POLITICS

Here Are All The Issues Facing The Government Right Now

It's a bloody long list.

23/08/2017 12:21 PM AEST | Updated 23/08/2017 12:22 PM AEST
Fairfax Media
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at Parliament House on August 14

Malcolm Turnbull is not having a good run lately. Plummeting poll numbers (18 Newspoll losses in a row, but who's counting?), the ever-present and undying whisperings that he is forever just minutes from a conservative coup inside his own party; several of those conservative colleagues holding threats of defecting or crossing the floor over his head like a guillotine.

Meanwhile the postal plebiscite hangs like an albatross around Turnbull's neck, he's lost several embarrassing votes on the floor of the House of Representatives and has been forced to water down or abandon many of his key election promises.

That's before we even get to the possibility of his deputy Prime Minister and two more Coalition colleagues being thrown out of parliament under section 44 of the constitution, key crossbenchers pulling their guarantee of supply, and a rising insurgency even further to the right of his right-wing party waving the orange flag of One Nation.

Not much is coming up Malcolm at the moment. Let's take a look.

18 Newspoll Losses In A Row

Politicians are fond of saying "the only opinion poll that matters is the one on election day". But in Turnbull's case, his supporters and detractors alike are keeping close count on his government's support in the respected Newspoll.

They're eagerly counting up to 30, to be precise -- the exact number of Newspoll losses Turnbull cited as a key factor in his challenging former PM Tony Abbott for the top job.

What will happen if Turnbull hits 30 losses in a row? If it happens, we'll find out in exactly 24 weeks time, when that 30th fortnightly poll would be released.

After a tumultuous parliamentary sitting week, where Barnaby Joyce and his Nationals deputy leader Fiona Nash joined colleague Matt Canavan in being referred to the High Court over their dual citizenship, the Coalition dropped another point in the polls to their lowest support since February, when support dipped to just 35.

Under Abbott, the Coalition's numbers were that low just once, in June 2014, and they quickly jumped back above 40. The Government's numbers are now several points below where they were in September 2015, when Turnbull cited bad polling as a reason to remove the sitting PM.

After a brief honeymoon period and an uptick in support upon taking the new PM top job, the numbers have been on a steady decline under Turnbull. People are counting down to 30, and if reports are to be believed, it may be Peter Dutton knocking quietly on Turnbull's door in a few months time to inform him of a leadership challenge.

Andrew Meares
Keep your eyes on Peter Dutton.

The Postal Plebiscite

Turnbull supports marriage equality. He says it all the time. So why would a man who has sympathy for the cause, an accomplished former barrister who knows all too well the challenges that would be faced by the LGBTQ community during such an inevitably divisive and heated public debate (let alone the moral calculus behind allowing a human rights issue to be decided by public vote), agree to hold a plebiscite?

It was an Abbott-era policy, and even though the Liberals voted to install Turnbull and turf out the Member for Warringah from The Lodge, enough of them liked the plebiscite idea that they held Malcolm to ransom. Give us the plebiscite and we'll give you the top job.

Keeping the plebiscite is also apparently in the (secret) deal between the Liberals and Nationals, the Coalition agreement which literally forms the foundation of government. Without the plebiscite, Turnbull would either be turfed out by his own party, or see his Coalition partner desert him.

He kept the plebiscite.

That he dislikes it is obvious. Whenever he's forced to defend the policy he resorts back to the tired lines that "every Australian should get a say", or chides journalists for challenging the idea. "Thanks for the editorial" has become a favourite response.

As expected, the plebiscite has unleashed hate -- the latest, homophobic posters which can be traced back to a neo-Nazi website. Turnbull's response? Hug your friends.

Labor has already framed the debate as Turnbull being personally responsible for the "filth"attacking the LGBTQ community. There's still several months of this to go. We ain't seen nothing yet, unfortunately.

Section 44

This is just a farce now, isn't it? Three Nationals and Coalition colleagues -- deputy Prime Minister, deputy Nationals leader, Resources Minister -- are embroiled in constitutional calamity over their previously unknown dual citizenship of New Zealand, Britain and Italy, respectively.

If Joyce is ruled ineligible, it would likely trigger a by-election in his New England seat, threatening the Government's razor-thin one-seat majority in the House of Representatives.

Joyce won 58 percent of the two-party vote at the 2016 poll, and the Government would be confident of retaining that seat in any by-election. But it opens up a set of possibilities which, in one conceivable yet unlikely set of circumstances, could end up in Labor taking government.

If Joyce is ruled ineligible, and if the Government loses that by-election, it brings into play the House crossbenchers who would need to guarantee supply -- that is, the passage of vital legislation to keep the lights on and country running -- to ensure the Government remains the Government.

In recent days, staunch Coalition ally Bob Katter revoked his guarantee, and Nick Xenophon Team MP Rebekha Sharkie did too (but then quickly switched her position).

Andrew Wilkie and Adam Bandt won't support the Government, leaving independent Cathy McGowan to hold up a Coalition majority. If she flips too, that would leave it open for Labor and Bill Shorten could move a no-confidence motion in the Government, or push to rustle up the numbers in Parliament for them to take government instead.

It's unlikely. But it's one outcome which is now in play due to the citizenship debacle, which is possibly still yet to have claimed its last victim.

Fairfax
Tense times for Barnaby Joyce.

Losing Votes

While many political watchers are counting to 30, it seems sometimes the Government can't count to 76. That's the number of MPs they have, a majority of the Parliament, yet they've lost a few incredibly embarrassing votes on the floor of the House when Labor sprung traps after noticing a lack of Government types in the chamber.

In September, at the end of a long sitting week when a few MPs had taken a sneaky early mark, Labor managed to win three consecutive votes, which almost saw the Parliament endorse Labor's banking royal commission.

Government MPs had already left for home, sparking a mad scramble to get back to Parliament in time to head off the final important vote. It was the first time in more than 50 years a majority Government has lost a vote in the House.

Christopher Pyne, the government's leader in the House, was widely ridiculed and no doubt received a talking to over the embarrassing loss.

Then, last week, it happened again.

Neither vote was particularly meaningful; Labor didn't get anything passed or achieve anything really ground-breaking. But it embarrassed the Government and edged them a little further into disarray.

Internal Division

Of course, the feeling of disarray isn't just being sown by the Opposition.

There's a prominent backbencher, whose name begins with 'T' and ends with 'ony Abbott', who is doing more than his fair share of wrecking, undermining and sniping, despite his promise to avoid just that.

Perhaps Abbott harbours serious ambitions of returning to The Lodge after emerging from the wreckage of his first stint as Prime Minister; perhaps he's just enjoying making trouble for his new boss.

Either way, Abbott mouthing off on 2GB, Sky News and Twitter is doing the Government and Turnbull no favours as he tries to paper over the cracks in his fracturing team.

Add to that the likes of George Christensen and Andrew Broad voicing serious threats to ditch the Coalition and it's not exactly a honeymoon for Turnbull right now.

Fairfax
Tony Abbott has likely never forgotten this moment, the day he was knifed by Turnbull.

There's a lot going on for the PM at the moment, stamping out fires left and right. He'll be happy to see the back of the plebiscite once the results come back in November. But even with that vote finished, the battle will be far from over.

Then discussion will turn to how and if and when the Government will move ahead with marriage equality. A number of Coalition MPs have indicated they would still vote against the reform even if the plebiscite returns overwhelmingly in favour of the change.

The battle will rage on.

And with every fortnight, we tick closer to 30.

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