The Politics of Betrayal
A tough week for the PM made harder because it seems he cannot trust or rely on his own MPs.
It's been a ratty week in parliament and a particularly bad one for the Prime Minister.
I say that, not because he had to pull the Religious Discrimination Bill but because he has been betrayed and let down by his colleagues.
Let's remember that the Religious Freedom laws were promised over four years ago. The government have had that long to consult, work out a position and agree how to proceed.
That stewardship was originally the responsibility of former AG Christian Porter. I can only assume next to nothing was done during his tenure because it shouldn't take years to work out a policy.
When he fell thanks to the disgraceful hatchet job of their ABC, the responsibility fell to Senator Michaelia Cash, to create an acceptable solution.
Whatever process took place, it culminated in a presentation to the Party Room where, after a lot of debate, I am told there was almost unanimous support for the Bill.
The Prime Minister, keen to ensure everyone's position was crystal clear posed a marriage like question, "if anyone does not support this Bill please speak now".
NSW wet MP Trent Zimmerman was the only one to speak up and reserve his right to vote against it.
Now I'm no fan of Zimmerman and the factional clique he runs with in NSW but he did the right thing. He stood before his colleagues and stated his position.
I am told another MP, Bridget Archer from Tasmania, had left the Party Room and so didn't speak up but managed to let her colleagues know via the media that she too was opposed.
Again, after Zimmerman's position was stated, the PM asked his team if everyone was on board.
I am told there was at least 15 seconds of silence while the PM looked all of them in the eye.
No one spoke.
Now let's not pretend that this wasn't a contentious bit of legislation.
Loads of MPs had reservations about it.
Liberals tell me the likes of MPs Angie Bell and Warren Entsch weren't particularly comfortable with it but both recognised it was an election commitment and that the PM had worked hard to develop a workable compromise and in order to honour that commitment.
Others, worried about the potential problems attached to codifying freedoms also came on board.
That's to their credit as it was to all others that spoke their mind and honoured their own commitment to support the legislation or let their colleagues know they couldn't.
But there is no excuse if it turns out that those who voted against it on the floor of parliament had not given the Prime Minister or their colleagues a proper warning that's what they were going to do.
I know many Liberals who are now furious at Katie Allen, Fiona Martin and Dave Sharma for having crossed the floor.
Senor Liberals have now revealed to me that the PM met with left faction liberals at 10pmthat evening and was upfront with them about his position and the importance of a win for the government.
His position was pretty clear and was along the lines of ' if you don't support the bill, I will go and adjourn the debate and we can deal with it after the election".
My sources tell me the PM received the necessary assurances for him to have confidence in proceeding with the Bill.
I am further told that both Allen and Sharma told the PM they would not break ranks if that caused the bill to fail.
However, as only a single other MP had to cross the floor for the bill to be defeated, if that were to happen then they ( Sharma and Allan) would join them.
Earlier today I contacted the offices of these three MPs seeking clarity on these issues and what they had promised the PM prior to discussing them with you tonight.
Dave Sharma told me that he honoured his word and that his conscience is clear.
I haven't heard from the others.
Don't get me wrong, all of these MPs are perfectly entitled to cross the floor. It's a time-honoured tradition and one I wholeheartedly support.
However, their actions need to be queried because if they didn't inform the Party room or the Prime Minister of that intention then it is a betrayal of how the system works.
Not to telegraph your punch, on something as important as this Bill was to the PM, would be a betrayal of their leader.
If the Prime Minister starts to question the trust he can place in his own colleagues, then their electorate might be next
But that wasn’t the full extent of the PMs problems.
Despite a House of Representatives Whatsapp group message to all MPs from the Prime Minister at 1.50am imploring them to remain in the chamber and not to go back to their offices, and another one at 2.06am , and yet another one at 3.10am, one MP must have thought the rules didn't apply to him.
Newly minted Sturt MP, James Stevens, former chief of staff to Premier Steven Marshmallow, went MIA.
He missed an important division and a search party was sent to find him. He was eventually tracked to his office but the door was locked.
The Adelaide Advertiser reports:
They were frantically banging on his office door and were forced to call Parliament House’s security team to gain access to his office.
Liberal sources told The Advertiser Mr Stevens…needed help just to walk out of his office, with one arm slumped over a colleague’s shoulder.
Stevens denies this version of events and said that:
“People trying to claim I soiled myself are being ridiculous.”
He may be referring to me.
What I find ridiculous is that Stevens has already put forward different versions of events.
First, he told the media that he heard the bells but didn't think he was needed for the division.
Later he told them that he left the chamber at 3.15 and "was a human being who dozed off in his office".
Both of these stories cannot be true.
Incredibly, this MPs behaviour suggests he either didn't notice, or else he blatantly ignored multiple requests from the PM, the most recent sent just five minutes earlier.
Instead of honouring his colleagues and the Prime Minister with his presence, he instead goes back to his office, locks the door and almost immediately falls into such a deep sleep that he is unable to be roused by bells, his phone ringing or security pounding on his door.
Something doesn't smell right about that to me and my sources are unequivocal in telling me something didn't smell right when the search party eventually got into the room either.
But not all the PMs problems are due to betrayal of his own side. He’s kicked a few own goals too.
The decision to increase funding to the ABC was a simply extraordinary one and has left many Liberal supporters feeling betrayed themselves.
What I can exclusively reveal tonight is that this latest decision didn't even merit a Discussion in Cabinet.
Apparently, a prior first funding proposal was rejected by Cabinet and then this one was a decision of the Expenditure Review Committee. It was listed at the back of the cabinet documents as a decision of a cabinet committee and supposedly didn't even warrant a discussion in the cabinet room.
That ERC comprises ten senior members of Cabinet, including the PM and treasurer and leader in the Senate.
It's been put to me, by a very senior member of government, that only Peter Dutton expressed his concerns about the decision to give even more taxpayers money to an institution seemingly devoted to bringing down coalition governments and pushing leftist propaganda.
Whether he was a lone voice or even if he was joined by others, the fact that it got through that body and then the Cabinet with nary a whimper beggars belief.
It was an own goal of monumental proportions and has cost the government dearly in terms of trust within their voter base.
So while many feel the government has lost touch with their own supporters, the conduct of some Liberal MPs suggest they aren't even honouring themselves anymore.
And that's a far bigger problem than one or two deeply flawed policy decisions.