July 13th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Transgender birth certificates: No sex, please, we're Victorian

EDITORIAL Laws, sporting bodies, the AHRC: Abolishing women's rights in sport

CANBERRA OBSERVED Did Turnbull attempt the constitutional gambit?

FOREIGN AFFAIRS China kills prisoners on an industrial scale to obtain transplant organs

NATIONAL AFFAIRS A Q&A to clarify issues in Cardinal Pell's appeal

REFLECTION ON GENDER Male and female He created them: A teaching moment

HISTORY OF SCIENCE Faith and reason and Father Stanley Jaki, Part 5: The cosmos in the New Testament

CULTURE OF DEATH Melinda Gates and other wealthy lemmings lead the race to dusty death

EUTHANASIA Death comes to the Garden State: A blunt view

ASIAN HISTORY Dien Bien Phu: Curtain raiser to bigger conflict

HISTORY AND RELIGION Faith in reason alone gives more heat than light

BOOK REVIEW Roadmap to the law and transgenderism

HUMOUR The last act is bloody ...

MUSIC Dull Tune? Arrangements can be made

CINEMA Tolkien: Captures the storyteller but not the man

BOOK REVIEW We have nothing to fear but fear itself

BOOK REVIEW The days of calm before the storm

NATIONAL AFFAIRS High power prices lead to more deaths of elderly

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Did Turnbull attempt the constitutional gambit?

by NW Contributor

News Weekly, July 13, 2019

Revelations about a threatened constitutional crisis amid last year’s Liberal leadership meltdown are providing an added layer of strangeness to what is already a surreal period in Australian politics.

That Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wanted to use the Governor-General to stop his rival Peter Dutton from taking his job, as revealed by The Australian’s Paul Kelly, is an extraordinary revelation.

Even more stunning was the reported standoff between Mr Turnbull and his Attorney-General, Christian Porter, who, according to Kelly, stood firm against the Prime Minister of the day, advising there was no role for the Governor-General in intervening in a matter that he attested was solely the decision of the Liberal party room.

The revelations come amid the ceremonials of the 46th Parliament and the smooth transition of viceroys – from one former general to another former general – in the Federal Parliament, following the Morrison Government’s re-election at the hands of the “quiet Australians”.

Last year’s leadership dramas seem such a long time ago and even more bizarre now that Scott Morrison’s authority has been so emphatically established over the Liberal Party and the Coalition Government.

A veritable shelf of books on the Turnbull government are hitting the bookshops and excerpts are being released to major newspapers, though at least one had to be pulped after Labor’s unexpected election loss, while others had to be rewritten and retitled.

We are still awaiting the final word from Mr Turnbull himself, which is certain to be a page-turner, as he kept copious notes, paper and electronic.

Paul Kelly appears to have had high-level access to the most senior figures in the former government, concluding: “Mr Turnbull’s determination to involve the Governor-General in the leadership crisis last August provoked a showdown between Mr Turnbull and Mr Porter, with the Attorney-General telling the Prime Minister his stance was “wrong in law” and would involve giving the Governor-General misleading advice.

Kelly reported that the clash occurred in Mr Turnbull’s office on Thursday, August 23. The Attorney-General carried a prepared resignation letter in his pocket, aware that such a difference on a fundamental issue related to Mr Turnbull’s survival could see a request for his resignation.

Mr Porter warned Mr Turnbull that if the Prime Minister went public at a media conference putting the view that Sir Peter would not be able to commission Mr Dutton as prime minister, then Mr Porter, as Attorney-General, would feel obliged to publicly repudiate Mr Turnbull’s position, according to Kelly.

“If you go out and say that publicly, then I will feel obliged to reject that position at law,” Mr Porter told Mr Turnbull, in defiance of the Prime Minister. Any such event would have been disastrous for Mr Turnbull’s effort to save himself.

Mr Turnbull told Mr Porter at the start of their meeting that “the Governor-General would not commission” Mr Dutton if he was elected leader of the Liberal Party because of doubts about Mr Dutton’s eligibility to sit in the Parliament due to an alleged conflict with section 44(v) of the Constitution, relating to his wife’s child-care business receiving a government subsidy.

It is an extraordinary fly-on-the-wall account of a conversation between a Prime Minister, with his back against the wall, and his Attorney-General, who refuses to acquiesce to the PM’s demands.

In the end, nothing comes of the clash. Well, nothing substantive.

It is unclear whether the Prime Minister actually sought official advice from Sir Peter, though it is strongly inferred that he did have at least one conversation with him.

Peter Dutton’s second challenge fizzled as he was overtaken by the Morrison forces, who were far better organised and prepared, and Scott Morrison was elected PM.

Malcolm Turnbull had made a last-ditch, desperate effort to save himself using the most dramatic possible avenue – the Governor-General – but he was rebuffed by the Government’s most senior legal office.

The episode (if true in detail – and we are yet to get Mr Turnbull’s full version) shows how unhinged things got during the leadership fracas.

At least Christian Porter comes out of the events with his reputation intact. His standing firm against what must have been enormous pressure suggests Mr Porter has strong leadership qualities and strength of character.

For the Liberal Party, which has risen like a phoenix since the removal of Mr Turnbull, the further this period fades from the current news to the history books the better.

No one wants to go back to such a period of dysfunction again.

All you need to know about
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Last Modified:
April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm