Scott Morrison latching onto Andrew Laming has nothing to do with loyalty, it’s about avoiding what he fears most.

 

 

Bowman MP Andrew Laming is on much-needed mental health leave to learn why trolling women online and from the bushes of parks and taking and sharing photos of women’s behinds in the workplace isn’t acceptable behaviour for a member of parliament. 

He’s supposedly spending his month off with empathy coaches, although he’s evidently found the odd spare moment to angrily defend his behaviour and declare his innocence – much like the way his colleague and former Attorney-General Christian Porter is spending his own mental health leave from being accused of committing a historical rape on furiously suing female journalists for defamation.

And, like Porter, Laming hasn’t been forced to leave parliament or even been disciplined in any meaningful way by Prime Minister Scott Morrison who has found plenty of reasons to keep the man in his party room.

“I want to see behaviour change and we’ve all got a job to do with that, and he certainly has a job to do on this,” Morrison explained regarding the decision to send Laming off on his vague-sounding de-creepening course. “He’s agreed to participate in that and submit himself to that as he should. I would hope that that would see a very significant change in his behaviour.”

Yeah, Scotty, let’s hope. 

 


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Anyway, the general assumption appears to be that it’s because Laming is integral to Morrison’s political survival, but here’s the thing: he’s not.

There seems to be a notion that Morrison would face a parliamentary revolt if he lost his one-seat majority in the House of Representatives. However, governments don’t get turfed out when they fail to cross an absolute threshold like it’s a movie where the plucky breakdancing protagonist acquires 51 per cent of the shares and immediately expels Chairman Jerkington McFortunepants before he bulldozes the community centre. Company boards don’t work like that, and neither do parliaments.

Labor only has 68 seats and while a vote of no confidence in the government would very possibly draw the support of two of the crossbench – Greens leader Adam Bandt and independent Denison MP and frequent Morrison critic Andrew Wilkie – the other five MPs would doubtlessly support the government, either because they’re arch-conservatives (Kennedy MP Bob Katter, the newly-independent Craig Kelly) or because they’re conservative-leaning centrists who don’t want to risk their time in government being abruptly cut short (Warringah’s Zali Steggal, Indi’s Helen Haines, Mayo MP Rebecca Sharkie).

What’s more, if Laming was shoved to the crossbench he’d hardly be likely to vote with Labor. And if he was forced to leave parliament altogether to spend more time on his avant-garde photography and public horticultural projects, Bowman is a safe LNP seat. There’d be a swing against the government if there was a by-election, sure, but it’s hard to imagine it being enough for the LNP to lose.

So why is Morrison so horrified by the very idea of going to minority government if his Prime Ministership isn’t under threat? Glad you asked!

One reason is that losing the balance of power would mean that the Morrison government would have to negotiate to pass legislation and, like the Abbott government it largely resembles, this government couldn’t negotiate its way out of an open door at the bottom of a slide marked “FREE NEGOTIATIONZ HERE”.

We saw that with the recent non-passage of Morrison’s much-ballyhooed Industrial Relations bill, which was opposed by Labor and the Greens but should have danced easily past the conservative-leaning independents and minor parties of the Senate. Yet the anti-worker legislation was (thankfully) blocked and gutted by representatives from the smallest, poorest and highest-unemployment-having states: Tasmania’s Jacqui Lambie and South Australia’s Rex Patrick, who you’d think would be laughably easy to win over with a few job-creation grants or a bonus submarine. It’s like the Morrison government’s demonstrated talent for pork-barrelling suddenly deserted them.

The second reason Morrison lives in fear of parliamentary shrinkage is that there was a minority government in Australia’s recent federal past. And it presided over what was the most successful parliament since Federation, simply in terms of the amount of legislation passed per day in power, including major laws like the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the Clean Energy act and the implementation of the Gonski education reforms.

And, problematically for Morrison, that government was run by women.

 

Morrison might hate the idea of expending hard work trying to explain the government’s terrible legislation to smug crossbenchers, but the idea of being compared unfavourably to a government-run by women? That he could never endure.

 

The Prime Ministership of Julia Gillard was tumultuous and chaotic, but the actual governing bit of the government was a triumph of pragmatic lawmaking. Gillard was only able to form a government with the support of two of the three independents – Tony Windsor and Bob Oakeshott (the third, Bob Katter, backed the Coalition under Tony Abbott), and since the government had a minority in both houses it was forced to negotiate every single piece of legislation on two fronts.

This required incredible levels of intelligence, sensitivity and trust between the people doing the negotiating. Fortunately, said people – Gillard herself in the lower house, Penny Wong in the Senate – were more than up to the task.

So much did Gillard respect the members of the crossbench that even when Labor established a majority in their own right (via the promotion of defecting Liberal MP Peter Slipper to the Speaker’s chair, which itself caused headaches down the track) Gillard still made a point of discussing upcoming legislation with them rather than ignore their very presence in the chamber.

Morrison might hate the idea of expending hard work trying to explain the government’s terrible legislation to smug crossbenchers, but the idea of being compared unfavourably to a government-run by women? That he could never endure.

And if he has to keep accused rapists and admitted abusers of women in his government to avoid that, the hey: at least they’re fair dinkum blokes, eh?

 

 

 

 

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