Untitled (https://www.afr.com/politics/federal/the-most-abject-failure-of-leadership-in-living-memory-20211014-p58zw4)

Untitled (https://www.afr.com/politics/federal/the-most-abject-failure-of-leadership-in-living-memory-20211014-p58zw4)

There’s so much to contemplate in this development: the humiliation – if the federal government was apt to feel such a thing – of a state government appearing to unilaterally end quarantine arrangements (the responsibility of the federal government) and overseas arrivals caps for starters

It looked for all the world as if the state government was running the joint. Perrottet the premier of Australia. Just as Scott Morrison has been dubbed the prime minister for NSW.

Before Perrottet’s announcement, we had heard nothing this week from the PM since Monday – when he emerged out of The Lodge to once again try to share in the joy of (and credit for) the end of lockdown in NSW.

The Coalition’s climate change policy has not been about net zero, but a big fat zero.

A few hours after the Premier’s announcement on Friday, the PM emerged at Kirribilli House to say, rather pointedly that, actually, the new arrangements would only apply initially to returning Australian citizens, not the repeatedly mentioned tourists and others suggested by the NSW Premier and his ministers.

The granting of visas, and the question of who actually comes into the country, does seem to be at least something the government still controls.

“The Premier understands that is a decision for the Commonwealth government not for the state government and when we believe that is a decision to make, we will make it in that time”, he said, with what seemed a little like gritted teeth.

Just how the credit – or alternatively blame if things go bad – will eventually be distributed for this series of events is hard to say since it grows so increasingly difficult to work out who is actually in charge now.

Accountability has never been the federal government’s strong suit. And whatever you think of the approach various state leaders have taken to the pandemic, you would have to give them credit for mostly fronting up and being accountable for the decisions they have taken to close, or open up, their jurisdictions.

You would have to say it has not been a good week for the government in terms of looking as if it is in control, and particularly not for the Prime Minister.

His conspicuous public absence between Monday and Friday has been filled by the spectre of out of control Nationals insisting – without anyone contradicting them – that it would be the Nationals who set Australia’s climate change policy, not the federal government.

There were huge efforts made to ensure journalists didn’t report that federal cabinet would be making any decisions on Wednesday about its technology “roadmap” to reduced emissions, lest such suggestions incite the junior Coalition partner, whose most senior figures – including cabinet ministers- were cheerfully saying the policy would be determined by the Nationals party room, not cabinet.

Equally, those senior ministers, such as Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who have been making the case that Australia does have to act, have been constructing the argument that the country needs to act because it will inevitably be forced to do so by the decisions of other countries and the international financial system.

And, whatever the government does do in terms of setting, goals, ambitions, or whatever terms of sophistry are employed to not appear to have adopted a target of net zero emissions by 2050, it is not expected to be legislated, lest it produce a humiliation on the floor of the Parliament as Nats cross the floor against it.

Can you think of a more abject failure of political leadership in living memory?

The way politics is supposed to work is that the leaders of parties put forward a case for a policy ambition, and how to achieve it. This policy ambition is based on the greater national interest. The policy is developed and collectively endorsed by the federal cabinet. The prime minister and his colleagues – on the basis of the principle of cabinet solidarity – then seek to persuade their own colleagues, the parliament, and the nation of why a particular policy is a good idea. They remain open to debating and modifying as seems reasonable, but are ultimately prepared to defend the policy and take it to voters at the next election.

There is plenty of talk about the behaviour of the Nationals in this current sorry spectacle in our politics. But there should be more on the abject failure of the Prime Minister to advocate a case for change and instil some discipline in his government.

It is hard not to believe that the policy being formulated is one completely shaped by the bare minimum need to have something to say in Glasgow, and in the electorates now under threat for the Coalition because of its failure to do anything serious about climate change policy for eight years.

The Coalition’s climate change policy has not been about net zero, but a big fat zero.

The Nationals have been arguing this week that their stance is on behalf their electorates which are among the poorest in the country, an argument which neatly skirts around the fact that so many of the stakeholders the Nationals have represented in the past have climbed aboard the net zero bandwagon.

And it is of itself a noble sentiment. But if the Nats were really concerned about this, they might have worked harder within the government to make sure vaccination rates in the regions matched those of the cities, so that those regions could now be benefiting from an influx of tourists from the cities and the injection of seasonal workers.

Federal Parliament returns on Monday. But never has the forum for national debate seemed more redundant an idea.

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