• Rikki Lambert

Pandemic parliament returns amid SMS soap opera


Political editor Rikki Lambert thinks federal Labor's most energetic attacks will be on Coalition SMS own-goals

Fresh from a Christmas - New Year period on the hustings, federal and Victorian politicians and South Australian upper house MPs return to the corridors of power to debate everything from the pandemic to petty grievances.


Prime Minister Scott Morrison spent the latter part of last week batting away historical slurs shared on SMS about him by now former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian and the notorious 'unnamed' (state or federal) cabinet minister.


Federal Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce stepped up to give the anonymous source a good talking to - via the national media - until it surfaced that he, too, had given the PM a rip in his own SMS.


Joyce offered his resignation, which the PM rejected, and deposed former Nationals leader Michael McCormack opined amid national cricket coach Justin Langer's departure that Langer's was not the resignation that should have occurred over the weekend.


It's just not cricket as federal and state parliaments resume, although the SA government is resisting a push by the majority of lower house MPs to join their upper house colleagues for an unprecedented pre-election argy-bargy. South Australia goes to the polls on 19 March and usually remains on the hustings from December until about May.


It's May Day for the federal government though as the polls look catastrophic, so they hang on awaiting a hoped-for bump in voters' opinion on the back of a March federal budget.


The national transport grid failed over the last week with flash flooding in South Australia disconnecting Western Australia and the Northern Territory's rail and road links - other than a far longer trip through Mount Isa, or by sea.


National unemployment is plummeting and if the electoral ghost of John Howard was to ask right now 'who do you trust to keep interest rates low?', Reserve Bank of Australia governor Phillip Lowe would have his hand high in the air. The PM is now even aiming for unemployment to have a 3 in front of it, which would be the lowest level since the 1970s.


Media speculation continues over a possible Russia-Ukraine conflict although everything Flow has seen suggests this is improbable.


The federal debt is ballooning past $1 trillion but Treasurer Frydenberg's 2021 predictions of full employment and a self-repairing budget look prophetic in 2022, although the wage pressure that was expected to build is yet to eventuate. Inflation, however, is building helped in no small part by burgeoning petrol and diesel prices on the back of a thirsty global market.


Yet it is entirely likely, come Tuesday - that is, after the pollies have their party room meetings on Monday - when Messrs Morrison and Albanese lock horns at the dispatch boxes in question time, the questioning will be all about the soap opera of what slurs MPs have levelled at their own side on various messaging platforms.


For what its worth, the witch hunt for the 'leaker' in these instances is more likely to identify a disgruntled former staffer or two than a sitting MP. Or, that will at least be the fall guy or gal.


Cast your mind back to 2021 and the raging debate about a 'toxic culture' in Canberra, particularly attitudes towards and treatment of women.


It looks very likely that the 2022 federal sitting year will show that very little has changed.