• John McDonnell

Simmering discontent on the government backbench


The government leadership group has been cock-a-hoop after their big-spending re-election budget was generally well received. But there are rumbles of discontent emerging from the troops that may destabilise the government’s rails run to the election, before winter is over.


On Sunday, it was reported that Liberal MP’s Jason Faliinski, Tim Wilson, Dave Sharma and Katy Allen were calling for borders to be opened earlier than the middle of next year.


The prime minister has claimed that the date has been set by the medical experts. But two of those experts, Victorian chief medical officer Brett Sutton and former commonwealth deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth have now called for early border opening.


The prime minister wants to keep the border closed so the voters will feel secure but there is a chance that the medical advisers will leave him high and dry.


More concerning for Scott Morrison must be the dissatisfaction with his leadership among a number of backbenchers. There are two major complaints from the backbench: firstly, that the prime minister lacks conviction and is dragging the party too far to the left and secondly that the backbench is excluded from making any input into policy. As one backbencher told FlowNews24 these days policy is made by interest groups and the budget was framed by focus groups.


Queensland backbenchers, in particular, are unhappy with the fact that the Prime Minister has shifted his ideological position. They say the Prime Minister sees the only purpose of government is to win elections. Unhappy backbenchers argue that the purpose of coalition governments should be to reform the economy and the legal system to enable greater choice for citizens and business. They argue that the Prime Minister should have used the pandemic to reform the tax and transfer system, the federation and the national security strategy. They say openly that the PM lacks conviction.


As one Queensland backbencher told FlowNews24,

“Scott has lost the plot. He has crab-walked the executive to the left while the rest of the Coalition has stayed true to their values”.

The other significant grievance is that backbenchers were totally excluded from the framing of the budget or indeed any of the significant decisions that have been taken in relation to the pandemic. They argue that this deprives them of the opportunity to put their constituents' interests forward in the framing of policy. They say this is particularly important in relation to responses to the virus where there are significant differences between regions.


The backbenchers complain that state premiers have more influence over policy than they do. They say that state Labor premiers are only interested in their urban voters because that’s where state elections are won and lost. This means a large number of regional electorates are treated badly or neglected.


There are no threats to Scott Morrison’s leadership at the moment because the executive is rock solid behind him. However, the discontent is strong enough for some backbenchers to contemplate voting against the budget, especially if Labor agrees to support it. This would have major ramifications for the prime minister’s election campaign, as Labor will have a field day with the government disunity as it throws the criticism of the government back at them.