Opinion: End-of-days feel a poetic way for government's year to end

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Friday 3 December 2021

By Mark Kenny

A version of this article was originally published by The Canberra Times.

The Federal Government ended the parliamentary year in much the same way it began - battling controversy, uncertain of the pandemic's trajectory and beating its chest about its solid performance.

It was a torrid final fortnight. Scott Morrison lost face when MPs and senators crossed the floor, and suffered humiliation when he was forced to retreat over his voter ID or "voter suppression" bill as Labor had dubbed it.

But the loss of three current or former ministers in one week created an end-of-days feel.

Two through ignominy and another, apparent exhaustion. Or is it better described as exasperation?

Health Minister Greg Hunt's departure had been long rumoured but as an honourable and competent minister, his loss will be felt most keenly by Morrison.

Notably, Hunt made his retirement official in the House of Representatives after question time, honouring the advice of his late father to be a parliamentarian first, and a politician second.

Indeed, Hunt listed his love for "this place", and for the Liberal Party, explicitly in that order.

The Victorian had been the daily face of the federal government's COVID response and was personally responsible for managing colossal amounts of new information which would inform Commonwealth decision-making along with states, drug companies, and health experts.

There were obvious mistakes - the biggest being Australia's woefully tardy vaccine procurement - but none were made through laziness.

The resignation of former high-flying attorney general Christian Porter falls more into the inevitable category. Porter's position had looked untenable since outing himself as the subject of an historical rape allegation, but it then became impossible through his acceptance of anonymous donations to fund a defamation case he initiated.

While Hunt's seat of Flinders could easily fall given its slender 5.6 per cent margin, his standing as an MP will give his party some hope of retaining it.

Not so Porter's Perth seat of Pearce (5.2 per cent) which, while improved by his resignation, is considered a likely Labor gain.

In the very week when Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins released a damning report about the sexist culture in politics, fresh allegations relating to Education Minister Alan Tudge were the final straw.

Morrison showed he had learned something from his Porter dilly-dallying, this time moving quickly to stand Tudge aside to initiate an independent inquiry.

The inquiry, to be headed by the respected former Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Vivienne Thom, also now presents Morrison with a headache in terms of timing. Presumably he won't want to reawaken the sexism in politics controversy at election time.

That, however, may be another thing out of his hands.

Mark Kenny is a political analyst for The Canberra Times. He is a professor at the ANU Australian Studies Institute and host of the Democracy Sausage podcast. 

Updated:  7 December 2021/Responsible Officer:  Institute Manager/Page Contact:  Institute Manager