7am is a daily news podcast brought to you by the publishers of The Saturday Paper and The Monthly.
How to listen? Submit Newsletter signup Submit Website Submit

7am Podcast

Paul Bongiorno on whether Scott Morrison has lost control of his own party, and what that means in the leadup to the next election.

Parliament ends in disunity and disarray



This week, two of the nation's most high profile politicians have announced that they will be quitting politics.

The departure of the Health Minister Greg Hunt and former Attorney-General Christian Porter only adds to the pressure that the Prime Minister Scott Morrison is under right now - pressure created by the internal division plaguing the Coalition.

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno on whether Scott Morrison has lost control of his own party, and what that means in the leadup to the next election.

 

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper, Paul Bongiorno.

 

Show Transcript

[Theme Music starts]

 

RUBY:

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

 

This week, two of the nation's most high profile politicians have announced that they will be quitting politics. The departure of the Health Minister Greg Hunt and former Attorney General Christian Porter only adds to the pressure that the Prime Minister Scott Morrison is under right now. Pressure created by the internal division plaguing the Coalition.

 

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno on whether Scott Morrison has lost control of his own party, and what that means in the leadup to the next election.

 

It’s Friday, December 3.

 

[Theme Music ends]

 

RUBY:

Paul, when we spoke last week the Federal Coalition was internally divided on a number of issues, with backbenchers crossing the floor to vote against their own government. Now the last week of Parliament for the year just wrapped up, so was the Prime Minister able to take back a bit of control?

 

PAUL:

Well Ruby, to put it simply: no.

 

Archival Tape -- Newsreader 1

“Two high profile Liberal MPs are leaving politics creating a major challenge for the government ahead of the election, on this, the final day of parliament for the year.”

 

PAUL:

So the biggest political news of the week was the resignations of both Christian Porter and Greg Hunt from Parliament. 

 

Archival Tape -- Newsreader 2

“The Federal Minister who lead the battle against Covid and another who faced a rape controversy are tonight preparing to quit politics.” 

 

PAUL:

This is easily read that these senior figures in the Coalition aren’t feeling very optimistic about theirs or the government’s chances at the next election.On Wednesday, Porter announced on Facebook that he was quitting politics to spend more time with his children, family and friends. 

 

Archival Tape -- Newsreader 2

“He says “I made the decision that I will not run for Pierce at the next election, I’ve informed the Prime Minister...it’s now time to give more of what is left to those around me, whose love has been unconditional”

 

PAUL:

Porter is, the former Attorney-General, who stepped down after publicly identifying himself as the subject of a rape allegation.

 

Archival Tape -- Christian Porter

“If I stand down from my position as Attorney General because of an allegation about something that simply did not happen, then any person in Australia can lose their career, their job, their life’s work based on an accusation that appears in print…” 

 

PAUL:

And Ruby, he then made the horrible misjudgment of proceeding to sue the ABC for defamation - that was the media outlet that originally published the allegation - before eventually withdrawing.

 

Archival Tape -- Newsreader 3

“Breaking news, and the ABC says that former Attorney-General Christian Porter has decided to discontinue his defamation action against the ABC and reporter Louise Milligan.” 

PAUL:

But even though he’d resigned as Attorney-General, he remained in the Cabinet… until it was revealed up to a million dollars of his legal fees for his case were being paid for by anonymous donors. He refused to name the donors and had to quit cabinet. 

 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“And as a result of him acknowledging that, he has this afternoon taken the appropriate course of action to uphold those standards by tendering his resignation as a Minister this afternoon and I have accepted his resignation…”

 

PAUL:

And now as was widely expected he’s decided to leave the Parliament at the next election.

 

RUBY:

Hmm, and I suppose, Paul, that Christian Porter’s resignation isn’t really that surprising given the controversies he’d been involved in, but what about the Health Minister Greg Hunt’s decision to leave - that was more of a shock? 

 

Archival Tape -- Greg Hunt

“Well, Mr Speaker, it's been a slightly busy term”

 

PAUL:

Well, Greg Hunt’s been in Parliament since 2001, he’s served in a number of cabinet roles as environment, industry and sport minister, but it was his role as the health minister throughout the pandemic that probably took its biggest toll.

 

Archival Tape -- Greg Hunt

“To my family - They said to me on Sunday they looked at me and and said, ‘Dad, this is your last chance to be a proper dad and it's time to come home, dad’”

 

PAUL:

He was responsible for public health measures at the national level, and faced the brunt of the criticism, aside from the Prime Minister of course, over the government’s bungled vaccine purchase and rollout.

 

Archival Tape -- Greg Hunt

“And so, Mr. Speaker, earlier today I spoke with the Prime Minister and my electorate chairman, and I informed them that I would not be contesting the next election.”

 

PAUL:

His decision to not recontest his seat of Flinders, held by a margin of 5.6 percent after the redistribution of boundaries, well could be seen as a sign of burnout… or an indication he doesn’t think the chances of remaining a minister are that high because the current government is constantly behind in the polls.

 

RUBY:

Hmm, okay, can you break that down for me Paul - what exactly is the government’s position, in the polls, right now?

 

PAUL:

Well, Scott Morrison is heading into an election year needing to claw back ground from Anthony Albanese’s Labor. The latest polls have him behind, Roy Morgan this week had the gap widening, and on top of that, he’s dealing with retiring senior MPs, as we saw and open internal dissent. You know Ruby, these are the symptoms of decay often displayed by old and tired governments. And you can see the palpable loss of leadership authority within the government through Morrison’s inability to progress two signature promises made at the last election: the first being the Religious Discrimination Bill. The prospects of that bill being voted into law before the election are receding. It is not only the opposition, the Greens and the cross bench demanding real scrutiny of unintended consequences but a clutch of Liberal moderates who spoke out last week and said they won’t support it, if it entrenches discrimination on the grounds of sexuality or gender. 

 

The second promise was the federal integrity commission. Although I have to say in this case, it is obvious that Morrison doesn’t really have his heart in it anyway. There has been no bona fide attempt to come up with a model that is effective and would win parliamentary support. The expert consensus over the current proposal is that it is more a corruption protection commission for politicians than a fearless watchdog. But his failure to act is yet again causing MPs on his own side to publicly criticise the government, creating an even greater sense of chaos as the Parliamentary year comes to a close. 

 

RUBY:

We’ll be back in a moment 

 

[ADVERTISEMENT]

 

RUBY:

Paul, Scott Morrison has been criticised by Labor, the Greens and independents for his failure to implement a national integrity commission. But he’s now facing pressure from his own MPs. Can you tell me more about that? Who in the coalition is pushing for this?

 

PAUL:

Well Ruby this week former Turnbull government minister, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, told the Senate that with the increasing number of political scandals there were growing calls for a much more robust  anti corruption commission. 

 

Archival Tape -- Concetta Fieravanti-Wells 

“Much has happened this year which has only reinforced my view that a Federal Integrity Body is overdue"

 

PAUL:

In a scarcely veiled reference to the Prime Minister she said that people opposing a stronger model were raising people’s curiosity…

 

Archival Tape -- Concetta Fieravanti-Wells 

“...one has to ask why are they conflicted? Why are they resisting the implementation of such a body?”

 

PAUL:

And that it was time for a body that could uncover corruption properly and publicly expose it.

 

Archival Tape -- Concetta Fieravanti-Wells 

“I continue to hold the view that public trust will continue to be eroded unless Members of Parliament are subject to full and proper scrutiny”

 

PAUL:

But Fierravanti-Wells wasn’t the only Coalition politician to fire up about a national Independent Commission Against Corruption. In fact, the Liberal’s most marginal seat holder Bridget Archer crossed the floor late last week to support the independent MP Helen Haines’ Bill - along with Labor and the crossbench the bill got the numbers but the government blocked it on a technicality.

 

RUBY:

Mmm, can you tell me more about Bridget Archer, Paul, and her decision to cross the floor? 

 

PAUL:

Archer holds the Tasmanian electorate of Bass, and she’s under pressure from both the Labor Party and Tasmanian Senator, Jacqui Lambie. Lambie has threatened to run a candidate against her, and said her Jacqui Lambie Network party candidate would not be preferencing “liars”, referring to Morrison’s failure to implement his promised integrity commission.

 

Now, some see that as a factor in her rebellion against the Prime Minister, I’d have to say it earned her a carpeting in Scott Morrison’s office. But she stuck to her guns on the need for a strong integrity watchdog. You know Ruby, the whole episode was another demonstration of Morrison’s loss of control of his own scarce parliamentary numbers. Remember he only has a working majority of one.

 

RUBY:

Ok, it sounds like things really did end on a messy note for the Prime Minister, in terms of the final sitting weeks in Parliament. How is he expected to try and regain control?  

 

PAUL:

The Prime Minister’s counting on the economy to save him. He assured the party room on Tuesday “we’ll have a fight that we will win in the new year”, and said that next year’s budget would put him in good stead. The September quarter national accounts, released on Wednesday, showed a contraction of 1.9 per cent in the economy. While normally that would be pretty bad news, it was not as deep as feared - considering the lockdowns across NSW and Vic. The figures suggest healthier December quarter results, which will, handily for Morrison, feed into next year’s pre-election budget.

 

And Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will find it very hard to resist the temptation to go on a last-ditch vote-buying spree, especially if the polls still have them well behind Labor. They would be hoping voters don’t notice or care that the budget papers already are forecasting a deficit of $100 billion for the next financial year.

 

RUBY:

Hmm, okay and Paul, as another Parliamentary year comes to end… Do you have any reflections on what we saw in Canberra over the past 12 months?

 

PAUL:

Well Ruby, the Pandemic ruled everything in 2021 – the protracted lockdowns in our two biggest states and in the ACT threw up fault lines in the management of vaccines and an intense blame game between the states and Canberra. There was a fracturing of national unity and an absence of leadership from the Prime Minister. And we now have the Omicron variant reminding us this disaster is not over. The other stark feature of the year was the further erosion of the Prime Minister’s personal credibility.  French President Emmanuel Macron labeling him a liar merely re-enforced the moniker of the liar from the shire as Morrison continued to deny saying things he had been caught on camera saying. It all contributed to the enormous trust deficit in our politics.

 

RUBY:

Paul, thank you so much for your time.

 

PAUL:

Thank you Ruby, bye.

 

[ADVERTISEMENT]

 

[Theme Music starts]

 

RUBY:

Also in the news today…

 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“Mr. Speaker, these issues are obviously deeply concerning and I know deeply distressing for both Ms Miller for what Mr Tudge…..” 

 

RUBY:

On Thursday afternoon the Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Education Minister Alan Tudge would be stepping aside from the Ministry amid allegations of abuse. 

 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“But given the seriousness of these claims that have been made by Miss Miller, it is important that these matters be resolved fairly and expeditiously”

 

RUBY:

A former media adviser to Alan Tudge made fresh allegations about her affair with the cabinet minister -- calling it emotionally and physically abusive -- claims that Tudge denies.

 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“To this end, the minister has agreed to my request to stand aside while these issues are addressed by my apartment”

 

[Theme music starts]

 

RUBY:

Rachelle [Ra-shell] Miller said the “bullying, intimidation and harassment” she experienced from Tudge destroyed her confidence in her own abilities. She called on the Federal Government to implement all the recommendations of the Jenkins review into parliamentary workplace culture.

 

And the Women’s Tennis Association has announced all its events in China and Hong Kong will be suspended following ongoing concern about the status of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai. WTA chairman Steve Simon said the decision was made after repeated failed attempts to contact the former world doubles number one.

 

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 ya 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.