Thursday 28 March was the day that the Coalition guaranteed it lost May’s election. It had its good, bad and downright ugly.
Scott Morrison’s decision to put One Nation below Labor on preference tickets, after witnessing the abhorrent moves to undermine gun control in Australia in the sting operation by Arab news organisation Al Jazeera, was the Good. He has realised that if you’re going to lose, it’s best to lose honourably and keep yours and your party’s integrity for the future – even if it means time in the wilderness. After what they showed they were prepared to do with our gun laws, to refuse any favours to a One Nation led by Pauline Hanson, with such dubious acolytes as James Ashby and Steve Dickson, is ethically and morally correct. To do anything else would have been to prostitute the Liberal brand.
That brand is badly damaged enough already, thanks to the antics of the last five and a half years, and if Bill Shorten wins big in May for some years there may be little left to the Liberals besides their already-damaged integrity.
And if principle isn’t enough, political reality vindicates Morrison. He is well aware that One Nation has no loyalty to the centre-right mainstream of politics, let alone to him. It was Hanson who in 2016 put sitting MPs last on One Nation preference tickets and cost the Coalition seats in Queensland and elsewhere. And in the 2018 Super Saturday by-elections, One Nation preferences favoured Labor. After hedging for days, Morrison rightly decided there is no point, and no guaranteed electoral payoff, in pandering to Hanson and One Nation. Anyway, what’s the point of keeping George Christiansen in a job while all but guaranteeing the loss of the likes of Higgins, Deakin and even Kooyong in Victoria, perhaps Curtin in Western Australia and Sturt and Boothby in South Australia? In showing spine and principle in defence of our gun laws, Morrison has done the right thing.
Some will say Morrison’s capitulated to the Turnbullite moderates. Not so. He simply is reflecting that the mainstream grassroots of his party, and the electorate, will reject any reward for those who seek opportunist electoral advantage in watering down the John Howard-Tim Fischer legacy of gun law reform that has made Australia safer over 20 years. Anyone who remembers that awful Port Arthur Sunday in April 1996, let alone saw what happened across the Tasman a fortnight ago, knows what’s at stake. Sometimes integrity matters more than saving one’s political skin, and this is one such occasion.
The Bad is Nationals leader Michael McCormack. He defiantly failed to follow the Prime Minister’s declaration, and insisting the Nats would make their own decisions about preferencing on a case- by-case basis at state and electoral level, and refusing to direct his party as has the PM. McCormack showed himself lily-livered, weak and indecisive when a clear message could have been sent to disillusioned bush voters flirting with Hanson and the Shooters party. Compared to Tim Fischer, who appeared on 7.30 to urge putting One Nation last, McCormack was as insipid as Budweiser beer. One feels sorry for him being harassed from the wings by an embittered Barnaby Joyce, but behaving like an impotent lily-livered poltroon doesn’t help his cause, or his party’s.
The Ugly is Hanson, Ashby and Dickson. For Hanson to defend these two jokers to the hilt, and cast sprays of abuse at her critics in the deluded belief the Al Jazeera sting was all about her, she deserves everything that comes her way. One Nation has attracted some good candidates to its banner, and most of its supporters are solid, decent people who simply believe in their country and want a fair go, but it remains Pauline Hanson’s One Nation on the registration form, and its policies and political behaviour reflect her ego, her prejudices and her inability to think deeper than personal rejection. In her hysterical, deluded defence of Dumb and Dumber, she has let down her battler supporters, and again proved it’s never been about her supporters, their concerns and aspirations. As always, it’s only about her.
In her Thursday press conference, Hanson branded Morrison a ‘fool’. Sorry Pauline, by not cutting Ashby and Dickson loose, the real fool here is you.
As for the other Uglies, Ashby and Dickson, surely they weren’t ‘on the sauce’ when they booked their flights to Washington to meet with the National Rifle Association and fellow travellers? They knew what they wanted out of that trip.
Ashby has form as a schemer, from Slippergate onwards. Dickson is nothing more than a crude, self-important boofhead; an LNP rat chasing a soft leather parliamentary bench somewhere to park his arse on. But whether Ashby and Dickons were grabbed ‘out of context’ or not, they showed themselves not only as dupes, but eagerly willing to throw Australia’s gun laws, written in the blood of Port Arthur, overboard. They deserve nothing but contempt.
But the ugliest is not Hanson, but Bill Shorten. While he, Labor and certain corners of the media have been going hard every chance they get to paint Morrison and the Coalition as weak on One Nation preferences, Shorten has done nothing to repudiate taking those preferences himself when they flow his way and, as in 2016 and 2018, put Labor over the line in key Coalition seats in May.
In the Gillard parliament the Coalition refused to accept the vote of renegade Labor MP Craig Thomson, on one memorable occasion causing House leader Christopher Pyne to flee the chamber ‘like a gazelle’ when Thomson voted with the then opposition. Shorten’s appalling Uriah Heep act over Hanson, preferences and NRA-gate, knowing he wins either way, is as calculating and unprincipled as Morrison is being principled. And the Opposition leader gets away with it in the knowledge the Coalition is so politically inept it won’t call him out, and sections of the media are so biased against the government that they will cheer him on enthusiastically
If he has a shred of decency and conscience, Shorten must say this now, and in government honour it: ‘If I am elected Prime Minister, I will not accept the votes of any One Nation MP or senator. If that means I lose a key vote, so be it.’
Don’t hold your breath. To Labor a vote’s a vote, and in this toxic political culture of ours, principle and integrity usually fall under the Machiavellian bus. Shorten’s taunting game on One Nation preferences is a hollow Machiavellian ploy to cripple an opponent, nothing more. So credit to Scott Morrison for ensuring that, for once, principle is put ahead of expediency.
Shame that Morrison’s decision is so creditable because it’s so rare.
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