The Week in Parliament
The government had a dreadful two days in Parliament on Tuesday and Wednesday.
It was the result of bad management but could not have come at a worse time with the polls showing them well behind in the seat of Wentworth.
The first disaster hit the government when its senators voted for an apparently anodyne motion by Senator Pauline Hanson which put the proposition that it was “OK to be white.”
When notice was given of the motion the Coalition decided to oppose it but when it came to the Senate, the whips, in their wisdom, sought direction from the Attorney General’s office and were advised to support the motion.
Accordingly, when most of the government senators answered the bell, not knowing what the vote was about, they were directed to the affirmative side of the chamber.
It’s understandable that most politicians would not have realised that the phrase was used by white supremacist organisations in the United States but they should have been canny enough not to vote for any Hanson motion in the run up to the Wentworth by-election and, on principle, they should not support any motion that endorses identity politics.
In question time on Wednesday Mark Butler asked his counterpart, Environment Minister Melissa Price, about remarks she’d apparently made at dinner with the former President of Kiribati, Anote Tong.
It’s alleged that she told the former President: “I know why you’re here. It is for the cash.
“For the Pacific, it is always about the cash. I have my chequebook here. How much do you want?”
The Minister denied making the comments but the question arose from a letter written by Pat Dodson to Ms Price and the Prime Minister on Wednesday in which Senator Dodson demanded an apology to Mr Tong, a former Nobel Prize nominee.
Director of the Edmund Rice Centre Phil Glendenning, who was also at the dinner, confirmed that the comments were made.
Accusing Senator Dodson of being a liar in these circumstances is akin to impugning the reputation of Nelson Mandela.
It will be interesting to see how long Ms Price lasts as a minister, particularly as any loss of Wentworth is likely to be blamed on the government’s failure to articulate a climate change policy.
The Week in Politics
Scott Morrison’s pace went beyond frenetic as he tried to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in the Wentworth by-election.
On Tuesday internal Liberal polling had independent candidate Kerryn Phelps ahead 55% to 45% on a two-party preferred basis.
In response Scott Morrison hinted that the Australian embassy to Israel might be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; said that if Labor was prepared to vote for a bill that said that asylum seekers who arrived in Australia illegally should never be allowed to come to Australia legally; back flipped on the GST formula and pushed for the passage of legislation that would guarantee that gay students would not be discriminated against in religious schools.
It reeked of desperation and Labor did its best to prolong the agony.
Penny Wong pointed out that any proposal to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be contrary to Australia’s traditional foreign policy stance and would be at odds with recent statements by former Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, and DFAT head Frances Adamson.
She also said it would destroy the bipartisan consensus on the two-state solution.
On the proposal to move families with children off Nauru and resettle them in New Zealand, Scott Morrison said that, if Labor supported legislation on Wednesday banning them from coming back to Australia, families could be flown to New Zealand on Thursday. Labor said it would oppose the legislation on two grounds: firstly because the terms would be unacceptable to New Zealand and secondly because if a refugee became a minister then he or she would have to be allowed into Australia for discussions and meetings.
Both arguments seemed spurious but were only designed to maintain the Prime Minister’s agony past Saturday.
Finally a number of crossbenchers, including Andrew Wilkie, Adam Bandt and Rebekha Sharkie, refused to confirm that they would give the Morrison government confidence if it lost its majority on Saturday.
On the other hand Kerryn Phelps has said that she will guarantee supply and confidence so Scott Morrison may end up governing with her support if he loses the seat.