When it comes to the abundance of career-limiting moves (CLMs) made by federal politicians over the past week, it’s hard to know where to begin.
We could examine them chronologically, given there’s been one stupid act or another almost every day. Or perhaps even alphabetically, according to the perpetrator. But considering the CLMs have only involved Coalition MPs, let’s look at them hierarchically – starting from the very top.
Scott Morrison’s tank ride
Anyone with an ounce of political commonsense knows that voters don’t take well to politicians playing dress-ups when they have the opportunity to appear alongside the nation’s military equipment. There might be a real need to wear camouflage gear when visiting the troops in Afghanistan, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to do so while tootling around in a tank to inspect flood-ravaged homes in Townsville.
Yet that’s what Scott Morrison did this week, while apparently also blind to the potentially lethal political consequences of coincidentally leaving Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to deal with the fallout of the banking royal commission back in Canberra.
The sight of the camo-clad PM riding around in a tank was a gift for the Labor opposition, providing a meme-ready symbol of Mr Morrison’s reluctance to apologise for opposing the royal commission ’26 times’. It’s an image that voters won’t easily forget.
The Home Affairs leak
If it’s not au pairs, then it’s innumerate colleagues that have made life less than fun in recent times for one of the Liberal Party’s most senior ministers, Peter Dutton. The Home Affairs Minister already has a cloud hovering over his parliamentary future, thanks to a threat by Labor to refer him to the High Court over a potential conflict under section 44 of the Constitution.
However, this week Mr Dutton’s woes intensified when confidential advice from his department was published in The Australian newspaper, bolstering the government’s criticism of a proposal by independent MP Kerryn Phelps to bring offshore detainees to Australia for medical reasons, claiming it would create a risk to national security.
Following pointed questions about the source of the leak, Home Affairs has referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police. If that investigation finds that Mr Dutton had any knowledge of the intentional security breach, he will find himself in even more political hot water than usual.
Scott Buchholz’s hugs
Considerably further down the government pecking order is the minister you’ve probably never heard of, the Assistant Minister for Roads, Scott Buchholz. The junior minister’s low profile may have come to end, however, thanks to his career limiting move, which resulted in a female member of the ADF lodging a complaint about his physical behaviour towards her.
Although the event took place some time ago, the complaint was leaked to the media this week. Another well sourced story gave Mr Buchholz’s account of the incident, claiming it was an over-enthusiastic hug that gave offence and that the leak was due to factional warfare within the Queensland Liberal National Party.
However, this is not the first time Mr Buchholz has been associated with less than sterling behaviour. He’s also been accused of playing hookey from parliamentary duties while in Darwin to attend the races. More recently, he’s run into trouble for not accurately declaring his real estate holdings on the parliamentary register of interests.
Travelling Wilson show
And then there’s government backbencher Tim Wilson, who in his role as chair of the House Economics Committee has been whipping up voter angst using a committee ‘inquiry’ into Labor’s proposed abolition of cash refunds for excess franking credits.
While politicians use parliamentary processes pretty much all the time for partisan reasons, Mr Wilson has pushed that element to the extreme.
He set up a private website to encourage voters to participate in the inquiry, using the parliamentary crest to give it legitimacy, but requiring anyone who uses the website to provide their contact details. It is not known what Mr Wilson will do in future with the database of voter details that has been created, which may be in breach of the Privacy Act.
The involvement of Mr Wilson’s distant cousin, Geoff Wilson, was also a clumsy misstep by the young MP.
On Friday evening, Geoff Wilson put out a statement clarifying his involvement, admitting he had part-funded the website, stoptheretirementtax.com.au.
As of Friday afternoon, the website was no longer live.
The second Mr Wilson owns Wilson Asset Management, which has made investments on behalf of the first Mr Wilson, which he’s declared on the register of interests.
Taken in isolation, each of these politicians behaving badly (or being suspected of doing so) would be more an indictment of the individuals involved rather than anything broader. But taken together, the poor behaviour suggests an entrenched arrogance within their particular political class that’s hard to ignore.
Do these politicians think voters are not watching or don’t care about poor behaviour? If they do, that would be a huge mistake, making it the biggest career limiting move of them all.