The Liberal Party and its forebears have always given their members the right to speak out, particularly backbenchers.
South Australian Robert Hill spent 10 years as leader of the government in the senate despite crossing the floor 10 times earlier in his career. It’s an honourable tradition, or was.
By carpeting Craig Kelly earlier this month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison effectively denied him of that right to exercise his conscience, a right that has distinguished the anti-Labor parties from the ALP for over a century.
The PM bowed to media pressure instead of following Liberal tradition, so today Kelly has announced he will sit on the crossbench.
“I just feel that if I’m to speak out and use my voice as best I can, this is the best decision for myself and for the people I represent,” he told Sky News Australia.
His move exposes the often forgotten narrowness of the government’s control of the House of Representatives.
Before Kelly’s move, the Coalition had 77 members in the 151 member house, a total reduced to 76 after the appointment of the speaker. Now it has 75.
Even though Kelly has said he will support the government on confidence matters and supply, telling the ABC “my beliefs are still lined very closely to the Liberal Party”, Scott Morrison will now be living dangerously.
Ronald Reagan used to say “Dance with the one that brung you”.
By waltzing off and leaving Kelly exposed, the PM has put his government on a knife-edge.
He went on the front foot at a press conference held just after midday, trying to boost public confidence and morale in the ranks:
Nothing will distract me or my government from my pledge to them to save lives and save livelihoods. I pledged when I became Prime Minister that I would keep our economy strong. I said I would keep Australians safe. And I said I would keep Australians together. If there’s one thing that Australians have learnt about me and my government is we’re a pretty focused bunch.
But chief whip Bert van Manen is about to become a very busy boy indeed.
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