Scott Morrison's tough week culminates a troubled year with internal divisions, derailed legislation and more issues | MCU Times

Scott Morrison’s tough week culminates a troubled year with internal divisions, derailed legislation and more issues

It is no secret that this Prime Minister, like many before him, considers attending a parliamentary session up there visiting the dentist – something to be endured.

However, this last meeting in fourteen days of what has been his most turbulent year in office proves to be particularly painful for Scott Morrison.

The last weeks of the year of the parliament are always chaotic and sometimes become the “killer season” for a leader under pressure. Things are not quite so serious, but after a fierce internal debate on climate change, which left both sides dissatisfied, the frustrations and anger show up.

Conservative apostates rage over vaccine mandates, long-delayed laws on religious discrimination have resurfaced, and Labor is relentlessly hammering at the prime minister’s credibility.

This fourteen-day meeting, this year’s final, has been particularly painful for the Prime Minister. (ABC News: Tamara Penniket)

Nor has Morrison helped himself this week, delivering a jackpot to the opposition in a single question-and-answer session, while at the same time raising new doubts about his honesty and reviving memories of the fateful Hawaii holiday by claiming he had sent a sms to Anthony Albanese to tell him “where I was going”.

He did not have that. An awkward correction was required.

A divided coalition

After spending last week declaring it was “time for the government to get out of our lives”, the Prime Minister could hardly complain about the five coalition senators who crossed the floor to vote for a One Nation move that had intended to put an end to the vaccine mandates.

Pauline Hanson speaks in the Senate via a video link
Pauline Hanson, who appeared via video link, tabled a bill that caused coalition senators to break the ranks.(ABC News: Tamara Penniket)

More worrying was the threat from two of the apostate five to withhold their votes for all government legislation until the mandates were gone. The two senators – Alex Antic and Gerard Rennick – are both in their first term in parliament. Some of their colleagues suspect that they have not yet fully understood the importance of working as a team.

Yet the threats have already worked to some degree. The Prime Minister yesterday gave reason for Rennick’s demand to extend access to its COVID-19 vaccine compensation scheme for the few people suffering from the harmful effects of jab.

It made Labor mock that the government’s policy was now hostage to a vaccine skeptic. In return, Rennick has now promised to support the government in procedural votes, but he gives no guarantees for the legislation.

Plans to require voter IDs at the upcoming election may, as a result, bite the dust. The government will not put any legislation to the vote unless it is sure the numbers are there.

The bill on religious discrimination delayed

It will certainly not put its bill on religious discrimination to the vote this year, not because of the threats of chaos from defectors, but because of more significant differences within the ranks.

The bill was finally published on Tuesday afternoon, only after the coalition’s party room had met, much to the frustration of some of those present. Both moderates and conservatives have different concerns, noting that most of those who spoke in favor of the legislation during the meeting were Morrison supporters from the center-right faction. It all looked a bit “staged out”, they suggested.

The bill will go to a Senate inquiry. Few expect that the differences over laws on religious discrimination, which have persisted for four years since the debate on gay marriage, will be resolved over the summer.

Not that Labor has highlighted the coalition’s internal problems in this area. It has its own divisions on religious discrimination and has not surprisingly not raised the issue during Question Time.

If the law comes back to parliament before the election, some in Labor would prefer it to be waved through without a vote.

Anthony Albanese grimaces as he sits in front of glass barriers on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Labor’s main goal for the end of the year is to ensure that voters question Morrison’s credibility ahead of the election. (ABC News: Tamara Penniket)

A balancing act

On many fronts, Albanese continues to keep its political gunpowder dry.

He will announce his climate goal for 2030 and at least one other major policy before the end of the year, but only after Parliament has left.

Labor’s main task for this last meeting in fourteen days is to maintain the impression in the minds of voters that Morrison is a shameless liar. They throw everything after that.

That impression is undoubtedly appealing to some, but the coalition hopes that most “quiet Australians” are either not set on the parliamentary chaos this week or are not particularly shocked by politicians accusing each other of being slick with the truth.

The plan is to get through the last few weeks of meetings and then end the year with a budget update that once again focuses attention on the economy.

The decision on whether to bring parliament back in the new year poses a dilemma for the prime minister. He needs more time to recover. An early budget would be an opportunity to maximize the benefit of being in place and talking optimistically about a future paved with more jobs and higher wages.

But an early budget and an election in May would require more weeks of parliamentary sessions. As this week has shown, it risks more chaos, division and derailed legislation.

Best obvious plans could be blown apart by backbench defectors, or worse, another own goal.

David Speers hosts Insiders, which airs on ABC TV at 9 a.m. on Sundays or on iview.

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