When Malcolm Turnbull finished the election with all the grace of Shaunae Miller’s win in the women’s 400 metre final in Rio veteran Labor backroom boy Richard Farmer had some advice for Bill Shorten.
“Let the Coalition government govern,” he wrote on his blog. “Accept that the Liberal-National Coalition has won an election and let their major policies pass through the parliament. Forget about whether Labor can marshal a majority in the Senate to obstruct and delay. Make the minor parties and independents an irrelevance. Just state your objection as forcibly as possible to government plans and promise to undo them when you win the next election … Let them become law.
“Leave it to the people decide the next time they go to the polls whether the conservative way was the right way,” Farmer continued. “Don’t let the Turnbull team hide behind a defence that it was a Labor opposition and/or a hostile Senate that prevented it from solving the nation’s problems. A daring strategy but I think a winning one.”
As Samantha Maiden observed on the weekend “Turnbull has gone missing in action since the federal election.” In contrast, Bill Shorten has continued in effect to continue his election campaign; appearing in country New South Wales, Western Sydney, Melbourne and Queensland in just the past week, messing with the Prime Minister’s mind as he goes.
His continued calls for a banking royal commission are scarcely good policy, but they have already forced usually independently-minded Coalition figures such as Warren Entsch and Craig Kelly to shamefacedly backtrack on past statements and toe the party line while splitting Bob Katter away from the government despite his commitments of support.
Today, however, the opposition leader may have overreached himself – or his manager of business in the House of Representatives, anyway.
Tony Burke has declared Labor will not agree to pairing in the lower house, removing one or more of its members from divisions when government MPs is travelling on official business or absent due to illness or other personal matters.
“Malcolm Turnbull has told his own party room and told the Australian public he believes his government has a working majority in its own right,” he said.
Manager of government business Christopher Pyne hit back immediately.
After the 2010 election, he Tweeted, “the Coalition ALWAYS paired ill MPs or MPs facing family emergencies” followed moments later with “I trust the media will slam
@billshortenmp for his refusal to grant pairs to an MP who may be in hospital or facing a family crisis.”
Labor may be playing the good cop, bad cop routine. A magnanimous Shorten may yet step forward and rescind the ban.
But at the moment it looks precisely like “the hyper-partisanship that now poisons our public life” Tony Abbott regretted in his excellent Sir Samuel Griffith Society paper last Friday.
It is a beltway issue, but one that played properly could damage the opposition leader — if, that is, the Coalition can successfully frame it as an example of the petty politicking that has seen support for minor parties reach new hights.
After months of wrongfooting the government the opposition leader may have finally stumbled himself — stumbled and revealed feet of clay.