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Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno on what Dutton is telling his party room, and the divisions already becoming apparent in the Coalition.

How Peter Dutton is making himself irrelevant

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Labor's first fortnight in power has been marked by a significant win — a successful agreement to pass a bill that would see a 43 per cent emissions reduction target become law.

That agreement was made entirely without the opposition, with Peter Dutton effectively removing his party from negotiations at the beginning of the week.

So what is the Coalition’s strategy, when it comes to climate, or to just being in opposition?

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno on what Dutton is telling his party room, and the divisions already becoming apparent in the Coalition. 

Socials: Stay in touch with us on Twitter and Instagram

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper, Paul Bongiorno.

 
Read Transcript

[Theme music starts]

##RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones - this is *7am*.

Labor's first fortnight in power has been marked by a significant win - a successful agreement to pass a bill that would see a 43 per cent emissions reduction target become law. 

That agreement was made entirely without the opposition - with Peter Dutton removing his party from negotiations at the beginning of the week.

So what is the Coalition’s strategy, when it comes to climate, or to just being in Opposition? 

Today columnist for *The Saturday Paper* Paul Bongiorno on what Dutton is telling his party room, and the divisions already becoming apparent in the Coalition. 

It’s Friday, August 5. 

[Theme music ends]

##RUBY:

Paul, we're just about to come to the end of a huge second sitting week for this new parliament. Deals have been struck, legislations already passing through. But while all this has been going on though, Peter Dutton has been somewhat in the background, hasn't he? So could you tell me a bit more about how his return to Parliament has been going?

##PAUL:

Well, first of all, Ruby, you're right, it's been a second big week for the Parliament with the headline story being the agreement that sees the Greens backing Labor's climate target. 

##Archival Tape -- Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives, Milton Dick:

“Order. The result of the division is: Ayes 89, Noes 55. The question is therefore resolved in the affirmative. The bills as amended have been agreed to.”

##PAUL:

It passed the lower house yesterday with not only the support of the Greens and the independents, but also the support of Tasmanian Liberal MP Bridget Archer, who crossed the floor.

##Archival Tape -- Bridget Archer: 

“At the end of the day. It's important to me that when I'm back in my own community I'm able to sincerely say that I use the opportunity afforded to me with the power of my vote to stand up for what they want and need, and to move on from this debate.”

##PAUL:

And that's capped what's been a difficult week for Peter Dutton. He's still struggling with party unity and has a long way to go if he has any chance of bringing the Coalition together with a coherent climate and energy vision before the next election.

##Archival Tape -- Peter Dutton:

“Whilst the Government is enjoying a honeymoon and living high on the hog at the moment, many Australian families and small businesses are doing it, really going to get tougher under this Government.”

##PAUL:

There was a flash point on Tuesday at the Coalition party room meeting. He called in the TV cameras to record his opening address. But when they were ushered out, the Liberals and Nationals began discussing how they'd approach the vote on the Government's 43% emissions reduction target. Dutton had already made up his mind and the party room backed him. They formally decided to oppose it. Dutton's view in that meeting was that the target was a stunt.

##Archival Tape -- Sky News Reporter, Andrew Clennell:

“So the Coalition party room finally had a discussion. Peter Dutton's already said publicly he won't be supporting the bill. The party room agreed to this, but Peter Dutton sought to reassure the Liberal Party room in particular that for the next election the Coalition will have a tougher target than they took to the last election…”

##PAUL:

That decision, well, it sidelined the Coalition from the most significant climate legislation to come before the Parliament in a decade. They made themselves hostile to it and irrelevant. One Liberal told me Dutton's doing a fantastic job ignoring what happened at the election. 

##RUBY:

So, the Coalition have at least one member crossing the floor. They've ruled themselves out of this significant negotiation on the climate target. So what is the vision that came out of the party room this week then? Do they have anything to say on climate?

##PAUL: 

Well, the best they seem to be able to muster was reviving the fantasy of nuclear power in Australia. Dutton announced yet another review into nuclear energy by his shadow minister, Ted O'Brien. Some in the party room were positively thrilled with this. But if the Coalition intends to use a review into nuclear energy as their alibi for an inadequate response to global warming. Well, it's not a convincing one. 

Ted O'Brien, you know, had already headed a parliamentary review into nuclear power back in 2019, and its findings were essentially ignored by then Prime Minister Scott Morrison. That review heard evidence from nuclear physicist Ziggy Switkowski that nuclear power had become more expensive over the past decade without a price on carbon and billions in government subsidies. It would simply be unviable. 

So the push for nuclear is really a ruse and won't stand up for long as a realistic climate policy if the Coalition continues to hide behind it. But Dutton does seem to concede there has to be some change. He reassured moderates during the discussion in the meeting that the coalition would have a higher ambition for emissions reduction to take to the next election. But I have to say, by opposing more serious action now, he's hardly laying the foundations to convince voters he sees the urgency of such climate action.

##RUBY: 

Hmm. Okay, so it sounds like the Coalition is pretty sidelined at the moment on climate and it doesn't really have a lot to put forward there. So what did Dutton outline as his broader strategy to colleagues?

##PAUL:

Well, Dutton, with the cameras still in the room, told his troops Albanese will make such a mess of government, voters will come flocking back next time. Well, his best hope there is for how the government handles the enormous pressures of events largely out of its control create for it; rising interest rates, rents, energy costs, inflation and petrol prices all hit voters where it hurts. And Dutton said, quote: “It's clear to all of us Labor doesn't know which levers to pull in the economy and they're going to make a bad situation worse.” 

However, Dutton ploughed on and hit classic coalition talking points that could have sounded at home 70 years ago coming from party founder Robert Menzies. He said the Liberals are superior because many of us come from small business, with an experience of the economy that quote: “Labor just can't bring to the table.” 
Well, this classic schtick here is the party will win the support of the so-called forgotten people in the regions and business. It rather begs the question how they are still forgotten after nearly a decade of coalition government. You know, Ruby, the liberal leader's problem is the election wiped out some of the party's better talent, robbing it of the sort of firepower needed to regroup and reassess. He's surrounded by far more doctrinaire conservatives than before the election and the fossil fuel cheer squad in the Nationals. It's not a good combination to lock into what contemporary Australia wants and needs.

##RUBY:

We'll be back in a moment.

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##RUBY:

Paul, we've been talking about how notably sidelined the opposition has been this week. And another huge issue that's before us is the voice to Parliament. Anthony Albanese went to Garma Festival over last weekend to give his early vision for the question that he thinks should be put in front of Australians in a referendum. First of all, could you tell me a bit about that moment?

##Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:

“The Uluru statement is a hand outstretched, a moving show of faith in Australian decency and Australian fairness from people who have been given every reason to forsake their hope in both.”

##PAUL:

 Well, the Prime Minister told his Labor Caucus that that speech in Garma was quote: “the most important speech I will give in my life.”

##Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:

“I believe the momentum is with us as never before. I believe this country is ready for this reform. I believe there is room in Australian hearts for the statement from the heart.”

##PAUL:

And in the speech he said the Australian people should be asked a simple and clear question about recognising the place of Indigenous Australians in our Constitution.

##Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:

“Do you support an alteration to the Constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice? A straightforward proposition. A simple principle. A question from the heart.”

##PAUL:

Albanese said he knew some would spread misinformation and fear about the voice to Parliament, but he made the case that the voice wasn't just symbolic and that real practical change could exist parallel with it.

##RUBY:

Hmm. So that seems to be him trying to get ahead of some of the criticism that could jeopardise a yes vote.

##PAUL:

Well, yes, really. In fact, one could read it as a direct riposte to Jacinta Price, the new Aboriginal Senator from the Northern Territory, who's opposed to The Voice.

##Archival Tape -- Jacinta Price:

“This is driven by those from the upper echelons, those who have managed to gain an education, take advantage of what the modern Australia has had to offer, who are doing completely fine. This is being pushed by them because it's those people in remote and regional parts of the country who don't understand what this voice is about…”

##PAUL: 

She's the darling of hardline conservatives, including Pauline Hanson, and Dutton signalled her out for praise on Tuesday.

##Archival Tape -- Jacinta Price: 

“It's a huge constitutional amendment, and the details are supposed to follow after? That's…that's not something that I can agree with….”

##PAUL:

And Tony Abbott quoted her approvingly in a strident opinion piece this week against the referendum proposal. Abbott amounted to portraying the voice as the end of our way of government as we know it. And he said it would be racially divisive. The piece read like the beginning of the ‘No’ campaign, and it has some liberals worried that the former prime minister's hyperbolic negativity could be taken as the party's position.

##RUBY:

Hmm. So is it, Paul? How is the Coalition's position coming together?

##PAUL:

Well, the Opposition hasn't yet decided how it will approach the referendum. It says it has an open mind. Figures like veteran Liberal MP Russell Broadbent and the Shadow Attorney-General Gillian Lisa are offering strong support for the voice. Broadbent says the voice is a pathway to healing. Last year he said, quote: “Once and for all we need to set matters to write honestly and if we don't, we remain a diminished nation and we can't truly move forward.” 

And I have to say, if they have any sense his Coalition colleagues will heed what Broadbent’s saying. An Australian Institute poll has found 56% of Coalition voters say they'll vote yes to The Voice. That's reason enough, you'd think, for Dutton to get with the national zeitgeist. But if the recent debate on climate is anything to go by, the Coalition will face huge challenges with unity as they come to terms with modern reality. 

##RUBY:

Hmm. That's interesting Paul, because these challenges for Dutton, I mean, he's walking a fine line on climate and on a voice to Parliament. But the stakes, as you say, they're actually a lot higher for Labor out there because on one hand they've got the Greens positioning themselves as the major contender that Labor has to deal with on climate. And then on the other, as you say, there's this pressure to get the referendum right and that will be enormous, won't it?

##PAUL:

Well, that's right. The stakes are high. Albanese's had a really big win on the climate, and there is no doubt that if the referendum goes down, it would be a huge loss for him, but I'd have to say to you, a much bigger loss for the nation.

##RUBY: 

Paul, thank you so much for your time.

##PAUL:

Thank you Ruby. Bye. 

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[Theme music starts]

##RUBY: 

Also in the news today,

Overnight China conducted live-fire military drills around the main island of Taiwan.

The drills were announced after the speaker of the US house of representatives, Nancy Pelosi, visited Taiwan, against China's warnings, becoming the most high-ranking US politician to visit Taiwan in 25 years.

The Taiwanese government described the live-fire drills as effectively creating a blockade around the island and accused China of breaking international law with the exercise.

And… Health Minister Mark Butler has said the latest COVID-19 wave may have already peaked earlier than expected and he was cautiously optimistic hospitalisations would begin to decline.

He said hospital admissions were down, though they do remain high with about 5,000 admissions across the country.

*7am* is a daily show from *The Monthly* and *The Saturday Paper*. 

It’s produced by Kara Jensen-Mackinnon, Alex Tighe, Zoltan Fecso and Alex Gow.

Our technical producer is Atticus Bastow.

Brian Campeau mixes the show. 

Our editor is Scott Mitchell. 

Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. 

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

Additional composition this week by Alex Gow.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is *7am*. 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.

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