01September 2016
by Peter Hartcher

Christopher Pyne's night of chaos failed Malcolm Turnbull and he has to go!

The successful Labor ambush of the Turnbull government in the House of Representatives on Thursday afternoon will not, in itself, bring down the government, but it's highly instructive.

The lessons learned?
Government loses three votes in the House...

The Turnbull government was embarrassed by three lost votes in the House of Representatives on Thursday.
One, that the election campaign has not ended. Bill Shorten considers that the contest for power has merely moved into a new phase, fought on the floor of the House instead of on the hustings.

Shorten does not accept that Turnbull has won a mandate. He considers that his policy to hold a banking royal commission is every bit as valid as Turnbull's position not to. In Shorten's view, the election did not settle anything.

Two, that Shorten intends to wage a campaign of political guerrilla war against the Turnbull government. He will not allow the government a moment of peace but will harry and harass it, probing every vulnerability.

He's not doing this from a position of strength but of anxiety. Although Labor regards Shorten to have waged a strong election campaign, he is not taking any chances.

Have you noticed all the publicity about Anthony Albanese and his life story recently? It's not mere sentimentality. He's positioning for the leadership. Albanese and his supporters will swoop if they see an opportunity. Shorten will fight hard and deny him an opportunity.

The post-Howard restiveness of Australia's political parties – the syndrome of revolving-door leadership – lives on in both Labor and Liberal parties.

Three, that the government is not up to the contest. Christopher Pyne, as manager of government business, is responsible for losing control of the House. He should be replaced.

The government was guilty of complacency. It won its first vote on the floor of the House by 75 to 73, when Labor first tried to pass its bank royal commission proposal.

Relaxing vigilance as members looked forward to their escape to the airport for the end of the sitting week, they allowed Labor an opportunity.

Pyne has long experience and knew the stakes yet failed.

Four, aggressive Labor tactics can embarrass the government and rattle its nerves, as they have on this occasion. But they cannot bring down the government unless the Coalition is guilty of internal division or indiscipline.

Malcolm Turnbull has taken heart from the fact that Bob Menzies used to say that the best majority is a majority of one. Why? Because it demanded strict discipline.

The Turnbull government has just demonstrated indiscipline. It cannot afford to make this a habit.