He has turned the first couple of weeks of parliament into a masterclass in political tactics. The teal program has been subsumed by Labor and, using kindness, Labor is transforming the teals from mavericks into minions.
The first involvement of the teals in policy is a case in point. When the climate bill passed the lower house this week, the teals were left with a minor supporting role. Curtin MP Kate Chaney got to add that it is “urgent”, Goldstein MP Zoe Daniel threw in that it is to be a floor not a ceiling, and Warringah MP Zali Steggall said something about listening to the science.
Minister for Climate Change Chris Bowen graciously acknowledged their “sensitive suggestions”. In history, the teals will not own this bill. Even now, they are a footnote in media reports of Labor’s success. If Labor continues to take this approach, it is only a matter of time before this year’s crop of teals, professionals with interesting alternate careers, begin to regret their life choices. For most of them, entering politics represented a cut in pay and autonomy in exchange for the prospect of making a difference. But what difference is going to be left to them?
Former director of neurology at Royal Melbourne Children’s Hospital Monique Ryan, now a member for Kooyong, demonstrated the come-down this week. From bossing a team that saves children’s lives, she’s been reduced to Karen-ing in parliament about the need to wear masks.
She was allowed barely a moment to bask in this dim glory. Health Minister Mark Butler leapt to his feet from him and, smooth as Savlon, stole the show. “She actually is one of a large number of doctors and health professionals in the parliament who will add enormous quality and depth to our health policy,” Butler said, subtly reminding the public that Labor also counts a number within its ranks.
And, never missing a moment to bring the focus back to the things Labor can do that teals cannot, he added that, “We have extended support to the state hospital system. We have expanded access to fourth-dose vaccines and antiviral treatment.”
The teals are left with the scraps. Former GP Sophie Scamps (who keeps up appearances like Hyacinth Bucket, by insisting her name de ella is pronounced “Scomps”) might welcome the salary as doctors’ practices struggle to remain solvent. But Allegra Spender, who said in her first speech that women like her are “done waiting” and that “we are taking what is ours” will find that what is now hers is nothing more than the opportunity to commute from her waterfront Sydney home to the Canberra biodome on a Dash 8 plane . To be fair to Spender, she has flagged a number of substantial ideas that go beyond the gazumped teal playbook.
North Sydney MP Kylea Tink’s great contribution to the national stage so far has been to propose a name change for her electorate. Unfortunately, the Indigenous tribe she wants to name it after was not the only tribe living in the expanse of her electorate de ella, as a local mayor (the level of government usually concerned with place names) pointed out.
Kylea, whose name derives from the Indigenous word for a boomerang that doesn’t come back, was left looking like a very blunt stick. Is effeminated the right term for women robbed of their power? Because that is the result of the new kinder, gentler politics, as delivered by a prime minister who is surely a prince among men.
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