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Paul Bongiorno on why the Coalition is in chaos, and the political ramifications it will have for Scott Morrison.

How Pauline Hanson fractured the Coalition



As the parliamentary year enters its final fortnight, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is facing a political crisis.

The Coalition government has fractured on a number of issues this week, most significantly in response to a bill introduced by One Nation leader Pauline Hanson. 

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno on why the Coalition is in chaos, and the political ramifications it will have for Scott Morrison.

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper, Paul Bongiorno.

Show Transcript

[Theme music starts]

 

RUBY:

 

From Schwartz Media - I’m Ruby Jones. This is 7am

 

As the parliamentary year enters its final fortnight, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is facing a political crisis.

 

The Coalition government has fractured on a number of issues this week, most significantly in response to a bill introduced by One Nation leader Pauline Hanson. 

 

A number of Coalition senators crossed the floor to vote against the government, in favour of One Nation’s legislation - which aims to oppose vaccine mandates.

 

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno, on why the Coalition is in chaos, and the political ramifications it’ll have for Scott Morrison.

 

It’s Friday, November 26. 

 

[Theme music ends]

 

RUBY:

 

Paul, it’s almost the end of the year. We’re in the final sitting fortnight for 2021 which means that it’s the last time our politicians will be in parliament -  it’s their last opportunity to get things done … So what would you say was the dominating theme of the week? 

 

PAUL:

 

Well Ruby, Scott Morrison was hoping for a tidy end to the parliamentary year but instead his coalition government is fracturing over his agenda. And it began over a Pauline Hanson Vaccine Mandates Bill, but as the week progressed there were splits over religious discrimination, and calls for an anti-corruption commission, all adding to a sense of government disarray.  

 

RUBY:

 

Right, well lets begin then with where things started to go wrong - One Nation’s vaccine Mandates bill. Can you tell me about it? 

 

PAUL:

 

On Monday, Pauline Hanson, One Nation’s controversial leader introduced a Bill called the COVID-19 Vaccination Status (Prevention of Discrimination) Bill to parliament. 

Archival tape -- Senator Hanson

“Once again arise in this chamber with a heavy heart to bear witness to the demise of Australian democracy and freedom.”

 

PAUL:

 

At the crux of it - is an anti-COVID vaccination mandate bill that argues that people should not be discriminated against on the basis of not being vaccinated.

Archival tape -- Senator Hanson

“Many people in Brisbane, including those with critical positions in health, education, freight and law enforcement have lost their jobs because they haven’t been vaccinated.” 

 

PAUL:

 

What that means, if the bill were to pass is that employees in certain industries such as aged care workers, who currently must be vaccinated to work, would no longer need to be.

Archival tape -- Senator Hanson

“This legislation is urgently needed to arrest and reverse the pandemic of discrimination, which has been unleashed on the Australian people.”

 

PAUL:

 

One Nation under Hanson has been leveraging off and even encouraging the anti-vaccination sentiment in Australia.

Archival tape -- Senator Hanson

“Once again, I am moved to lament the theft of this most fundamental human right from the Australian people by the very representatives who are charged with protecting it.” 

 

PAUL:

 

And Hanson threatened to withhold support for all government legislation unless the Prime Minister backed her bill.

 

RUBY:

 

So this sounds like this is about One Nation trying to appease the section of their base who might be anti-vax. And it also sounds like they’re going pretty hard on this - so what was the Prime Minister’s response, Paul, to that threat to pull support unless the government came on board?

 

PAUL:

 

Well, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that his government could not support the bill.

 

But serial maverick, Queensland Liberal senator Gerard Rennick, crossed the floor and voted for the One Nation bill. 

Archival tape -- Senator Rennick

“When I signed up to become a senator two and a half years ago, I signed up to protect the Australian people and particularly to make sure that we always look after the health and wellbeing of those people.” 

 

PAUL:

 

Over the last few weeks, he has been arguing against the Coalition’s stance on vaccine mandates. He believes they’re ‘unnecessary’ and they are ‘verging on cruel.’

Archival tape -- Senator Rennick

“The threat of having to take a second vaccine, if you've already had an adverse reaction from the first vaccine, I think is violence in itself. It is intolerably cruel, and it is not something I intend to walk by.” 

 

PAUL:

 

Rennick’s been highlighting cases of adverse vaccine effects and actually wrote to the Prime Minister last week, calling on him to scrap vaccine mandates and to improve the compensation scheme for people who are badly affected by the vaccine.

 

Alex Antic, a South Australian Liberal Senator also voted in favour of the Hanson Bill.

Archival tape -- Senator Antic

“So it's tragically ironic that after several decades of building upon anti-discrimination legislation, it's only taken a relatively short time for Australia to be transformed into a two-tiered society on the grounds of medical discrimination.”

 

PAUL:

 

He made his intention of voting against the government pretty clear a couple of weeks ago in a post on his Facebook page where he claimed Australians were being forced against their will to get inoculated. 

 

He said, quote: "It is not reasonable for Australians to be discriminated against based on their decision to submit or otherwise to a medical procedure… We must say no to vaccine discrimination."

Archival tape -- Senator Antic

“Those who refuse COVID vaccines are being marginalised for no reason other than their refusal to comply with the whims of a power hungry, unelected health bureaucracy around the country. And history doesn't look kindly on these actions.” 

 

PAUL:

 

The two senators were also joined by Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who has been a Liberal Senator for NSW since 2005

Archival tape -- Senator Fierravanti-Wells

“The sheer multitude of emails and communications I have received from the Australian public, prompted me to vote for the COVID-19 Vaccination Status Prevention of Discrimination bill yesterday.”

 

PAUL:

 

Nationals Senator Matt Canavan

Archival tape -- Senator Canavan

“I thought I was born in a free country. I think a lot of other Australians thought they were too.” 

 

PAUL:

 

And the Nationals Sam McMahon, from the Northern Territory.

Archival tape -- Senator McMahon

“I rise today to speak about the appalling state in the Northern Territory of the vaccine mandates inflicted upon Territorians by the Gunner Labour government.”

 

PAUL:

 

What all of this shows is that it isn’t just One Nation trying to tap into the anti-vax vote, but also elements of the Coalition, particularly in Queensland.

 

RUBY:

 

Okay - so we have five Senators from within the Coalition crossing the floor to vote for Pauline Hanson’s proposed bill,  this anti-vaccine mandate Bill. So was that enough for it to get over the line?

 

PAUL:

 

Well, no it wasn’t. The Senate on Monday overwhelmingly rejected the Hanson Bill - 44 votes to 5. The One Nation senators weren’t allowed to vote, because they’re unvaccinated and they stayed in Queensland - they were attending parliament remotely. So ironically Ruby, the only people who voted for the bill were those five government senators. 

 

And now the revolt has spread to the lower house with two Queensland Nationals, George Christensen and Llew O’Brien, threatening to cause chaos in this sitting fortnight unless the government secures from the states timelines to end vaccine mandates.

 

RUBY:

 

Right - it sounds - chaotic, Paul.  

 

PAUL:

 

It was! 

 

But there was one voice in the Senate that cut through a lot of the noise, and it came with unexpected force, from the Tasmanian independent  Jacqui Lambie, she was furious. 

Archival tape -- Senator Lambie

“He can't be playing both sides in the debate here.”

 

PAUL:

 

She accused the Morrison government of double-speak on vaccinations, saying the Prime Minister needed to stop playing both sides because it was dangerous. 

Archival tape -- Senator Lambie

“We can see what vaccinations we're doing. We're all getting a taste of our freedoms coming back. And he needs to be really, really solid here.” 

 

PAUL:

 

And that she thought it was unhelpful that Australia didn’t have a solid leader

Archival tape -- Senator Lambie

“I think it's not helping if you don't have a solid leader that is leading the country that wants to try and please everybody, this is a really serious situation that we're in. And he needs to stick by his guns…” 

 

RUBY:

 

We’ll be back in a moment.

 

[ADVERTISEMENT]

 

RUBY:

 

Paul, we’ve heard Independent Senator Jacqui Lambie’s criticism of the way that Scott Morrison and his government have handled Pauline Hanson’s vaccine mandate Bill, and I suppose the issue of vaccinations more broadly. But Lambie’s feud with the Morrison government doesn’t end there does it? What else has she been saying?

 

PAUL:

 

Well Ruby, in two blistering speeches to Parliament this week Lambie excoriated the Prime Minister. 

Archival tape -- Senator Lambie

“Eight years of liberal stuff I've had to put up with while I've been here and you've gone from one Prime Minister to another, this is the worst one on record of it out there. And I will continue to say he's incompetent. He's not a leader and I'm enjoying watching him and you fall apart. It's as simple as that.” 

 

PAUL:

 

And - she went on to condemn the Morrison government for refusal to allow a debate on an independent’s anti-corruption commission bill. 

Archival tape -- Senator Lambie

“It's not even a bill, it's a ghost, it's in a hole, pretend it's another lie. Australian people are looking at you, they’re sick of your lies, they see you not putting up, their sick of you not delivering. You do not deliver.”

 

PAUL:

 

She said it was “shameful” Morrison had failed to establish a promised integrity commission - and said that that failure was just another lie from the Prime Minister.

Archival tape -- Senator Lambie

“You are finished in the next election. You’re gone. I can tell you may want to get out there with your own boots on and say what your electorates are saying. Because I'll tell you what, you're finished. You're finished in Tasmania. 

 

PAUL:

 

And Lambie claimed she was going to finish the Liberals off in Tasmania, by running Jacqui Lambie Network candidates against them.

Archival tape -- Senator Lambie

“You know I look forward to doing that. I look forward to running my own candidates in those states and passing those preferences where they deserve to go, but not to political lies. They're not going there.”

 

RUBY:

 

Right, and how worrying would an attack like this from an independent be to Scott Morrison, Paul, in particular, this threat to run candidates in key seats? 

 

PAUL:

 

Well, put simply, Morrison can’t afford to lose any seats and will need to pick up a few from somewhere – New South Wales and Tasmania were thought to be his best bets. 

 

But those two scorching speeches in the Senate this week from Lambie may well have dashed the Liberals’ prospects in the island state.

 

And yet another opinion poll, the Resolve Political Monitor in The Sydney Morning Herald has shown a downward trend for Morrison’s personal performance.

 

One of Morrison’s problems is his ham-fisted attempts to placate his recalcitrant rebels on vaccine mandates last week, failed miserably this week.

 

RUBY:

 

And on the issue of character and truthfulness - there seems to be a lot of focus on that at the moment - Jacqui Lambie accused Scott Morrison of “another lie” in her speech that you mentioned - and a couple of weeks ago on national radio he was asked if he has ever lied while in his role… So what is going on here? Why are these questions being asked now? 

 

PAUL:

 

Yeah well that’s right - it was two weeks ago to the day that Scott Morrison was asked on 3AW radio if he’d ever told a lie in public. 

Archival tape -- Neil Mitchell

“Prime Minister, we’re talking to Prime Minister Scott Morrison. You ever told a lie in public life?” 

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison

“I don't believe I have no, no.”

 

PAUL:

 

His answer was brief. He said he did not believe that he had. 

 

But that short sentence seems destined to haunt him and the government in the months leading up to the election.

Archival tape -- Leigh Sales

“Is Scott Morrison telling the truth when he says he's never told a lie in public life?”

 

PAUL:

 

Defence Minister Peter Dutton was asked about it by Leigh Sales on 7.30 this week, showing the issue of Morrison’s integrity isn’t going away.

Archival tape -- Peter Dutton

“From my own perspective, and it's been my experience with Scott Morrison as well, that, you know, we've conducted ourselves in an honourable way.” 

 

PAUL:

 

The fact remains though Ruby, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the Prime Minister - and his supporters, to defend or distract from Morrison’s half-truths, doublespeak, and outright lies. 

 

What’s been firmly established in Morrison’s regard: he lies about what he himself has previously said on numerous occasions. This debases his currency and the polls are reflecting that. 

 

In a tight election if the difference is the character of the two leaders, this time it is more likely to damage Morrison’s chances.

 

RUBY:

 

Paul, thank you so much for your time. 

 

PAUL:

 

Thank you Ruby, bye. 

 

[ADVERTISEMENT]

 

[Theme music starts]

 

RUBY:

 

Also in the news today...

 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduced a long awaited and controversial Religious Discrimination Bill into parliament on Thursday, describing it as “sensible and balanced”.

 

Equality advocates say the bill would reaffirm the right of independent schools to fire teachers who do not conform to religious tenets, and could be used to overturn state bans on gay conversion therapy practices.

 

And in NSW, more than 80 backpackers at a hostel in Byron Bay have entered into a week-long, police-enforced lockdown after a guest tested positive to COVID-19.

 

The lockdown comes as thousands of students prepare to attend schoolies celebrations in the region.

 

7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Elle Marsh, Kara Jensen-Mackinnon, Anu Hasbold and Alex Gow.

 

Our senior producer is Ruby Schwartz and our technical producer is Atticus Bastow.

 

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. 

 

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

I’m Ruby Jones, see you next week.

 

[Theme music ends]

 

Host

Ruby Jones is an investigative journalist and host of 7am

Guest

Paul Bongiorno is a columnist for The Saturday Paper and a 30-year veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery.