In 1995, I was there when, one question time, John Howard’s reinvigorated opposition so niggled prime minister Paul Keating that the so-called master of the parliamentary stage shut proceedings down and exited the House of Representatives chamber in a petulant huff. It was a moment, above any others, that showed Howard had captured the ascendancy from Keating, and Coalition victory at the polls was just a matter of time.
The two question times so far this week, in which Labor has run riot over a government absolutely discombobulated by Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce’s surprise discovery he is the leader of the Dual National party thanks to his New Zealand citizen by descent, was the equivalent moment in 2017. Malcolm Turnbull may be the formidable Spycatcher barrister, but that was in a courtroom where he could enjoy the resonance of his baritone, not the House of Representatives where his opponents were not only revelling in his discomfiture but rubbing it in his face.
Their bleating and baa-ing in the chamber is silly and childish, but it shows that Bill Shorten and Labor are in charge. Stunned, the Coalition is lost for a credible response.
Turnbull was not helped by his woolly-headed foreign minister Julie Bishop, who could have turned today’s revelation, that someone in the ALP got a New Zealand Labour MP to ask parliamentary questions designed to help skewer Joyce, into an effective counter-attack. No, she had to claim the NZ Labour party was up to its neck in cahoots with Bill Shorten, and declare that should Labour win the September NZ election they could not be trusted.
That in the process she attacked new Kiwi Labour leader Jacinda Ardern in such a way, without hard evidence of Ardern’s collusion in the information-gathering plot, not only torpedoed her own government. She also holed the highly competent fraternal government of Bill English, which a month out from an election is battling the honeymoon of an untried but fresh, young and media-darling Labour leader in Ardern. The cool and assured Bishop who won global praise for her handling of the MH17 crisis failed to turn up for work today, but the tactical genii who put her up to over-egging her case need to take their share of the blame too.
And all the while Barnaby sits on the Coalition front bench, looking embarrassed, humiliated and forlorn, taunted by Labor simply for being present. That Shorten and Labor are being ultra-hypocritical in demanding the government remove Joyce and reject his vote, having themselves scraped through Julia Gillard’s minority government relying on the tainted, corruption-stained vote of disgraced Health Services Union leader Craig Thomson, is lost in the barnyard rabble and the Australian public’s short memory.
The government cannot let this chaos go on. Joyce should stand aside from Cabinet until the High Court rules on his constitutional eligibility to be an MP. The Prime Minister so far has not made a clear case to show why Joyce can stay in the Cabinet while Nationals Senator Matt Canavan, who also has a bit of an inadvertent citizenship issue, went to the backbench. He certainly over-reached in effectively telling the High Court what its verdict will be.
It looks wrong, it sounds wrong, and it is wrong. Either both Joyce and Canavan are in the government, or both sit out until further notice.
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