behaviour. How on earth people think this man should be a leader of anything is testimony to the extraordinary and convenient amnesia of both politicians and press gallery journalists.
The government was busying itself with other matters. In lieu of actually vaccinating anyone, Morrison and his thin-skinned health minister have been doing a press announcement every day about every trivial aspect of the vaccine process — down, seemingly, to the signing of the first customs form for a shipment.
Morrison was the one who, without prompting, told Australians they would be “at the top of the queue” for vaccines last year. According to the latest data “top of the queue” means around 190 millionth in the queue, but who’s counting. An endless series of non-announcements about vaccinations that weren’t happening was, believe it or not, what the government was hoping to focus on this week.
Instead, the gutsy Brittany Higgins derailed any plans the government had and in doing so exposed the weak, venal and self-interested nature of Scott Morrison and his government.
Accepting for a moment Morrison’s claim that he was unaware of any of these events until this week — which if true, is bad enough — at no stage in the last five days has Morrison and his office reacted with a modicum of the humanity the situation demands. Instead, it’s been pure politics.
Thus the appalling invocation of his wife and children; the lazy announcement of an inquiry by a female MP; yet another review by a public servant; careful word choice to emphasise he’s relying on advisers who may yet have to be thrown under a bus; the smearing of Higgins’ partner on background by the PMO; and yesterday, inevitably, the “independent review” by PM&C head and Liberal staffer Phil Gaetjens into who knew what and when.
Based on Gatejens’ risible review of the sports rorts scandal that devoted considerable effort to trying and failing to argue there was no rorting, his efforts may well end up disputing whether there was any rape in the first place.
Meantime, the revelations have continued to emerge about the apparently extraordinarily widespread knowledge of what happened to Higgins, including within the PMO. This is directly at odds with Morrison’s insistence his staff were completely in the dark until the media contacted them last week.
Each revelation brings evidence of a cover-up closer and closer to Morrison himself and his closest advisers.
This has long been a shabby, shallow and corrupt government, led by a man with a talent for spin and a lack of policy substance or genuine leadership capacity. This week exposed both that government’s deep divisions and something altogether more unsettling: a rottenness that has corroded not only its capacity to govern in the national interest but even the most basic sense of morality.