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Dutton’s nightmare Morrison problem is also an opportunity

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Dutton has criticised Morrison for appointing himself to five secret ministries. One shadow minister, Karen Andrews, has even called on Morrison to quit parliament because his moves undermined the integrity of government. On the face of it, there should be support in the Coalition for a vote to reprimand him for what he did.

But a censure motion is the most severe form of rebuke the House can deliver and there is no record of one against a former prime minister. While the motion does not impose any practical sanction on Morrison, it is a public shaming on a grand scale. Liberals and Nationals feel it goes too far when they should be defending their time in power and their former leader.

One Liberal, Bridget Archer of the Tasmanian seat of Bass, is still considering which way to vote. But Andrews, who was so critical of Morrison, regards the motion as a stunt. Warren Entsch, a Liberal who goes his own way when he feels the need, will not for vote it.

“I think what he did was totally inappropriate,” Entsch says of Morrison. “But he’s copping it enough as it is and a censure motion won’t achieve anything.”

Russell Broadbent, a Liberal who crossed the floor against the Howard government on asylum seeker laws, will not cross the floor on this. He says the motion would diminish the parliament because it is a token exercise and a political play by Labor.

“The ultimate censure motion has been delivered by the Australian people, and it could not have been more direct or more humiliating,” he says of the outcome of the May election.

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Broadbent dismisses the idea that the Liberals should find a way to put the Morrison era behind them and move on. “It’s already behind us and we’ve already moved on – it’s called loss of power,” he says.

The report on Morrison’s conduct by former High Court judge Virginia Bell concluded that his behaviour was corrosive to trust in politics. The case for a censure is clear. Albanese is likely to gain a form of moral authority for the outcome when crossbenchers side with Labor. The outcome will be even more emphatic if a single Liberal uses this moment to repudiate Morrison.

The Liberals and Nationals will have to leave Morrison behind them one day. Now is not that time. Bruised by the election loss and struggling to set a new course, the Coalition will stand by its former leader even though they know that doing so will only make it harder for them to recover from defeat.

Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.



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