Modia Minotaur

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

`Mean, Tricky and Out of Touch'

Well, it happened. For the first time since John Howard came to power, a Liberal senator, Gary Humphries, crossed the floor over the overturning of the ACT's Civil Unions Bill. And, according to the ABC's Jim Middleton on Insiders this morning, there was further unrest behind the scenes, with MPs accusing the PM of being `devious' and effected by hubris, one even reportedly quoting the famous 2001 assessment of the government: mean, tricky, and out of touch.

I'm in total agreement, of course, but the most interesting of these is the final point. Is the Prime Minister genuinely falling out of touch with the Australian public - the Midas touch with which he has been credited for so many years? Polls demonstrate that the issue of gay partnerships is at the very most, supported by most Australians and, at the very least, not even on the radar of many more. The question is: why did Howard create such trouble for himself? The overturning of the Civil Unions Bill wasn't an Opposition wedge or the like - it was a problem of the Prime Minister's own making, which caused considerable disquiet within his own government. I'm not saying there were many votes in it, but Howard's ability to keep his dissidents in their boxes has previously been well known. Again, not only have they been let out, but on an issue that the Government has made an issue, and which they just as easily might have turned a blind eye to with minmal impact to themselves.

Was it to win the support of Family First senator Steven Fielding, at one point (before Barnaby Joyce scraped over the line) thought to be the man who would hold the balance of power in the Senate? After all, it was Fielding's vote who got the overturning of Civil Unions over the line after Humphries crossed the floor. If this is the case, why was such effort expended and trouble caused? Is the Howard-controlled Senate not looking as safe as Howard thought?

It's perhaps too early to say for sure, but it will be interesting to see, in the near future, whether this emerging trend continues. The much-delayed vote on the asylum seeker bill (which could, and I believe will) be held over until after the Winter session will be a strong indicator.

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