Flat White

Can you bank on Banks?

5 February 2019

1:25 PM

5 February 2019

1:25 PM

Renegade Liberal MP turned independent, Julia Banks, continues to tease.

Having spat the Liberal dummy over the self-immolation of Malcolm Turnbull and all that followed, and having just announced her taking on senior minister Greg Hunt in his seat on Flinders, Banks eagerly joined a Q & A panel on Monday night featuring crossbench MPs who now fancy themselves the arbiters of the nation’s future.

But yet again, when invited – by a questioner from her electorate, no less – to elaborate on her claims of being bullied by male liberal MPs during the August madness to vote for Scott Morrison to stop Peter Dutton, Banks ducked and wove. ‘Oh, I can’t do that, it would just start the Liberal Party talking again and again about itself’, she insisted.

One would have thought that, when she has claimed Hunt backing Dutton is a prime motivation for her wanting to knock him off – after all, she’s Greek, so fondness for tragedy and revenge is part of her national character – that she would stir the pot and name names to get Liberals yet again talking about themselves. But no. Instead, she banged on yet again about the Liberal party’s toxic, anti-women, culture. She might as well have said “It’s the vibe, it’s Mabo”, for all the substance she added.

It’s hard to not conclude one of two things. One, Banks is not confident enough to make any accusations against any other MP outside the protection of parliamentary privilege. Or two, that she’s realised she over-reacted to that week of Liberal self-immolation, but has dug too deep a hole to climb out with dignity intact.

Hopefully, a few Flinders voters watched Banks on Q and A to see what she might offer them should she roll Greg Hunt, which is a real possibility if she runs second on primary votes and Hunt is forced to preferences. On the banking royal commission final report released that day, on refugees, on climate change, she simply trotted out what Tony Jones and the luvvie crowd wanted to hear: she was ahead of her former party on banks and what became the Hayne royal commission, the Liberals are hijacked by climate deniers, she was instrumental in getting kids of Nauru, and she is ready to vote for Kerryn Phelps’s plan to bring Nauru and Manus detainees to Australia on the say-so of two doctors who of course are saintly souls never motivated by ego, politics and ideology.

But like most empty vessels, while Banks made much noise on Q & A, beyond the platitudes there was nothing, just an intense-looking woman with an unshakeable belief in her own rightness.

If only Tony Jones had chosen to delve deeper into why Banks had decided to take on Hunt in semi-rural Flinders and not recontest the seat that she won as a Liberal, the Melbourne suburban seat of Chisholm that apparently was won by her own brilliance and the inspiration of Malcolm Turnbull. She could have been asked about:

  • For all her professed dislike of Tony Abbott, she had no problem with joining the Liberals, nominating for preselection and then winning endorsement under Abbott’s leadership. She desperately wanted to be part of Abbott’s team.
  • Her Chisholm campaign was supported financially and materially by Liberals in safe electorates – including Flinders. Party sources say Banks’s campaign was gifted at least $20,000 by the Flinders electorate conference, with the blessing of Flinders MP Greg Hunt. It seems team loyalty, gratitude and obligation aren’t factors in Banks’s decision to contest Flinders against her 2016 benefactor.
  • A decisive factor in Banks’s 2016 election win was the support of Chisholm’s large Chinese community. That support was underpinned by a brilliant use of Chinese-language social media platform WeChat, masterminded not by Banks but a Chinese-Australian Liberal with deep community connections, Gladys Liu, whose great efforts have been recognised by the Liberals in making her their endorsed candidate to replace Banks in Chisholm.
  • In her maiden speech Banks thanked her family profusely and even touchingly but, unlike most new MPs, didn’t even bother to mention by name, let alone acknowledge and praise their efforts, Liu, her campaign managers and the hundreds of local Liberal party members and supporters who worked their socks off to back her, who stood day after day in the wind and rain to engage voters, raise funds and fly the Liberal flag in an election campaign all but lost by the insipid and politically inept performance of Banks’s idol, Turnbull. Apparently, she was the sole author of her victory.
  • As Chisholm MP, Banks increasingly split her time between her electorate and her home on the Mornington Peninsula in the Flinders electorate. Local Liberals say she was distancing herself from them before the events of last August. One wonders when Bank’s decision to leave the Liberals was actually made, and whether the leadership coup was a catalyst or merely a pretext for her jumping ship.

Banks’ abandonment of her party and her seat is intended to be her reflection on the character of the Liberal party, but it really is a reflection on hers. MPs don’t make it to parliament on their own: they do it on the backs and efforts of many others. Those who are honest with themselves show gratitude and obligation for the great gifts they have been given. Banks, however, has shown no compunction in repudiating those who gave her so much of their time, energy and money, and is rubbing their noses in the dirt in doing so.

Julia Banks’s stand as an independent is being framed by her in terms of her integrity and character in the face of a Liberal party gone mad.

It may well be many Flinders voters, fed up with the Liberals, won’t choose to see past this and the cardboard cut-out, press-the-right-buttons Banks they saw on Q & A. But if they do more than scratch the surface of Banks, her history and her motivations, they may not be so impressed.

Surely loyalty and gratitude still matter more in our ‘it’s all about me’ world than ego and opportunism alone.

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