Leading article Australia

Resurrection shuffle

23 March 2016

3:00 PM

23 March 2016

3:00 PM

The Easter message is about resurrection. In Australian politics, the week before Easter has seen more risings than Lazarus with a box of Viagra. First, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull is looking to resurrect his flagging poll ratings – with this week’s Newspoll having his net approval in negative territory for the first time since he snatched the Liberal leadership from Tony Abbott – by taking the biggest gamble of his political career.

Mr Turnbull’s calling the bluff of selfish Senate crossbenchers over their refusal to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission is welcome. His recalling Parliament in April, to pass the ABCC and registered organisations legislation or face a double dissolution poll on 2 July, instantly resurrected his flagging reputation among his supporters. He cannot have missed how his media fan club, in Fairfax, the ABC and even the Australian, had been showing more than a little disillusion with him of late. He needed a circuit-breaker, and last Monday cockily flicked the switch on a potentially 15-week election campaign warming up the early winter months.

Then there’s Mr Abbott. The ABCC was Mr Abbott’s brainchild as a Howard minister; its resurrection was part of the Coalition’s 2013 election platform and, with the devastating Heydon report into trade union corruption, at the core of the re-election strategy Mr Abbott’s government was crafting when he was rubbed out. Mr Abbott has every right to feel vindicated by Mr Turnbull’s decision to turn the ABCC into an election trigger.

Thanks to Mr Turnbull’s ponderous manoeuvrings to get to this point, the stone also has been rolled back from the political tomb of the Australian Greens and their black-skivvied leader, Richard Di Natale – he of the recent male fashion spread. The deal stitched up between Mr Turnbull and Senator Di Natale reforming a corrupted Senate electoral system should clear away the most unrepresentative of Paul Keating’s famed ‘unrepresentative swill’.

There’s no question what passed after the disgraceful, self-indulgent, nearly 40-hour Labor-led filibuster is right for more transparent parliamentary democracy. Sadly, the impending de-swilling threatens mostly sound crossbench thinkers like David Leyonhjelm and Bob Day, but collateral damage is unavoidable if the evils of preference whispering, making a mockery of the popular vote, are to be ended. What’s far more worrying for sensible policy, is not just the PM’s dealing with Sen. Di Natale because of Labor’s refusal to act like an alternative party of government, it’s that the cleanout will, for years to come, give the Greens what they lost to the Star Wars crossbench cantina: the balance of power in the Senate. That’s a dangerous resurrection indeed.

Given this, why the Greens are opposing Mr Turnbull’s threatened double-D is a mystery: not only will they benefit from the voting changes, the halved Senate election quota means we would not be rid of the insufferable likes of crocodile-teared Sarah Hanson-Young and watermelon socialist Lee Rhiannon. Should crossbenchers see reason and pass the ABCC bills, however, a normal half-Senate election could well see the Greens lose one or more of their senators this year. Surely that, combined with the voting changes, is good reason to hope the Senate avoids dissolving itself. Regardless of a double-D, however, the guaranteed resurrection of Greens influence through the voting reform deal will be many times worse if the Liberals succumb to the temptation to play preference footsie with the Greens in the upcoming election.

In Victoria, Liberal president Michael Kroger is indicating the party may pursue ‘loose arrangements’ with the Greens to shore up doctors’ wives seats like Higgins and threaten latte-sipper Labor seats like Wills and Batman. Mr Kroger said, ‘You’ve got a doctor (Di Natale) who owns a farm who doesn’t come from this mad environmental background. He’s helped the government get legislation through the Federal Parliament. So you look at the Greens through a slightly different lens these days because they’re not the nutters they used to be’. Mr Turnbull, too, has made clear his preference for dealing with the Greens. He and Mr Kroger should think again. As the Greens themselves point out, in this constipated Senate they have voted with the Government only six per cent of the time, not sixty. Even electorally-doomed motoring enthusiast Ricky Muir managed 52 per cent. And as for ‘no nutters’, what do you call Hanson-Young and Rhiannon? Vestal virgins?

We far prefer the wisdom of the great John Howard to Mr Kroger’s ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ logic. This month Mr Howard told the ABC, ‘People shouldn’t lose sight that the principal beneficiary of these changes is probably the Australian Greens and that is why the Greens are so strongly in favour. So I hope this doesn’t presage some kind of understanding about preferences in House of Representatives elections between the Coalition and the Greens’. In this week of resurrection, Mr Howard is right. Again.

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