Flagging a new Churchill
It’s been an awful week to fill in for your regular Gadfly, Richard Ackland, because absolutely nothing salacious or idiotic has happened. Steven Bradbury prime minister Scott Morrison has lent Canberra the sombre gravitas only a man with the voice and mannerisms of a suburban greyhound race caller can provide.
“If you have a go in this country, you will get a go. There is a fair go for those who have a go,” Morrison declared in his first address as PM. “We have come to have a go and we will get a fair go.” Churchillian.
It seems inevitable that Horizon Church, the Pentecostal megaplex in Sydney’s Sutherland shire where Morrison grapples with the divine, will soon release a line of Saint Scott bobblehead dolls, free with every tax-deductible donation. Morrison is a walking vindication of Horizon’s “prosperity doctrine” theology, which is much like regular Christianity without any pesky insistence on giving up your worldly wealth and putting others before yourself.
The dignified new state of affairs was on display at Government House on Sunday, when Morrison’s new cabinet was sworn in. In yet another bit of performative patriotism, lifted from the United States, the newly minted ministers were each given an Australian flag lapel pin. Morrison explained on Twitter that he’s been wearing one “for many years now”, as “it reminds me every single day whose side I’m on”. As a bonus, it’s also a great help if you momentarily forget which country you’re running and need to look down to jog your memory.
Ex-former home affairs minister Peter Dutton has copped a lot of flak lately – partly for popping out for some Japanese food halfway through a leadership coup, partly for locking child asylum seekers in cages until they are so depressed they fall into a coma-like state.
But another affair this week has shown Dutton has a softer side – a deep personal commitment to single-handedly giving persecuted au pairs the world over safe harbour on the fair shores of Australia, preferably with wealthy families who donate tens of thousands of dollars to the Liberal Party in election years.
Like the Hazara, Rohingya and Uighur, the au pair is a horrendously oppressed minority overseas. One such desperate émigré who washed up on our shores was Alexandra Deuwel, a humble French yoga instructor in need of a boon.
In late 2015, the poor thing was stuck at Adelaide Airport – a fate worse than death itself – due to be deported for allegedly breaching her tourist visa by undertaking paid work. By luck, she was met with assistance from a relative of a family she had worked for, AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan.
Like the Downers, the Adelaide McLachlans are an ancient and noble family, producing many fine specimens of bunyip aristocracy. As a McKinnon, I would note that Clan Maclachlan rightly supported the Jacobite uprising of 1745. We may have been beaten at Culloden, but the Stuart kings will reign again if God is good.
Gillon apparently got on the blower and explained Deuwel’s plight, and Dutton was so moved that he granted her a fresh tourist visa in less than 24 hours. So modest about these little acts of kindness, Dutton refuses to speak on them, even spending $10,000 of public money to keep records of them hidden. Hopefully a Senate inquiry into his generosity, ordered in late August, will enable the public to thank him properly at the next election.
Last week’s leadership debacle highlighted the fact the Liberal Party still regards human women with the same mixture of awe and terror that the apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey did that monolith. Several unnamed female Libs claim they were physically stood over and intimidated by Dutton goons wanting their signature on a petition to call a party room meeting. Liberal powerbroker Michael Kroger hosed down those allegations, telling Sky News not only does he personally know several women, he has spoken to all of them and none of them said they were intimidated, so it couldn’t have happened.
Completely unrelated to all that gendered intimidation that never happened, the entirely electable Julie Bishop didn’t even get a look-in as a potential leader. The Liberal Party famously does not have factions, which is why it has been so stable and harmonious for the past 10 years. What it does have, though, is WhatsApp group chat – an invaluable tool of government, as well as an excellent medium through which to remind your kids to call Nana on her birthday. In the aftermath of the leadership change, the ABC’s Insiders gave viewers a peek inside the moderate Liberal group chat – heroically named “Friends For Stability” or “FFS” for short.
The prospect of the Libs picking a woman to lead them was so far-fetched, even FFS conceded Bishop’s tilt was hopeless, and vowed to rally behind Morrison instead. “Despite our hearts tugging us to Julie we need to vote with our heads for Scott in round one,” MP Paul Fletcher lamented. Perhaps overjoyed to be included in something that could constitute a friendship group, Christopher Pyne “very respectfully” conveyed the bad news to Bishop.
She has since retired to the back bench, where she will likely sit until the children come to her with the broken shards of the Liberal Party in their hands, begging her to fix it.
The Libs have a chance to start redeeming themselves in the gender stakes by picking more female candidates in their preselections, which are already running chronically late and will likely be thrown further into disarray by last week’s deckchair shuffling. The prized seat of Wentworth, the buckle of Sydney’s “I demand to speak to the manager” belt, is due for a new member now that Malcolm Turnbull is retiring to spend more time with what remains of his hairline.
Would-be Malcolms are already scrambling for the plum spot, including City of Sydney councillor Christine Forster. On paper, Forster would be a decent Liberal pick. She’s a popular local figure and has a national profile courtesy of her awkward sibling rivalry with Australia’s most high profile campaigner against marriage equality, Tony Abbott.
But Forster’s run is being crowded out before it has even begun. Former ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma has stuck his hand up, as has Liberal marriage-equality campaigner Andrew Bragg. Best known as the brain behind Supercheck, an online tool allowing you to “check out how much money your super fund is paying to unions”, Bragg has selflessly stepped down from the Business Council of Australia to make his run. As acting federal Liberal director, he was also the publishing genius behind website The Fair Go, the Liberals’ short-lived attempt to make the gospel of neoliberalism palatable to The Youth.
With the field already so competitive, anonymous Libs have told Fairfax Media that Forster’s campaign has “no chance”. Wentworth locals looking to send a woman to Canberra may be forced to pick an independent. Former Australian Medical Association president and Forster’s fellow City of Sydney councillor Dr Kerryn Phelps scored nearly 12 per cent in a ReachTEL poll of the seat, and she hasn’t even stuck her hand up yet. If Phelps did run, it would be dreadfully inconsiderate of her to deprive the Liberals of a BCA alum and party lifer such as Bragg. Lord knows they don’t have enough of those.
Liberal MP Julia Banks is leaving the building and throwing a lit match behind her. The first-term member for Chisholm in Melbourne’s east – which Labor should easily win at the next election unless people remember who Bill Shorten is – declared herself fed up at the “internal political games, factional party figures, self-proclaimed powerbrokers and certain media personalities who bear vindictive, mean-spirited grudges intent on settling their personal scores” that riddle political life.
“The scourge of cultural and gender bias, bullying and intimidation continues against women in politics, the media, and across businesses,” Banks said in her retirement announcement. “I will always call out bad behaviour and will not tolerate any form of bullying or intimidation.”
Besides being a valid and necessary retort to the knuckle-draggers in her party, Banks’s parting shot was a fine bit of legacy-polishing. Few will now remember her as the former executive who confidently declared she “could live on 40 bucks a day”, and that raising Newstart for the first time in 24 years would amount to “socialism”.
“I ask simply that in the months ahead people be kind,” Banks concluded. Seems like a big ask in the current climate.
Only Donald Trump could make someone like John McCain look good in hindsight. The POW, long-time senator and Iraq War enthusiast’s death at the age of 81 prompted the kind of West Wing-style hokum we won’t see again until the death of that other legendary human rights abuser, Henry Kissinger.
Trump himself made no secret of his contempt for McCain, who occasionally crossed the floor to torpedo some particularly heinous piece of Republican savagery. It’s a low bar to clear, but it put McCain streets ahead of the rest of his congressional colleagues. Trump only reluctantly joined in the eulogising with a brief tweet, and only after severe arm-twisting from the people who don’t get paid enough for trying to keep him in line.
The defining image of Trump’s presidency – at least until he does something even more childish, in about four days or so – is of him sitting behind the Resolute desk, arms folded like a kid on timeout, as reporters asking him to say something nice about McCain are hastily shepherded from the Oval Office. It takes something special to keep up a feud with a dead guy.
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 1, 2018 as "Gadfly: Flagging a new Churchill". Subscribe here.