Is It Too Late For ScoMo's Government To Save Itself?
To desert a sinking ship, or go down with it -- that's the choice many Coalition MPs seem to be tossing up, with just a few short months until the government is expected to cop a resounding spanking at the federal election.
Two Liberals jumped ship in just two days this past weekend. First, Tasmanian senator David Bushby, followed by senior minister Kelly O'Dwyer, announced they would not recontest the election, tipped for mid-May.
Both gave their reasons -- Bushby is ready for 'a new chapter' in his life, O'Dwyer desires more time with her young family.
But the back-to-back announcements further dented perceptions of the government at a time when the Coalition is way down in the polls as well as facing damaging scrutiny over the treatment of women in the party.
With the election months away, is it already too late for the Morrison government to save itself?
One of the most senior female members of the government, responsible for the Women and Jobs & Industrial Relations portfolios -- O'Dwyer was the one who reportedly told a meeting of Liberal MPs the party was regarded by many as "homophobic, anti-women, climate-change deniers” after the Victorian election thumping.
Liberal senator Jane Hume was rumoured to be considering a move to the lower house to contest O'Dwyer's vacant seat of Higgins, but she ruled out that idea on Monday.
There are calls for the Liberals to pre-select a woman in the seat, with O'Dwyer's departure to potentially leave the party with no female members in Victoria.
Former Liberal MP Julia Banks sensationally dumped the party last year, while other female Victorian Liberals stand to lose their seat if current polling holds. Elsewhere in the party, whispers grow over Julie Bishop's future, and the wider Liberal Party is under pressure to do more to boost its female representation.
This is in addition to damaging accusations of bullying of female MPs during the August leadership spill, the fallout of which continues to dog the party.
Parliament has not yet resumed for the year, but a pair of departures in January only spells further trouble for the government.
It is expected there will be a few weeks of parliamentary unrest.
Last year the Coalition resorted to a number of tricky procedural moves to shut down the chamber and avoid historic and embarrassing defeats after the crossbench and Labor teamed up to push for offshore detention reform.
That risk was only diverted and delayed, however, and not totally neutralised. The push could again reignite given the government's perilous position in terms of sheer voting numbers.
The government will likely look to simply coast through the opening weeks of parliament, aiming to avoid defeat and calling an election as soon as practicable.
It seems the country's politicians are in quasi-campaign mode already -- Labor leader Bill Shorten is on a Queensland bus tour, and PM Scott Morrison is crisscrossing the country sprinkling big-ticket promises to the electorate.
To be fair, we haven't hit peak baby-kissing season yet. And while the Coalition's chances of retaining office appear ever-dwindling, the government is still reaching into its pockets and whipping out the chequebook, announcing billions in spending since the start of the New Year.
A mental health boost of $1.5 billion, $440 million for pre-school education, $216 million for Kakadu National Park, $25 million for a drug discovery centre, $47 million for headspace, $12 million for young tennis players -- just some government policies announced since January 1, with more to come as the Coalition approaches federal budget-time with cash to spend.
This is in addition to the government filling public service positions before it might be turfed out of office, with the new members appointed to the Veterans' Review Board, Administrative Appeals Tribunal, and the Office of War Graves.
It must be noted as well that Bushby's retirement announcement came mere hours before he was named as Australia's new consul-general in Chicago, (which may have prompted many to ask "Australia has a consul-general in Chicago?")
While the government is still playing to win the May election, the recent ship-jumping coupled with a dismal end to the 2018 parliamentary year begs the question -- is it all too late?
Morrison and treasurer Josh Frydenberg have promised to deliver a budget surplus in April, the first in some years, which they hope will give their economic credentials a welcome boost in the poll to be held mere weeks later.
But there may be precious little Morrison and co. can realistically do to hold office.
This weekend's double-whammy of resignations saw comparisons to sinking ships and the band playing music as the Titanic sank.
Based on recent trends, and a looming whacking at the ballot box, O'Dwyer and Bushby might not be the only ones to abandon this ship.