Now that the Potato has fired a warning shot across the bow of the Top Hat, and the rest of the Liberal Party runs from side to side like brainless sheep, as the National Party runs around in a little circle, while the house burns down, the myth of Stable Leadership that was sold to the Australian public back in 2016 collapses in a giant heap (as indeed does this tortured set of metaphors). Meanwhile, Bill Shorten must surely be thinking that all he has to do to take his party into government at the next election is simply not to do anything scandalous; which at this stage could probably include everything short of eating a baby on live television.
Today the 24th of August 2018, looks like it will go down in the annals of Australian political history as a day of fame of some sort. Whether or not we have the downfall of a Prime Minister remains to be seen but irrespective of what does happen, war has been declared in all directions inside the Liberal Party and whoever wins, the 25 million of us outside the party room will lose.
Before we explain today and how it is that we got here, we need to explain yesterday.
Apart from a few pieces of ordinarily business of the parliament, the House Leader Christopher Pyne (who is the manager of operational business on the floor of the chamber but not head of the cabinet) called for a motion to adjourn the House of Representatives for the day. This was passed 70-69 and an otherwise empty chamber, filled up rapidly. What the adjournment did, was to close the House of Representatives before Question Time; which saved the government the twin embarrassments of having questions posed to vacant cabinet positions after the relevant ministers had resigned, and having to fight a vote of no confidence.
It was nominally expected that there would have been a spill motion some time today but the actual business of the government being the government got in the way. The Senate also went about its usual business, being the house of review. There was incidentally a vote of no confidence in the government tabled in the Senate but the government won that and at any rate, it's utterly pointless holding a vote of confidence in the Senate because government isn't formed there.
With the government abandoning the business of governing, parliament was then adjourned until the next sitting scheduled sitting date in September.
The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull then held a press conference in the Prime Minister's Courtyard and announced that there will be a spill motion of the Liberal Party at High Noon tomorrow, subject to a string of conditions.
The first thing which has to be put in order is the question of whether or not Peter Dutton is eligible to even sit in the parliament. This related to his family trust owning childcare centres and the legality of them having pecuniary interests from out of the budget of the Commonwealth; this relates to a prohibition arising from Section 44(v).
This is supposedly for the Solicitor General to render some advice on the matter, though this is something of a nonsense because eligibility questions can only be answered by the High Court upon the referral from the relevant chamber. The House of Representatives obviously can not refer the matter to the High Court because it has already been adjourned until September.
I suspect that the reason why Turnbull wanted to refer this to the Solicitor General was because it bought Scott Morrison several hours to be able to canvas for votes for further on in the process. This was still before anyone was in full possession of the facts from this afternoon.
Assuming that Peter Dutton is in fact eligible to even sit in parliament, then there will be the spill motion proper. If the spill motion fails, then the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will go on being Prime Minister and nothing much will change. The parliament will probably continue to run around like brainless sheep until the election or the next spill motion whenever that is.
If on the other hand, the spill motion is successful, then the leadership of the Liberal Party will be available to be contested. If that happens, then several things will follow. Firstly, Malcolm Turnbull has announced that he would quit the parliament, thus forcing a by-election for the seat of Wentworth. This is usually a Liberal voting electorate's but who knows what would happen once Mr Turnbull quits?
Secondly, Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison will contest for the leadership of the Liberal Party and hence the position of Prime Minister. Or rather, that's what was going to have happened and will no longer be happening happened. Instead, Julie Bishop has announced that she too will join in the leadership challenge, thus making this a three way tussle between Julie Bishop, Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison.
Today has been an extraordinary day for a number of reasons. Malcolm Turnbull passed Gough Whitlam in terms of the copy of days that he had been serving as the Prime Minister and while that's a natty bit of trivia, there is a much more serious statistic in play. That is that the parliament was adjourned for no other good reason than the Liberal Party is having such an omnishamble spat, that they can't hold themselves together long enough to be able to sit in Question Time. Not even in the revolving door of Rudd-Gillard-Rudd did the Labor Party ever have to close the doors to get their business done. Not even when Paul Keating knifed Bob Hawke in the back, which by the way also happened to coincide with a visit from George HW Bush to the parliament (Hawke waved at Bush Snr. from way up in the bend, on the backbenches), did the Labor Party close the parliament to sort their stuff out. Actually, not even on 11-11-75 amidst the confusion of Kerr sacking the government, the Senate finally passing the Appropriation Bill No.1 1975-76 (which caused the Constitutional Crisis in the first place), or the votes of no confidence on the floor of the House of Representatives in the newly installed Fraser government, was the parliament closed. On that day, it was dissolved by the Governor General and not the parliament itself.
For the record, I have seen parliaments adjourned early but that was at Christmas and people wanted to go home early. This is nothing more than indiscipline running rampant and factionalism openly sneering at peace, order and good government.
If we assume that the Festival Of The Thirsty Knife does claim yet another Prime Minister, then this also has dire implications for the parliament and whoever the replacement is. Malcolm Turnbull has announced that he would immediately resign as the Member for Wentworth; which means that the slender majority that the government holds would be reduced by one; at least for the duration of the vacancy. The numbers would then fall 75-74 and any vote of no confidence on the floor of the chamber would need the vote of the Speaker of the House to break a deadlock. If the Labor Party was really sneaky, they could wait until someone had left the building and would be more than four minutes away; thus forcing a loss of confidence. It could also happen that the people of Wentworth might actually do something that they haven't done since 1909 and vote in someone who wasn't from the conservative side of the aisle. If a Green or forbid, a Labor candidate became Member for Wentworth, then minus the Speaker there would actually be a 75-76 split on the floor of the chamber and it would take someone like Bob Katter to support the government. All of this would happen after September 10 though; after the House of Representatives resumes sitting.
At least for the moment, whatever happens today, there will still be a Liberal Prime Minister in charge and that's terrible. Admittedly I am biased towards the economic left but my current anger directed towards the government generally, quite apart from the 'hooray' and 'boo' of politics, is that Malcolm Turnbull has been Prime Minister, Julie Bishop has been Deputy Prime Minister, and both Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton have both been Home Affairs Minister, while we have driven vulnerable people to despair, children to immolate themselves and set themselves on fire, people to go on hunger strike and in some cases commit suicide, while they have been seeking asylum.
As a nation we have been cruel and inhumane and all four of the possible candidates who might be Prime Minister by the end of lunchtime are all responsible for this, as either being the direct minister in charge or the first or second in charge of the executive.
Although I find the game of politics somewhat entertaining, I am not so rusted on to one team or another to be that much slighted about who happens to be in charge. Politics and government is ultimately about enacting policy and governing through the exercise of power. Unfortunately the game of politics in this country is being played like the crocodile with a chainsaw: I don't care how they got it and I don't like how they're using it because there is blood being spilled.
Whoever is in charge at the end of the day, I hope that they immediately realise that their actions have consequences.