News National Labor finds a way to make PM look foolish

Labor finds a way to make PM look foolish

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Domestic violence and terrorism featured this week in parliament, as the PM Malcolm Turnbull made formal statements on how his government would address the two particularly challenging issues.

However the PM also had to grapple with an unedifying political tussle that took place during the Gillard years, which has now become his problem due to an unwise expression of political loyalty.

When he became PM, Mr Turnbull appointed Mal Brough, the Queensland Liberal MP who was one of his key numbers men, as the new Special Minister of State.

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It was no secret when he did so that Mr Brough had been involved in the messy political machinations that ultimately resulted in the resignation of former Speaker, Peter Slipper. This included colluding with James Ashby to obtain copies of Mr Slipper’s diary, apparently to prove the Speaker had rorted his travel allowance.

Mr Brough may now be in charge of parliamentary entitlements, but that didn’t stop the Australian Federal Police (AFP) from recently paying him a visit to explore whether the dodgily procured diary entries were in fact illegally obtained.

Labor was quick to point the finger at Mr Brough.
Labor was quick to point the finger at Mr Brough. Photo: AAP

Colourfully creative MP Clive Palmer also weighed into the fray, claiming Mr Brough asked him to provide funds for Mr Ashby’s legal costs, and that Mr Slipper had to be “destroyed”.

However James Ashyby cast doubt on Mr Palmer’s allegation, describing the matter like “a bad case of herpes” that just kept coming back, and that he couldn’t “see any reason why Mr Brough should stand down”.

These developments make the PM look foolish. Either Mr Turnbull didn’t consider the implications of putting Mr Brough in charge of parliamentary integrity, or he misjudged the political cost of being seen to defend a loyalist whose actions may end up in court.

Prime Ministers have faced similar conundrums before. John Howard cut a swathe through his ministry for unacceptable use of travel allowance, but he could afford such drastic action because his support in the party room was strong.

In contrast Tony Abbott only abandoned former Speaker Brownyn Bishop when his “loyalty” to her began to damage his leadership standing and he started to lose essential leadership votes.

The new PM will be weighing up the cost of sticking by his Special Minister of State or getting him to stand aside until the police investigation (and any possible court case) is complete.

Malcolm Turnbull is more secure in the party room than Tony Abbot was during Choppergate, but his stellar rise in the opinion polls is unlikely to go on forever. Labor’s pursuit of Mr Brough this past week is undoubtedly based on the judgement that voters won’t respond well to the PM shielding a dodgy minister.

Monkey Pod insurgency? 

The PM’s assessment of what to do about Mal Brough will likely be coloured by news this week that some conservative Liberals are meeting for lunch every Tuesday in a parliamentary meeting room featuring a table made from the Monkey Pod tree.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten did well to hide behind his party's policies this week, after disastrous poll results.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten did well to hide behind his party’s policies this week, after disastrous poll results. Photo: AAP

While the MPs claim they’re just getting together for a harmless chinwag, theories abound as to their true intentions. They may well be commiserating about the good old days under Tony Abbott’s rule, but some breathless media outlets have suggested The Disgruntled are hoping to foment an Abbott insurgency.

Whatever is on their menu, it’s probably not a coincidence that notable members of the lunch group have also been publicly urging a stronger military response by Australia to the Paris terror attacks.

The percentage that cannot be named

Meanwhile, Labor got on with the thankless task of being the Opposition. After plugging away for days with questions that pretended the government had already announced an increase to the GST, Labor suddenly stopped uttering the words “15 per cent”.

That may have had something to do with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s dismal rating as preferred PM, which now sits at 15 per cent and is the second lowest score ever.

Labor remained true however to Mr Shorten’s courageous commitment to release policies in response to bad opinion polls. This past week the Opposition released policies on domestic violence leave, tobacco excise and climate action.

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