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The vice of Wentworth: White motions and Jerusalem blues

Independent Australia
18 Oct 2018, 16:52 GMT+10

The upcoming Wentworth by-election is generating all sorts of political noise as Morrison's Liberal Party desperately tries to hold its place, writes Dr Binoy Kampmark.

THE SCOTT MORRISON SHOW of shambles took a few curious turns this week with a transparent attempt to fish for votes in the impending by-election in Wentworth coupled with a crude sense that his party has lost a degree of literacy. One dealt with dangling the possibility that the Australian embassy in Israel be moved to Jerusalem, the other was a feat of gross bungling in the Senate over a motion sponsored by that magician of mischief, Pauline Hanson.

The latter point was instructive in one fundamental respect. Australia's first act as a newborn state of Britannic sentiment and inclination was to pass the Immigration Restriction Act, which dictated the essentials of "whiteness" till the 1970s. On Monday, a strange echo could be heard in the Senate chamber with the motion moved by One Nation leader Pauline Hanson calling representatives to acknowledge the "deplorable rise of anti-white racism and attacks on Western civilisation" while also insisting "it is okay to be white".

The motion was defeated by 28 votes to 31, hardly a stellar margin. Coalition representatives had happily gone along with sheeplike obedience to back One Nation. The idiosyncratic explanations farmed from the asylum of political apologetics followed. Attorney-General Christian Porter revealed that his office had actually instructed Coalition senators to vote in favour of the motion, though it was something that took place without his knowledge. 'The Government Senators' actions in the Senate this afternoon [Tuesday],' came the head-scratching comment, 'confirm that the Government deplores racism of any kind.' Journalist Latika Bourke somewhat sensibly inquired of the Attorney-General what the statement even meant. No reasons were forthcoming.

The peculiar song and dance piping from the AG's office ceased with Morrison's correction. It was a "regrettable" incident.

Senator Mathias Cormann then perked up:

"We should have opposed the motion when it came up in the Senate [on Monday]."

His reasoning was similarly skewed and did little to restore confidence in government representatives: The vote for the One Nation resolution had taken place due to an "administrative error". Porter, left high and dry, scrambled to blame members of his own office. It had all been a botch-up in the kingdom of paper.

Such instances of folly suggest the degree of attention elected representatives in Canberra are giving to their tasks at hand. The resolution had been on the books for weeks prior, with a fairly unambiguous meaning.

It took Labor Senator Penny Wong to direct a historical observation to her colleagues on the other side of the chamber, reminding them that the resolution had, in it, the vestige of Right-wing sloganeering drawn from U.S. groups "to help convert people to the cause of neo-Nazis and groups like the Ku Klux Klan".

It also gave Hanson her cue to bruise the Morrison Government:

"This Government is either so worried about the outcome of the weekend's Wentworth by-election that they feel the need to pander to Left-wing extremists that believe it's not okay to be white, or they blindly vote on important motions, bills and legislation without proper consideration."

Hanson's identification of Wentworth as a consideration in government calculations was unusually sharp. In another move suggesting how desperate the Morrison Government is to retain Malcolm Turnbull's former seat in the by-election, the Prime Minister floated the idea that the Australian embassy up stakes in Tel Aviv and find new digs in Jerusalem. Dave Sharma, the Liberal Party's candidate for the seat is, after all, former Australian ambassador to Israel, while that electorate can count some 13 per cent of voters as Jewish.

As Morrison observed:

"The Government will carefully examine the arguments put forward by Australia's former Ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, that we should consider recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, without prejudice to its final boundaries, while acknowledging East Jerusalem as the expected capital of a future Palestinian state."

Morrison proceeded to reiterate that "sensible things" had been said by individuals of Sharma's experience, and while Australia supported "a two-state solution", things had not "been going that well, not a lot of progress had been made." Sharma subsequently revealed to RN Breakfast that the Prime Minister had "discussed this with a number of people, myself included."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, sensing another convert to the line of thinking that Jerusalem be deemed the appropriate capital by foreign powers (so far, only the United States has done so) felt justified:

Representative of the Palestinian delegation in Australia, Izzat Abdulhadi, was aghast.

This was all a matter of "short-term political gain":

"Breaking with decades-long bipartisan support and defying international law and multiple U.N. resolutions would make Australia an international pariah on this important foreign policy issue."

But money, more than principle, talks to the Morrison caste of thought, and Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki suggested that Australia's position, were it to officially change regarding Jerusalem, threatened trade and business with other states.

Other states in the Muslim world were also sharpening their notes of condemnation. Indonesia, lying to Australia's north, is currently finalising a free trade agreement with their neighbour which is slated to be signed by the end of the year. A senior Indonesian source, according to the ABC, suggested that Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne had been swamped by messages of concern from her Indonesian counterpart, Retno Marsudi. Would a delay of the signing take place as a result? Not so, according to Indonesia's Trade Minister, Enggartiasto Lukita. The pot, however, had been stirred.

The noise surrounding the Wentworth by-election has reverberated through the hollow that is Morrison's make-as-you-go policy of survival. These are the antics - desperate, shallow, expedient and crude - of a Government in need of its final deliverance. The Prime Minister has made the fundamental mistake in assuming that speed and the illusion of keeping busy somewhat act as appropriate substitutes for policy.

Dr Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

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