Defence Minister Christopher Pyne has been a member of the federal parliament for the past 26 years. He has seen it from opposition and government and under every prime minister since Paul Keating. He is a disillusioned man.
The dumping of his close friend and political soul mate, Malcolm Turnbull, was the last straw. It confirmed to him that “politics is trapped in a self-obsessed and panic-prone spiral that is damaging parliament’s ability to work for the good of the voters”.
His frank and damning assessment was given in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald as a scene setter for the resumption of parliament this week. His raking over the coals of the coup last August has angered some of his colleagues, and not just the conservatives. Even moderates believe the last thing that’s needed in the run-up to the poll in May is a reminder of the disunity and dysfunction that has given us three Liberal prime ministers in five-and-a-half years.
An indication of just how touchy they are about it came for Prime Minister Scott Morrison at his National Press Club speech on Monday. Three journalists asked him how he could “hand on heart” tell voters that the announcements and promises he was making will actually be implemented should he be re-elected.
Morrison’s answer was far from convincing. He said the party room has new rules requiring two-thirds of MPs to knife a Prime Minister who led them to a successful election. Trouble there is the party room can unmake the rules with a simple majority. But, perhaps realising that the Liberals’ three prime ministers, one more than Labor’s two, was too messy a look, he claimed his opponents had “quite a few prime ministers – that’s true and they weren’t very good”. Without blushing, he said “we’ve had three good ones”.
Channel Nine’s Chris Uhlmann frankly pointed out to Morrison that good prime ministers don’t get voted out by their own colleagues. It is a “vote of no confidence in the leadership twice now”. His question was why voters should then show confidence in his government. Stopping the boats, a million new jobs and restoring the nation’s finances the PM’s short answer.
But what will surely undermine voters’ confidence in our governments and parliaments is the political veteran Pyne’s conclusion that they are no longer working for the “long-term benefit of the nation”. Little wonder politicians are near the bottom of the Morgan Poll’s most admired professions.
Pyne says politicians are cowered by the constant social media; the “shouty segment of the press” that keeps everybody on edge in parliament all the time and might actually not reflect the way the public think, had won. He said that “sensible people had bowed to that irrational pressure”.
Pyne’s only consolation is that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s lunge for the leadership was blocked by the moderates. He says Dutton was unelectable south of the Queensland border.