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Snakes in the garden of Eden-Monaro

May 8, 2020 • 15m 44s

Infighting within the Coalition has been exposed as candidates emerge and then quit in the race for the seat of Eden-Monaro. Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno on the divisions laid bare, and the first real test for Scott Morrison’s popularity.

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Snakes in the garden of Eden-Monaro

219 • May 8, 2020

Snakes in the garden of Eden-Monaro

RUBY:

What’s the saying Paul, with friends like that you don’t need enemies?

PAUL:

Or if you need a friend in politics, get a dog.

--

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

Infighting within the Coalition has been exposed as candidates emerge and then quit in the race for the seat of Eden-Monaro.

The by-election is reopening divisions across the Liberal and National parties.

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno on the first real test for Scott Morrison’s popularity.

--

RUBY:

Paul, let’s start with the first candidate to flag his interest in Eden-Monaro - John Barilaro. Tell me about him.

PAUL:

Right, well John Barilaro is a National, he’s the deputy premier in NSW, he’s from what you could call the Barnaby Joyce wing of the National Party. And based particularly on this week, but not only this week, you’d have to say he’s probably a bit madder than Joyce.

He threw his hand up early on, hoping to grab pre-selection and leap into federal politics; leap obviously then into the federal government.

Archival tape -- reporter:

You’re not ruling it out though, you’re considering it seriously?

Archival tape -- Barilaro:

I’m not ruling it out. Absolutely considering it. I’m putting serious thought into this...

PAUL:

But it didn’t quite pan out that way. In fact, it got stranger and more ugly. The federal leader of the National Party, Michael McCormack, not surprisingly didn’t whole-heartedly support Barilaro’s nomination.

Archival tape -- reporter:

Get your popcorn ready, these Nationals know a bit about feuds. McCormack vs Barilaro looks set to rumble across the Great Dividing Range for some time to come.

PAUL:

Pretty soon, vitriolic text messages were leaked to the media in which McCormack was accused by Barilaro of failing to support him because he felt threatened by the NSW upstart. Barilaro himself was suspected by his colleagues of leaking the messages.

Archival tape -- reporter:

Controversy has erupted today in the race for the seat of Eden-Monaro. Leaked text messages from John Barilaro to Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader in Canberra Michael McCormack…

PAUL:

The text messages said McCormack had failed his team and failed as a leader, and even went so far as to say Mc Cormack wasn’t his leader and never would be.

Well it got stranger when some of McCormack’s federal colleagues in the parliament chimed in with the criticism. Then on Monday, Barilaro withdrew.

Archival tape -- reporter:

A backflip worthy of an Olympic medal - Andrew Constance finalising one of the shortest political campaigns in history.

PAUL:

And yet another story leaked, saying he had called Andrew Constance a very rude four-letter word for breaking their understanding and putting his hand up to run.

RUBY:

Right. So, you mention Andrew Constance. Remind me who he is and how he fits into this whole...can we call it a mess?

PAUL:

You could call it a mess - I like the Italian word ‘imbroglio’, which is more than a mess but anyway. Andrew Constance, Ruby, is the transport minister in NSW.

Archival tape -- reporter:

The script was written for Andrew Constance to be the shining knight of Eden-Monaro, set to win a seat from the federal opposition for the first time in 100 years.

PAUL:

He’s been in state parliament for 17 years and won preselection, despite then state director - this is a little-known factoid - Scott Morrison’s opposition to his candidacy. Well he represents the NSW south coast seat of Bega, which overlaps Eden-Monaro - and which was badly affected by the summer bushfires.

Constance rose to national prominence for the role he played in the New Year’s eve bushfires when his home at Malula Bay came close to being engulfed in flames. But he made headlines after Scott Morrison visited Cobargo in the electorate after the prime minister’s return from that notorious Hawaian holiday.

Archival tape -- Cobargo local:

How come we only had four trucks to defend our town? Cos our town doesn’t have a lot of money but we have hearts of gold Mr Prime Minister

PAUL:

You might remember the prime minister was sworn at by the locals and told that he deserved to be ashamed of himself.

Archival tape -- Cobargo local:

Nah you’re an idiot mate, you really are.

Archival tape -- another Cobargo local:

You won’t be getting any votes down here, buddy!

PAUL:

Well Constance said Morrison got the welcome he deserved.

Archival tape -- Constance:

I didn’t even know he was coming, and I haven’t had a call from him. So to be honest with you, the locals probably gave him the welcome he deserved.

PAUL:

Look, he’s nominally a Liberal moderate, a Berejiklian ally, which is part of his problem in this race. The conservatives were determined to challenge him in the person of Fiona Kotvojs. Now Fiona is the candidate who achieved a 2 and a half per cent swing against Labor’s Mike Kelly last time.

Well on Wednesday morning Constance was due to go on Fran Kelly’s ABC breakfast show, to talk about the fact that just 12 hours earlier he announced he was going to run for the seat.

Archival tape -- Frank Kelly:

Later this hour we’ll be joined by Liberal candidate Andrew Constance who’s also facing criticism from within the Coalition as he takes on this marginal seat…

PAUL:

But at the last minute he pulled out of the interview.

Archival tape -- Frank Kelly:

Unfortunately, Andrew Constance told us just shortly before we were set to speak to him he was unavailable…

PAUL:

He told a producer he had something to sort out, and by midday, he confirmed he was no longer running. Well basically, he said, he woke up and saw the front page of the Daily Telegraph, where John Barilaro was calling that four-letter word, and he turned to his wife and said I’m not doing it.

Archival tape -- Constance:

Waking up this morning I said to Jen, like, yknow, bugger this for a joke. Why would I sit here for the next five weeks defending that type of front page, you can’t

PAUL:

He told ABC South Coast: I read the paper this morning and thought 'Nah, stuff that.’

Archival tape -- Constance:

When I said that politics is stuffed in this country, and some of the people in it need to have a long hard look, I mean it. And we’ve now seen that. In such a great way on the front page of the Telegraph. I mean, like, stuff that

PAUL:

The fact is Ruby, he was no shoo-in to beat Ktvojs in the preselection, and it looks like he wasn't up for a humiliating fight.

RUBY:

We’ll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:

Paul, two high-profile candidates have pulled out of pre-selection for the seat of Eden-Monaro, so where does that leave the conservatives?

PAUL:

Well, nominations close today, so we’ll know pretty soon. We do know that Ktvojs will put her hand up, we’re not sure who else may. Jim Molan - the ultra-conservative senator - he’s ruled himself out. In fact, there’s a theory - I think it’s more than a theory - that Molan actually put his hand up to serve notice to both Barilaro and Constance that they weren’t going to get an easy run. Late on Wednesday Nine news reported that former prime minister Tony Abbott could be a candidate.

Archival tape -- reporter:

Now as if this byelection was not enough of a circus already, there is one more surprise: senior conservatives were canvassing support to put up none other than former prime minister Tony Abbott in the seat...

PAUL:

Apparently he was being pushed by Liberal Party uber-conservative vice president Teena McQueen. It didn’t take long Abbot to rule it out though. Labor can of course hardly believe its luck. As Chris Bowen put it, this is an unseemly brawl over who could get a better job for themselves at the very time when the community has so much more to really worry about.

RUBY:

Paul, tell me about what’s happening on the Labor side. They’ve already got someone locked in to run? Can you tell me about their candidate?

PAUL:

Yeah Ruby, so the seats held by Labor and the local member has been Mike Kelly. He first won in 2007 with the Rudd landslide, lost it in 2013, and then won it back in 2016. He’s a military veteran, he has resigned for medical reasons associated with his service in Somalia and Afghanistan. And he was tearful about it at his farewell news conference. He called the decision gut-wrenching.

Archival tape -- Kelly:

I really do regret, and it has broken my heart to have to do this, it’s gut-wrenching as I’ve said, and I wouldn’t be doing it if it just wasn’t absolutely necessary to do it now.

PAUL:

Well Labor’s candidate to replace him is the Bega Valley mayor Kristy McBain. She won praise for her leadership in the bushfires, and she was out of the blocks the day after Kelly quit. Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s been out campaigning with her.

Albo: An outstanding local representative, who is passionate about making a difference for the people of Eden-Monaro

He detects there is unhappiness in the seat with the Liberals, both at the state and federal level, and is hoping to mobilise a protest vote. And he sees this as a chance to send a message as it were to Scott Morrison. It’s a pretty big ask given that Morrison is also riding pretty high due to his Coronavirus leadership.

PAUL:

But McBain has been critical of the government’s handling of the bushfires, which is a huge issue still in the seat. She says people are still sleeping in tents after losing their homes and it’s getting colder and colder.

Archival tape -- McBain:

Governments are gonna need to step up, and the ATO should be involved, they have everybody’s details, they have everyone’s bank accounts, it is time to just pull out postcodes and say, here’s your 1000 dollars...

PAUL:

McBain says promised support has not arrived from the much-touted multibillion-dollar stimulus and relief packages, the ones immediately after the bushfires. And she’s also highlighted flaws in the COVID-19 response, which have left businesses and thousands of workers and families without government help.

Archival tape -- McBain:

The federal government should have had the foresight to think, if it’s gonna be unprecedented, what are the backup plans for us...

PAUL:

The sprawling electorate, which spreads around the ACT and runs all the way to the Victorian border, really is a test. It has been hit by so many of the issues that Morrison has staked his leadership on - drought, catastrophic bushfires and now the virus. More than that - it has a kind of mythic status as a bellwether, having been won by the party that formed government in every election between 1972 and 2013.

So it’s a big deal, whatever happens.

RUBY:

Paul, Labor won the seat at the last election, but only barely - do they think they can hold onto it?

PAUL:

Well Ruby Labor is determined to give it their best shot, the loss of the popular Kelly's personal vote could be an insurmountable block. But in Kristy McBain they have a proven performer well known in the southern more conservative voting end of the electorate.

It’s possible Mike Kelly’s vote was helped by the widespread belief that Bill Shorten was going to win. But the bellwether was wrong this time…maybe voters will want to correct that and go to the party of government as I’ve said has been their habit since basically 1972.

Well there is a view in Labor that the seat really is on the boundaries ‘marginal Liberal’, and they got lucky. But ultimately the government will choose when the by-election is held - some say it could be late June early July, and some in Labor believe that if it’s looking bad for Morrison they will use the coronavirus as an excuse for holding off on the poll.

We’re also waiting to hear if the Nationals are going to run and who they’ll put up as a candidate. But I’ve got to say in a byelection little things are magnified, and you’d have to say what we’ve seen this week is far from little things.

RUBY:

Paul, thanks so much for your time today.

PAUL:

Thanks so much Ruby. Bye.

--

RUBY:

Also in the news...

Previously redacted findings from the Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse have revealed that Cardinal George Pell was quote "conscious of child sexual abuse by clergy" as early as 1973.

The report found that it was “incumbent” on Pell to do what he could to remove a paedophile priest in 1989.

Pell told the Royal Commission he was handed a list of grievances and allegations about the priest, Father Searson, in 1989, but believed the Catholic Education Office and the then-archbishop of Melbourne, were dealing with the allegations.

**

The national cabinet will meet today to discuss easing restrictions, however, state premiers in Victoria and NSW have warned that social distancing measures will not be lifted by Mothers Day.

**

And the coronavirus cluster linked to a meatworks in Melbourne has spread, with a further 13 cases being identified on Thursday.

The outbreak at the Cedar Meats abattoir now numbers 62 cases, making it Victoria's biggest cluster.


7am is a daily show from the Monthly and the Saturday Paper.

It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem.

Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief.

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning.

Make sure you don’t miss out by subscribing on your favourite podcast app.

You can find us on Twitter and Instagram, just search for 7am podcast.

I’m Ruby Jones - thanks for listening - and see you next week.

Infighting within the Coalition has been exposed as candidates emerge and then quit in the race for the seat of Eden-Monaro. The by-election is reopening divisions across the Liberal and National Parties. Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno on the first real test for Scott Morrison’s popularity.

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno.

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7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem. Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas. Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

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219: Snakes in the garden of Eden-Monaro