The Final Week Of Parliament Is Going Out With A Bang
If anyone had told us six months ago that the government would be tearing itself apart over Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly, you'd have been laughed out of the building.
But it's true.
Kelly, who seemingly spends every other waking hour on Sky News with more appearances than some of the network's paid presenters -- is threatening to consign the government to even lower depths of misery than it is already enduring.
And it seems the man has got his way.
Kelly, the gaffe-prone member for the Sydney seat of Hughes, was facing a pre-selection challenge to remain as Liberal candidate for the next election.
Pundits claimed he would lose a local vote against challenger Kent Johns. Kelly has been complaining for months, hoping someone senior in the party would step in and save him, and has been threatening to quit the party and sit as an independent if he was dumped.
Now, as the government reels from losing Julia Banks to the crossbench and fumbles around trying to ensure it has enough votes to carry out the basic functions of the parliament, Kelly has reignited his threat -- and it seems the Liberal Party powers have caved in. There is a plan afoot for the NSW party to re-endorse all sitting members, meaning Kelly would be saved from a pre-selection challenge.
Former PM Malcolm Turnbull, who Kelly was opposed to, tried to step in and stop this process. In a Twitter thread on Sunday night, Turnbull called the plan "the worst and weakest response" to Kelly's threat to -- as Turnbull summarised it -- "bring down the Government". Various media outlets have reported Turnbull hitting the phones over the weekend, trying to persuade NSW Liberals to oppose the plan.
Turnbull, it is reported, wanted to coax Kelly into ditching the government, in hopes Morrison might call an early election in March, instead of the previously-tipped May.
“We should force Scott to an early election because all he’s about is keeping his arse on C1”, Turnbull said, according to The Australian newspaper.
This is almost enough to be going on with just on its own. But that's not all! Turnbull appeared on ABC radio on Monday, admitting he wanted to see a March election, and that such a schedule had been his plan before he was dumped as PM in August.
"My view is that it would be manifestly and in the best prospects of the Morrison Government to go to the polls as soon as it can after the summer break," Turnbull told the ABC.
Turnbull has gotten more politically daring and vocal since being freed from the shackles of parliament, and his regular interventions into the government's business have prompted Coalition members to start laying into the former PM.
"We gave him loyalty, we backed him until the end, and now he's just really 100 percent committed to getting rid of the Coalition," former deputy PM Barnaby Joyce said on Monday.
This is before we even get to what's happening inside Parliament House. PM Morrison has been in Argentina for the G20 summit, and he will return to a parliament in the midst of utter madness.
This is the last sitting week of the year, and a number of important and controversial pieces of legislation -- encrypted messaging, live exports, LGBTQ discrimination in schools, medical transfers for refugees -- are on the cards.
The shifting makeup of the crossbench, with Kerryn Phelps entering parliament and Banks joining the group, has thrown calculations in chaos.
Several crossbench members signalled last week they might try to use their numbers to force votes or debate on some important ideas -- including refugees, climate change and a possible High Court referral for Peter Dutton -- so it's anybody's guess what could actually happen this week.
While the Morrison government could be facing debilitating challenges to its parliamentary authority, and a possible eligibility crisis over one of its senior ministers, the PM can't even guarantee how many allies he'll have by the end of the week.
Kelly could go, senator Jim Molan is making noise after himself being dumped down the NSW Senate ticket, and considering the success they've had so far, there's not really any disincentive for other unhappy Liberal members to start voicing their own complaints.
It's the last week of parliament for 2018, and it's sure going out with a bang.