MUNGO MacCALLUM. Family First or Day First?

Nov 7, 2016


The name of Bob Day, the now former senator, was never one to conjure with.

If he was noted at all, it was usually as the Sancho Panza to David Leyonhjelm’s Don Quixote – a loyal and reliable hanger-on, grounded where his leader tended at times to eccentricity. Leyonhjelm, the Liberal Democrat Libertarian, could be a touch unpredictable and troublesome, most recently in the brouhaha over his attempted deal to rebirth the Adler shotgun.

Day, on the other hand, was an unswerving ideologue, a relentless crusader for a hard-line economic fundamentalism. Given that the designation of his party was Family First, it might have been thought that he would have put social concerns – the family, in fact – at the forefront. But while he was sturdily conservative over such matters, these were essentially side issues.

What mattered was unregulated free-enterprise. So the government could always rely on him when it was ready to embark on a bit of union-bashing, however cynical the politics of it might be. As has now been revealed from the records, Day effectively bought Family First in order to give him a platform to try and persuade the government to run the country the way he ran his own business: a ruthless adherence to the principle that capitalism in king, and labour – the less organized the better – is only there to provide it with profits.

Of course government does not work like that, and in the end nor did Day’s business empire: he overreached himself and ended up stiffing his contractors and customers, not to mention the handful of voters who had, mistakenly assumed that he was a moral crusader rather than just another bullying employer of the kind they would prefer to avoid. Day has now accepted the inevitable; he must leave the parliament before it pushes him out as ineligible due to his insolvency.

And it turns out now that he may have been ineligible from the beginning, having, with supreme irony, having indirectly benefitted from the much loathed public purse. So whatever happens he will have to be replaced.

If the High Court exonerates him of the latter charge, he will be succeeded by another Family First senator – although not necessarily another zealous free trader as he had hoped. But if there is a recount, it is even less predictable – the government may gain another ally, another enemy or perhaps worst of all another maverick.

The total mix will not materially alter: whatever the result, if Labor and the Greens combine to oppose legislation, the government will still need nine extra votes, which means that they will need both the Hansonites and the Xenophonites. And this will be the case even if Day’s replacement is delayed.

But it will all add to the confusion; Turnbull and his team have spent a couple of months entangling the mess they recreated through their double dissolution, only to find they will have a new knot to deal with –two, if One Nation’s Rod Culleton also gets the axe. And this will be yet another distraction, as night follow Day.

Mungo MacCallum is a veteran journalist from the Canberra Press Gallery.

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