BRUCE WEARNE. Has the Party Ended?

Aug 27, 2018

“I’m not doing anything until I get legal advice as to whether his (Dutton’s) membership of the Parliament is constitutional.” 

Hmm. Yes. Good principle Prime Minister. Obtain qualified legal advice first before any action. Hmm.

These are the sentiments that sound like the principles of a Constitutional Parliamentarian. But is Malcolm Turnbull truly a Constitutional Parliamentarian? 

To be such a politician one would require colleagues who were Constitutional Parliamentarians who, having heard the principle, would now remind him of what we know he is sitting upon. After all, it has been 3 months since the Ruddock Panel issued their report. Shouldn’t it have come before the Parliament before the December 2017 legislation to change the Marriage Act? Shouldn’t qualified legal advice have preceded that monumental legislative change?

Let’s review the recent record of the current parliamentary leader of the Liberal Party who, 

  • could not get his party’s promised plebiscite approved by the Parliament, 
  • and knowing that Labor had made commitment to same-sex marriage a mandatory commitment for any pre-selected candidates that stood for that party from 2019,
  • was given parliamentary and high court permission to purloin $120m from public funds to pay for a bogus Australian Bureau of Statistics survey (bogus according to standard sociological research standards) 
  • a major sub-purpose of which was to ensure the Parliamentary Liberal Party didn’t fall apart 
  • by coming to a “party room” agreement amongst themselves that a “YES” majority in the ABS survey would then give them a “free vote” in Parliament,
  • which in fact was to many electors contrary to the platform upon which they had voted for Liberal Party candidates in the previous election and upon which the memebers had been elected
  • and so the Liberal-National Government could say they, rather than Labor, had shaped Parliament’s modus operandi in order to deliver the “historic” SSM legislation, 
  • but to placate wide-spread concerns about the character of the actual legislative changes the leader promised that a panel of jurists would examine the constitutionality of recent legislation in terms basic rights/freedoms 
  • that has since been delivered to him as PM more than 3 months ago
  • and we are still waiting to hear what they have recommended. 

Is it purely reactionary conspiratorial thinking to ask whether there is any connection between this parliamentary crisis, SSM/Marriage Act and the Ruddock Panel’s report remaining undisclosed? Surely not.

What all this tells us is that the kind of unity that the Liberal Party, via its Parliamentary (elite) wing concocted for itself by means of the ABS survey (which was more a matter of bean counting than a genuine social survey since all questions about what the YESes and NOes meant were left well and truly up in the air) is no basis at all upon which to build a coherent political contribution let alone a political party.

When in the early years of this millennium, Malcolm Turnbull, as director of the Menzies Centre in Sydney – the Liberal Party think-tank – in one moment, from one side of his mouth, told the country that the Liberal Party should be taking the high moral ground on “family policy”, only to say in the next moment from the other side of his mouth that John Howard was a political genius for orchestrating a “conscience vote” in parliament to vote for embryonic stem-cell research (a “conscience vote” which served to give ex post facto justification for the then member for Bennelong’s reneging on his electoral promise to oppose such research) and thereby maintaining party unity, he was in fact setting forth a political viewpoint – also on family matters – that was incoherent despite its realpolitik presumptions. 

And what can we say about the subsequent political career? The rest is history? The practical outworking of that incoherence has now taken 15 years but it is happening and with a petulance that threatens much more than just the seat of Wentworth.

Bruce Wearne (BA, MSocSci, PhD LaTrobe 1986) is a social theorist, who ives in Point Lonsdale, where he maintains a quiet but ongoing campaign of resistance to the stealing of the local village’s name by a real estate developer.

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