Despite the Prime Minister’s best efforts to wish his problems away, he’s ended another week saddled with a belatedly sorry speaker and the Labor Opposition still in an election winning position.
Voters are clearly unimpressed with the cavalcade of revelations about speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s use of her ‘entitlements’ to attend Liberal Party fundraisers and colleagues’ weddings.
One opinion poll showed a 2.5 per cent drop in the Coalition’s primary vote, boosting Labor to a 54-46 per cent lead on a two party preferred basis, while another found only 19 per cent of voters think Mrs Bishop should remain in the role. The dramatic drop in Coalition support led nervous government MPs, including ministers, to comment on and off the record that Madam Speaker must go.
So far the PM has continued to back his fiercely partisan colleague, emerging after being MIA for most of the week to note on Friday that ‘Bronny’ is “obviously deeply remorseful” and “a very, very chastened person”. However, if Labor can manage to keep the matter running in the media and it keeps hitting the Coalition’s primary vote, the PM will have no other choice than to cut Bronny loose.
Labor keeps it together
As we noted last week, the PM was counting on the Labor Party imploding at its national conference last weekend to wrench media attention from the Speaker-inspired train wreck. Unfortunately for Mr Abbott, the true believers managed to keep it together, for the most part, and delivered their leader wins on climate action, asylum seekers and marriage equality.
Significantly, Mr Shorten’s success was due predominantly to backing from both left and right wing unions, so it was unsurprising that touted moves to reduce the power of unions in the party’s decision-making processes were either postponed or defeated.
The Coalition’s gay marriage advocate, Warren Entsch, confirmed that plans are still on track for the cross-party bill to legalise marriage equality to be introduced when parliament resumes in mid-August. Mr Entsch has refused to buy into speculation that the PM is trying to delay the bill and placate opponents of gay marriage by holding a plebiscite after the next election to allow all Australians to decide the matter, instead of the parliament.
You’re terrible, Malcolm
Another Coalition supporter of marriage equality, Communications Minister and wannabe Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull, kept social media entertained during the week with a biting travelogue that documented his trip to Geelong using public transport. Minister Turnbull was vaguely reminiscent of the Old Spice Man, regaling followers with his “I’m on a train!” antics, which could only be seen as a deliberate contrast with Madam Speaker’s $5000 helicopter trip to the same region.
Relevance deprivation syndrome
Not to be outdone by Minister Turnbull, parliamentarians Clive Palmer and Andrew Wilkie also had a “look at me” moment this week when they joined forces to announce their plans for a no-confidence motion in Bronwyn Bishop when parliament resumed. Labor was reportedly planning a similar move.
Even though a no-confidence motion against the Speaker is a serious matter, and has been moved less than two dozen times during the entire life of our national parliament, this attempt will fail because the Government has the numbers to defeat it. And even if it passed, there is no disciplinary action that arises from a successful no-confidence motion.
Secret squirrel pre-selection
Finally, there was another changing of the guard this week within the Australian Greens. Following an opaque pre-selection process and ballot of members, former Tasmanian Minister Nick McKim emerged as the replacement Greens Senator for Tasmania following the retirement of Christine Milne.
While there were a few grumbles on social media about the progressive party adding another “straight, white man” to their team, Mr McKim’s lived experience as a government minister will undoubtedly add to the Greens efforts to increase their economic credibility and appeal to mainstream progressive voters.