Michaelia Cash and losing in the art of politics

Michaelia Cash

There are many finer points within the art of politics, but the most critical point is to choose your battles carefully and choose them wisely. Some battles, you have to lose, in case you lose sight of the bigger picture and forget what your political purpose is.

I’m not saying anything original here: it’s classic advice from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War from 500 BC but, nevertheless, it’s advice the Liberal–National Party should have followed – that is indeed, if anyone is advising this government. Their biggest failing, ever since Tony Abbott became Prime Minister in 2013, is their intent to win every single skirmish, spot fire and not give an inch of territory to their political opponents. In politics, there is a skill in knowing which issues should be let go, and to understand the losing causes that are simply not worth losing political skin over.

 

This ‘winner-take-all’ strategy is killing this government and it’s difficult to understand their rationale and what they’re hoping to achieve through it. The Minister for Jobs and Innovation, Michaelia Cash, is one of the most incompetent and error-prone politicians ever to walk on the stage of Parliament House in Canberra, yet minister after minister has lined up in the past 24 hours defending her recent egregious behaviour, and continuing their failing strategy of attempting to absolutely win every single battle.

At the recent Senate Estimates Committee on Economics, Cash was asked what seemed to be a routine question from Labor’s Doug Cameron about new staffing positions within her office.

Just when people might think this government could not stoop any lower, Cash, apropos of nothing and for no great reason, launched into the now infamous tirade threatening to announce allegations of rumours of sexual affairs between Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, and his staffers.

Perhaps on another sensible day in Parliament, a wise government would decide to retreat, consider, lay down and accept defeat in this battle. But it’s critical to remember, this is not a wise government, and can’t behave in a manner to save itself.

The allegations Cash made, under parliamentary privilege were indefensible, only a week after Nationals MP, Barnaby Joyce, resigned after an affair with one of his media advisors, and the allocations of public funds to cover-up the politically damaging relationship. At this time, the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, also claimed he wanted Parliament House to be a more supportive environment and workplace for women to work in. That idea didn’t seem to last too long.

Turnbull decided to defend the indefensible during Parliament Question Time, supporting Cash and announcing she had been “bullied and provoked” by Senator Cameron into make her statements.

Assistant Minister to the Treasurer, Michael Sukkar and Minister for Education, Simon Birmingham, offered support to Cash, saying there are more important matters to talk about, and refused to take Cash to task.

Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, also decided to chip in, defending Cash and declaring “there’s a history of problems in Bill Shorten’s personal life” and railing against Shorten’s divorces, before having to admit that he was well into his second marriage too.

Of course, the political strategy here is to lower all sides of politics to a base level, pull everyone into the mud ring, murky the waters and throw the pox on both houses. We might have forgotten this, but didn’t Malcolm Turnbull promise to lift the tone of political debate in this country and “respect the intelligence of the electorate”?

A more politically sensible approach would have been for Turnbull to request an apology from Senator Cash, and to mention words along the lines of her allegations of sexual affairs in Shorten’s office not being indicative of his government’s actions and intentions. This is what leaders do, and this action certainly would have diffused the issue.

But in keeping with its intent to win every single battle, the government decided to attack, ensuring the issue lingered for far longer than it needed to and, eventually, lost the battle as well. And it showed that this is a government that has simply nothing left to offer and, when it’s not busy with megaphoning tales about African gangs in Melbourne or Dutton’s allegations of “millions of refugees coming to our shores”, it will retrieve all of types of vicious rumour and sexual innuendo from the bottom of what is now a very deep barrel.

And for some other unknown and bizarre reason, Cash instructed parliament’s security staff to block the media from recording her path towards the Senate Estimates Committee room with a whiteboard screen. The time for Cash and her entourage to walk from the passage way to the room would usually take about six seconds and blocking the path ending up being the story of the day in the media and re-broadcast on all the mainstream media news broadcasts, as well as being re-posted many times through social media.

And, of course, we will post it here.

It wasn’t clear why Cash was trying to win this minor battle, but this footage dovetailed into a new media story of the government trying to avoid scrutiny and a general narrative about a government out of control and spiraling deeply into a deeper level of incompetence.

Another piece of news to come today was about the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, claiming $32,000 in family travel for her boyfriend, David Panton, but deciding not to declare his financial interests because, according to Bishop, he’s neither a spouse or a de facto partner. But if he’s not a spouse or de facto partner, why is the taxpayer providing for his travel? It’s another example of the Liberal–National Party being too clever by half, and hiding behind the technicalities of the parliamentary entitlements system which, more honestly, should be described as ‘spend as much as you like, whenever you want, on whoever you like’. At least that would be a more accurate definition.

This government has the stench of a rotting 20-year tinpot regime, bereft of ideas, unsure of which battles to fight, incompetent and inept, merely navel gazing and, as Bishop’s spending habits show, claiming whatever public monies they can before they face the inevitable electoral wipeout they’re surely facing at the next election.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, I hate the idea of the ‘pub test’ in politics. It implies that to solve our many political problems, all that’s needed is for politicians to make a quick trip to the local beer barn and ask a few barflies – who have probably been there all day long – what they think about the state of the nation and develop policy based on what a few inebriated blokes in the back bar have to say, in between darts being thrown, or balls sinking into the pool table.

 

But this government is failing the pub test, and every other test for that matter. The expected electoral thrashing that’s coming their way will be thoroughly deserved.

Michaelia Cash is not worth saving. She has made too many mistakes and is causing too much embarrassment to the government. She’s a power broker within the WA branch of the Liberal Party, and she recruits financial donors to the party. She’s financially valuable to the party, but is a massive political liability. In trying to win this minor skirmish against the Labor Party, the Liberal Party has managed to lose both the battle and the war.

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Eddy Jokovich

Eddy Jokovich is a Sydney-based journalist and producer of many books, magazines and handbooks and has worked as a war correspondent, journalist, lecturer in media studies and production.