Flat White

Young or old, too many Liberal backbenchers won’t stand for principle

19 August 2018

3:51 PM

19 August 2018

3:51 PM

I knew things were bad with the federal Liberal Party but I didn’t know things were this bad.   You see until the recent NEG schmozzle I’d thought that Jim Molan and James Paterson – a couple of the more recent additions to our dysfunctional Upper House Senate, one old and one young – might have gone into politics for something other than their own advancement. ‘Maybe’, I thought to myself ‘these two (joining a couple of notable others) are something other than careerists and might at some point stand up for principle, even if that means crossing the floor.’

And then along comes Malcolm’s incoherent and Paris-upholding NEG. Jim Molan, the old one with a distinguished career in the military and a man I’ve met, liked and respected, then goes on to the Credlin TV show on Sky and completely embarrasses himself. If you haven’t seen it, look up the clip online and watch it. It’s like a slow motion train wreck. Molan begins by telling Credlin and the viewers that he is unbendingly firm that the Paris Accord is a dog’s breakfast; that it’s a mess; that he’s wholly against it.

‘But then why did he vote for the NEG in the party room?’, he’s asked by Credlin. It now gets good. He rambles virtually incoherently. Credlin reminds him that the NEG is wholly and completely a creature of the Paris Accord to lower countries’ emissions. The obvious point is how can you be against Paris and support the NEG. Molan eventually mumbles something about having had to implement lots of dogs’ breakfasts of bad policies when in the army.

‘Ah, but that’s no excuse’, points out Credlin. She reminds him that he’s not in the army any more. He’s in parliament. He isn’t being given bad policies, the implementation of which is part of his job. No, he is part of the group making the policies. So as the viewers can see, Molan’s excuse for voting for the NEG is nothing short of pathetic. You could feel people’s respect for the man go down (yours will too) as you watch the sorry episode.

Look, Senator Molan, if you believe (rightly in my view) that staying in the Paris Accord is a disaster for Australia – and you said as much – then your support for this byzantine mess of a Team Turnbull NEG piece of legislation is based on what?

Is it: a) I’m afraid that the Prime Minister’s Office will punish MPs who step out of line and so I may get moved way down on the Senate list next time I’m up, meaning I’ll be out of parliament? b) No point of principle is ever worth crossing the floor on, or gainsaying Malcolm on? c) Some points of principle might be, but this NEG isn’t one of them? d) I didn’t get to read the draft NEG legislation so never realised just how infected it was with the ‘cut emissions, support Paris’ worldview when I voted for it in the party room? e) None of the above, I’ve got a good reason which I’ve not yet revealed?

In reply, let’s be clear that none of those potential answers save for e) withstands scrutiny. The fourth one, d), looks moderately plausible for a second or two but then ‘who votes for legislation they haven’t seen?’ Okay, the Democrats did when they passed into law Obamacare. Is that the level to which you and most of the others in the party room have sunk? Basically, all I can say is that watching Molan on Credlin I realised I didn’t much care where he ends up on the Senate list next time he’s up for election.

If anything, the fact James Paterson voted for the initial incarnation of the NEG is even worse. Paterson has been in the Senate longer so can’t play the ‘I’m still finding my feet’ card. And Paterson came in singing a free market, ‘I will not be just another time-serving, do what I’m told MP’ tune. That looks mighty hollow now. The NEG is the least market-friendly pseudo-solution ever. Relatedly, did Paterson vote for this without having seen the draft legislation? Who, with any self-respect at all, would agree to that?

My fellow Speccie writer Terry Barnes has been lamenting the fact that the Victorians may move Paterson and Hume down the Senatorial list come election time. But after this performance, what sort of loss would that be? I mean that seriously. One of the dangers of putting a very young person into Parliament is that he or she will then hold a job which pays more than any other one otherwise attainable. And so the worry is that such young MPs might talk a good game but when push comes to shove, they’ll fold like a wet noodle. Paterson’s performance – admittedly one shared by the preponderance of his fellow Liberal Party MPs – makes one long for the backbone of a wet noodle.

Barring a few noteworthy exceptions, the Liberal party room is a mess. No principles you’d fight for even if it means losing your job. No backbone. Just a bunch of lemmings marching to the cliff. I won’t be sorry when they get there.

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