Narrow road

The narrow road of the Trojan horse

A hung parliament after the next election appears to be a real possibility, bolstered by this week’s contentious debate on religious discrimination. Among the winners could be the Greens and others who have opposed a campaign to roll back years of Australian anti-discrimination laws in a bid to pander to a strong fundamentalist Christian minority.

The Morrison government found itself in shambles after its underhanded attempt to turn religious freedom into a stick to be wielded against Labor failed for two important reasons. Anthony Albanese read the mood of the nation and parliament better than an arrogant and incompetent Scott Morrison. But the Labor leader was only able to reverse the situation with the prime minister because Australia has a hung parliament.

It has become the rule rather than the exception that Australians refuse to give a ruling party a majority in both houses of parliament. Rarer is the emergence of a suspended chamber of representatives. In the early hours of Thursday morning, five Liberal MPs demonstrated that the effective majority of a single government representative made it as vulnerable as any minority government.

These moderate liberals were appalled by their own government’s attempt to turn a religious freedom bill into a law allowing religions to discriminate against children on the basis of their sexuality and gender identity. They were joined in this horror by most of the cross benches and the Labor Party.

The difference between the Greens and Independents and Labour, however, is that the opposition vying to be Australia’s next government needed to be more tactically adept. They had to avoid the trap that Morrison was trying to set for them. And in this, Albanese succeeded spectacularly. Instead of Labor looking divided on the issue, we saw the Prime Minister losing control of his own government’s numbers at home and too scared to test them in the Senate.

Left on the record as we enter a hard-fought election is Labor’s support for an anti-religious discrimination bill. Albanese was confident he could piece together the numbers in the Senate to ensure that the bill’s flawed “declarations of belief” clauses did not become a vehicle for protected religious hate speech.

A clue that Morrison was putting his own political survival ahead of the consequences of this cobbled-together pastiche came in a lengthy plea to his members and senators in the party hall. He warned them to unite behind him or lose the election. He said, according to the official briefing, “My call to you is to come together and think of our team.”

Tasmanian backbench MP Bridget Archer was unconvinced. She would not put “the team” ahead of hard-won equality protections in Australian federal and state laws. Archer later told parliament she could not support the bill as “it allows for discrimination” and would erode “benchmark anti-discrimination laws in Tasmania”.

Greens leader Adam Bandt and others on the cross bench unequivocally rejected the flawed anti-discrimination bill. Bandt confronted the prime minister with the kind of consequences that would produce. Consequences that an overwhelming majority of Australians reject, according to a YouGov Galaxy poll carried out at the end of last week.

“Even with your amendments,” Bandt said, “a school can fire a single teacher for being pregnant if it goes against the school’s beliefs; a doctor can tell his patient that his illness is a punishment from God because he is homosexual; and a student can be expelled for being transgender. The sting was in his question: “We all support protecting religious groups from victimization, but why are you using the last days of this parliament to pass off a Trojan horse of hate that will mean more discrimination, not less? “

Morrison’s response did little to allay those concerns, although he did take the opportunity to remind Parliament that it was the Labor Party that legislated the exemptions to the law 11 years ago. sexual discrimination which authorize the situations cited by Bandt. This in itself begs the question of why the Australian Christian lobby pushed for more protections than it already had and specifically why Morrison was happy to open this Pandora’s box. Especially after Ruddock’s Religious Freedom Review found Australians were already practicing their faith freely.

Probably the most compelling explanation can be found in leaked texts by former New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian, where she said Morrison was more concerned with ‘political petty points’ than people. .

The closer the election gets, no doubt this obsession will become even more acute. And on that point, the latest Essential poll again raised the likelihood of a hung parliament. His methodology does not distribute undecided preferences. Thus, his preferred result of the two parties has the coalition at 46%, Labor at 47% and the undecided at 8%. Other polls put Labor in a landslide winning position but theoretically distribute the undecided cohort.

This 8% will certainly decide the next election. They are unlikely to all follow the Labor Party route, although if we take the other polls as a guide, enough of them would see Anthony Albanese becoming Prime Minister. Yet the Labor leader was well advised in his village hall to warn his MPs against thinking they had already won.

Morrison told his village hall that he was ‘going to lead and I ask you to follow me once again to an election victory’. This week has shown supporters losing faith, but a key part of his strategy is to relentlessly attack Albanese and focus on the economy in the hope that the Covid-19 virus does not return to the race.

The prospect of a hung parliament is behind the government’s other tactic to pretend that a vote for Labor is a vote for Greens. It is based on Julia Gillard’s formal alliance with the Greens and other crossbench members when she formed a minority government in 2010. This partnership led to a price on carbon, which has been demonized as a ” carbon tax” and which the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, attacked every day this week in parliament.

Anthony Albanese has already ruled out any formal alliance with the Greens or anyone else. Adam Bandt says he’s not looking for such an arrangement. The Greens believe they have offered an olive branch to the Albanians by placing no conditions on their support for a Labor government. They did, however, outline a key amendment they would seek when Labor comes to legislate their climate change policies.

They would call for a freeze on 112 new coal and gas projects that have yet to start, pending the next UN climate summit in Egypt at the end of the year. Bandt says that every time the government attacks the Greens for wanting to phase out coal and gas, all it does is clash with public opinion and give them votes.

The Greens are running hard in three Queensland seats: Griffith, held by the Labor Party; and Ryan and Brisbane, held by the Liberals. Bandt says there was an intensive door-to-door campaign, helped by the fact that there were a few weeks lost due to shutdowns in the Sunshine State.

The party is confident it is well placed to land an additional Senate seat in South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales. Political monitor Resolve found that 62% of Australians do not support any new coal mining and the Greens’ 75% emissions reduction target by 2030 has the most popular support across all parties. Bandt says that even if Labor were a majority government in the House of Representatives, it would certainly be a minority in the Senate with the prospect of the Greens holding the balance of power in their own right.

If Morrison thinks the Greens are negative for Labour, they return the compliment by claiming on billboards in targeted seats: “If you vote Liberal, you get Barnaby. The Nationals frontman is pictured holding a lump of coal.

Barnaby Joyce doesn’t need much help from the Greens to be a drag on the government. He admitted in a brooding Nationals party room on Monday that he made a big mistake by sending a damaging message to Brittany Higgins, calling the prime minister a “hypocrite and a liar.”

How Joyce can continue to serve as Morrison’s Deputy Prime Minister is amazing, despite the Prime Minister’s “Christian forgiveness” of him. Joyce’s posts went on to say that he came to his conclusion about Morrison “over a long time,” “never trusted” Morrison, and doesn’t like “the way he seriously rearranges the truth in lie”.

At the National Press Club this week, Higgins put Joyce’s comments in the context of implying he did not believe the Prime Minister’s denial when Morrison said he knew nothing of her alleged rape just yards from his office in the ministerial wing.

Whether voters believe Joyce’s effusive assurances to parliament that he now stands by Morrison because “he’s a great prime minister doing a great job” remains to be tested. It does little to avoid defeat or, at best, to form a minority government.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 12, 2022 under the title “The Narrow Road to the Trojan Horse”.

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