Keane: another week, another shocker for a troubled government
The government has suffered yet another bad week — and with no relief in sight.
As each Friday rolls around, particularly after
parliamentary sitting weeks, we like to look back at how our politicians
have fared during the week. Throughout the year, it’s been something of
a constant that such week-in-review pieces have yielded a variation on
“another bad week for the government”.
Beneath such words, however, was an expectation that at some
point the government would get its act together, that via a significant
change in tactics or perhaps of personnel, it would at least stop
making the egregious errors that have characterised its performance
throughout the year, even if it couldn’t find a way to start restoring
public trust. After this week, one can only wonder whether even that it
possible. People both inside Canberra and outside are starting to talk
about a one-term government, something that wasn’t happening even in the
depths of the government’s post-budget woes in winter.
It will (rightly) be overshadowed by other events, but this
week was truly, wretchedly awful for the Coalition, the worst yet. It’s
not quite Labor Awful — how can we forget the Simon Crean-instigated
challenge-that-never-was? — but it was the sort of week where the only
rational reaction was to sit there gobsmacked at the ineptitude on
display. Each day seemed to bring some new screw-up. Employment Minister
Eric Abetz saying there were no ABC job losses. The Prime Minister
pretending he wasn’t breaking his promise not to cut the ABC.
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull joining in with a Utegate-style
conspiracy theory about the Rudd government and the ABC doing a secret
deal. The apparently permanently enraged Defence Minister David Johnston
claiming the government’s own warship builder couldn’t build a canoe.
The Prime Minister’s Office briefing that the Medicare co-payment was a
political impediment about to be removed, only for the Treasurer and
Health Minister to insist that in fact they were still committed to it,
and, hey, maybe it would be a good idea to try to implement it via
regulation, just like the government tried with its repeal of FOFA?
Backbenchers criticising the leadership. Speaker Bronwyn Bishop,
infuriated by how much enjoyment Labor was having at the government’s
expense, kicked out what seemed to be most of the Labor Party from
question time yesterday. She even kicked out the mildest of
mild-mannered MPs, Western Australia’s Melissa Parke, simply for quoting
If Victorian Labor manages the heretofore improbable feat of
knocking off a first-term government tomorrow, it will truly have been
the week from hell.
And this was a week in which the government had begun with
hopes of finishing the parliamentary year on a relative high note, at
least by its own standards — calling time on some problematic proposals,
preparing the way for a difficult MYEFO, perhaps even convincing the
crossbench in the Senate to pass a compromised tertiary education
deregulation bill, setting up for a better 2015. Instead, all the
problems that have bedevilled it throughout the year were on vivid
display: inept communication, poor tactics, indiscipline,
laziness — Abbott even repeated his habit of demanding business argue
the case for reform, an abrogation of the role of political leaders. And
the co-payment debacle prompts one to wonder what’s happened to the
fabled iron hand that the PMO and chief of staff Peta Credlin is said to
wield over ministers, if senior figures like Hockey and Dutton are so
obviously contradicting the message from the top.
Maybe they’ve touched bottom, and things can only improve
from here. Who knows, maybe Denis Napthine will hang on in Victoria, or
there’ll be a hung parliament, and next week will produce a win or two
in the Senate for the government. Maybe this is the last week in review
piece that will reflect on how badly the government is travelling.
Maybe. Don’t hold your breath.