Opinion: Turnbull teetering on a deadly threshold

Resources Minister Matt Canavan: Waiting dutifully for the High Court to rule on the matter of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce's citizenship.

Resources Minister Matt Canavan: Waiting dutifully for the High Court to rule on the matter of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce's citizenship.

Some time between the postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage and its determination to hang Labor for something akin to Soviet-era sedition by conniving with New Zealand, the Turnbull government went from being embattled to being ridiculous. 

Consider the announcement of that same-sex marriage postal plebiscite that would cost upwards of $120 million, and in which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull would be forced to declare himself "a strong leader" in a way that can only mean he is not.

The point here is not merely that this plebiscite is bad policy. It is that it is so self-evidently cynical, so nakedly an act of political game-playing for internal Liberal Party reasons that it ceases even to be clever. Consider that in order for this thing to be legal, the government will have to convince the High Court it is a statistical exercise, rather than a serious vote. That is, the government will have to tell the court the "plebiscite" is something quite different to what it has been telling us it is. It will do this with a straight face, and might even win. But if it does, it will only be because the government has misled the electorate.

Next, consider the farce surrounding Barnaby Joyce's New Zealand citizenship. This slew of unwitting dual citizens in our Parliament may well develop into a constitutional crisis, and may in time threaten the Coalition's one-seat majority. But it is only a political crisis right now because the Turnbull government has contorted itself into a mass of contradictory positions. Back when only Greens senators were in this situation, the Coalition couldn't resist lambasting the Greens as an amateur operation that couldn't do basic paperwork. Now that it turns out the Coalition's own cabinet can't either, there is simply nothing to say.

While Resources Minister Matt Canavan (pictured) is waiting dutifully for the High Court to rule on the matter, when it comes to Joyce, the Prime Minister has simply decided to make the High Court's decision for it, saying: "The Leader of the National Party, the Deputy Prime Minister, is qualified to sit in this house, and the High Court will so hold!"

Sure, double standards are the bedrock of politics, but even then some modest subtlety is required. To go from insisting all dual citizens must be shamefully banished from the Parliament, to demanding that the High Court exonerate them in a few weeks is worse than unpersuasive. It's grimly funny.

Waleed Aly is a Fairfax Media columnist.

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