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Analysis: An awful realisation dawns on the Morrison Government

Scott Morrison started talking on Tuesday morning and it seemed for a while as if he didn't kno..

Scott Morrison started talking on Tuesday morning and it seemed for a while as if he didn't know how to stop.

There he was at Beefy's Pies in Kunda Park in Maroochydore, fresh off his "Scomobile" bus, wearing the silly hat and being fair dinkum, which on this particular occasion involved a seemingly stream of consciousness monologue that started with which horse he was backing to win the Melbourne Cup (Youngstar, it came sixth) through to why Labor was evil.

External Link: @ScottMorrisonMP:#MelbourneCup at Caloundra, QLD

Along the journey there were lightning stops at all the old reliables of the Coalition credo: infrastructure, getting taxes down, getting electricity prices down, taking on the big energy companies, reducing small business paperwork.

Just in case any of us were wondering, the Prime Minister also gave us a run down on what a few of his ministers were doing that day.

Busy, busy, busy. Your government at work.

"We're here because we're not just backing Youngstar today, we're backing small and family businesses all around the country, our Government," the Prime Minister told journalists.

"And that has been the theme over our last five years.

"You know, that's how Australia's economy is going to continue to grow", Morrison said. "By ensuring we all work together."

External Link: @ScottMorrisonMP: We're backing Queenslanders by connecting up the north to the south to keep the economy moving.

You heard him right: the economy is going to continue to grow by us all working together.

This from the leader of a Government which is so divided there is almost no significant policy issue that the Prime Minister can safely discuss.

Malcolm Turnbull's appearance on Q&A on Thursday night might have reminded everyone that the disunity ended his prime ministership, but the greater problem is not what he says, but the day-to-day reality that Mr Morrison has inherited, and is constrained by: exactly the same divisions.

Malcolm Turnbull names "the insurgents" behind the leadership spill.

But the real problem is…

But that is not the problem Australia faces, Morrison argued.

"I don't want to see an industrial landscape in this country which throws back to the 1970s with strikes and call outs which is suffocating our economy."

Yes, it appears the much greater risk is of industrial mayhem that, implicitly, would apply if Labor was in government and at the behest of the trade union movement.

There has been lots of commentary through the week about Scott Morrison and his bus, and his visit to the races, and the whole "average bloke" thing.

A blue bus with the prime minister's face on the back and political slogans written across the windows

Politicians on both sides have observed that the risks in the strategy involve giving up the one thing a Prime Minister has that the rest of them don't: authority and a certain gravitas which comes with the job.

But there is really something more important going on at the moment in politics which all the discussion about the tactics of the bus trip only really illustrate.

This is that at some point in the past few weeks, since Wentworth, the awful realisation has dawned on the government that it is actually, really, heading for defeat at the election.

Sure, it's been behind in the polls for a long time. But sometimes in politics a combination of factors changes the mindset from one in which losing is likely, but still hypothetical, to a reality.

A composite image of Kerryn Phelps, Dave Sharma and Scott Morrison.

Loss a real possibility now

In this case, the combination of factors boil down to: time — there's now only effectively a few months at best until polling day; the fact that the Coalition has played its highest risk card and changed leaders and things have just gotten worse; and the Wentworth by-election has raised questions about both Scott Morrison's campaigning skills and preparedness to bend serious policy issues to political circumstances.

Normally, governments lose their minds and do the really crazy policy announcements — for example, Kevin Rudd announcing he was moving the navy in 2013 — in the final days of a general election, not in a by-election months before.

The Senate comes back next week for a sitting, then there is just one more parliamentary fortnight before the summer break and every MP knows that once that break is over, we will be into an election campaign, declared or otherwise, with an election needed to be held by May.

As if to highlight the sense of doom, people within the government were speculating earlier in the week about holding a half-Senate in order to delay the House election: purely to hold on to government for that little bit longer.

Why call an early election?

The two real scenarios for election timing are for a May poll, or for the Prime Minister to call a slightly earlier March election, which would be called when the political year traditionally kicks off on Australia Day.

Why, you might ask, would anybody bring forward an election they think they are going to lose?

Someone who has been in this position — of leading a government that believed it was doomed — observed this week that, in such a situation, you gaze forward over the months towards a later date, you contemplate how you are possibly going to fill them when you have no real policy options, you contemplate how on earth you keep the messages on track and your colleagues disciplined, and it weighs you down like a physical burden.

How do you limp on until May? You just want it to stop.

And calling an election campaign holds the prospect of both disciplining your colleagues and creating a momentum that may have been eluding you.
You know how much trouble the government is in now because, not only do the internal divisions mean there is not a lot of room for Scott Morrison to move (other than by splashing money around after an improvement in the mid-year review of the budget is announced), but because suddenly everyone has started to focus on what a Labor government would look like and do.

Policies that go back to before the last election are being scrutinised afresh with all sorts of alarming predictions of economic collapse attached to them.

Bill Shorten, standing on a stage in front of a bus with Labor advertising, speaks to a crowd on Sunday June 26, 2016.

What if Labor won?

Bill Shorten, meantime, is giving serious speeches about foreign policy and his frontbench is calmly batting back the policy scares.

The pragmatists of the business community are presuming now that Labor will win the election and are brushing up their contacts and their briefs on what that would mean for their operations and the economy more broadly.

Coalition MPs are still finding ways to explain how they can win the next election. And the reality is, of course, that stuff just happens in life and politics which transforms the playing field — like the Tampa incident — which mean it can't be ruled out. Just ask NSW Labor and Luke Foley.

But this does not change the reality that a psychological bridge has been crossed in federal politics in the last few weeks, and everything that happens from now on will be seen from the other side of the stream.

Laura Tingle is 7.30's chief political correspondent.

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Downing Street have bigger problems over the Brexit deal than losing the PR war

There are a lot of Conservative MPs who are worried tonight that Downing Street is losing the “air w..

There are a lot of Conservative MPs who are worried tonight that Downing Street is losing the “air war” over its deal with the European Union very badly – and many journalists agree.

Its true that anyone watching 24-hour television has had a near-uninterrupted line of critical voices about Theresa Mays accord with the EU27. But the bigger problem is not that they didnt have, say, James Cleverly, going to bat to explain why Mays deal is a good one for rolling news.

Its that the number of people on air who have already said things on live TV or radio that make it hard to see how they could possibly vote for Mays deal is already above the number that May would need to lose to be in danger. The combined Conservative-DUP majority is 14, which means she needs to lose seven MPs to be in danger. The DUP has come out against the deal so she is already trailing by three. Add Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, who have both gone on air to denounce the deal and she is down by five.

The government is not just past the point where its majority on paper is in danger, but where it is outside the area where any realistic Labour rebellion can save it. Theres a tendency to underrate the chances that Conservative MPs will rebel because so many other confrontations with Conservative rebels, whether they be pro-Europeans or Brexiteers, have ended with the rebels voting with the government. But crucially, in each of those cases, the government made a concession to buy off those rebels. In some cases, sure, those concessions turned out to be worth less than would-be-rebels thought they were. But in all of those cases the government didnt have to put those concessions into a binding treaty that could be examined by MPs before they vote. In this case, they do.

And thats why while it is a problem for the government that they are losing the air war, it is a tiny one compared to the much bigger problem that they do not as it stands have a path to passing their Brexit deal through the House of Commons and it is tricky to see where they are going to get one.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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No Nut November: the insidious internet challenge encouraging men not to masturbate

What may appear to be just another weird and bizarre internet challenge is underpinned by extreme mi..

What may appear to be just another weird and bizarre internet challenge is underpinned by extreme misogyny and threats of violence.

“Well done to the soldiers fighting on the front lines. And a moment of silence for our fallen comrades,” reads one post. “We must stay strong and continue the challenge for them,” reads another. “For my brothers still out there, we have survived almost two weeks,” reads a previous post, “Two weeks of self-determination.” “I will NOT lose this battle!” reads another.

These posts may read like an army motivational board, a triathlon training forum, or even, generously, a gamer thread. However they belong to one particular forum on social network Reddit that has exploded in popularity over the last several years. Growing out of the annals of 4chan and similar internet message boards from the early noughtie, as well as being built on deeply traditional, historically puritanical views, the movement has grown to the tens of thousands, with hundreds posting on the sub-Reddit every single day. The forum is No Nut November: the internet challenge encouraging men not to ejaculate (or “nut”) for an entire month.

The rules of No Nut November (often abbreviated to NNN) are relatively straightforward: the key being not to orgasm for the entire month of November. Details of the rules on the sub-Reddit include lines like “ONE WET DREAM ALLOWED”, “NEBs (Non-ejaculatory masturbation) and pre-cum are allowed”, and “SEX IS A DISQUALIFICATION, BIRTHDAY SEX INCLUDED”. A motivational post on the sub-Reddit, giving helpful guidance to those participating, includes advice such as “DONT. EDGE.”, “Keep your bladder empty”, and “Dont be alone”.

No Nut Novembers popularity has grown so rapidly in the last few years that it has managed to penetrate the mainstream. Burger King even tweeted on 1 November referring to the challenge: “him: its only a month / waifu [slang for a female partner derived from anime and manga]: ………..[crying emoji]”. On one Reddit forum dedicated to adults trying to relate to young people, a post with over forty thousand upvotes read, “Yep guys. Burger King just acknowledged No Nut November.”

him: it's only a month
waifu: ………..

— Burger King (@BurgerKing) November 1, 2018

This may, initially, appear to be your average, dumb, internet challenge; something bizarre and fleeting, like eating a teaspoon of cinnamon or chugging a gallon of milk within an hour. The type of online trend that, although perhaps unpleasant, is nothing but harmless. However, NNN is different. While some participating in the month-long abstinence period may be doing just that, simply participating; the challenge has a darker side and often dangerous consequences that affect more people than those just participating. I spoke to Girl on the Net, a sex blogger who has written extensively on topics such as masturbation, sex-positivity, and the effects of porn on our mental health – key to the No Nut November philosophy. She shed a light on how No Nut November began.

“NNN came out of the NoFap movement, which began on Reddit, with guys encouraging each other to give up masturbation,” she says. Indeed, the NoFap sub-Reddit began in 2011, when one Redditor discovered a study that argued men who abstained from masturbating saw huge spikes in their testosterone levels after a week. While initially built merely on this foundation, the NoFap community has become linked to wider sexism and misogyny, reducing women to sexual objects to be attained or abstained from and shaming sexually active women. And this is no niche philosophy. The NoFap sub-Reddit, at the time of writing, has 377,000 subscribers.

“There is a lot of myth and misogyny mixed in with what is essentially a fairly harmless personal challenge” Girl on the Net tells me. “I suspect most people doing NNN are doing it for personal reasons; they think they're spending too much time wanking, for instance, and want to see if they can spend their time on other things.” (more…)

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An agreement in Brussels is only the beginning of Theresa Mays problems

Britains divorce from the EU is approaching its Westminster endgame. With a Brexit deal agreed betwe..

Britains divorce from the EU is approaching its Westminster endgame. With a Brexit deal agreed between both sets of negotiators in Brussels, Theresa Mays cabinet will meet tomorrow afternoon to consider a draft of the withdrawal agreement. Ministers also will meet the Prime Minister individually this evening.

While we dont yet know what the text of that agreement says, we do know what Brexiteer cabinet ministers dont want to be in it: an Irish border backstop in the form of a “temporary” customs union that cannot be left unilaterally by the United Kingdom. The best that the EU will offer is a multilateral “review mechanism”, not a time limit or one-sided break clause.

We also know what the DUP will not accept: a backstop that only applies to Northern Ireland, or provisions within a UK-only backstop that apply to Northern Ireland alone. A customs union in and of itself wont prevent a hard border, so the latter will be needed at the very least. By the DUPs uncompromising logic, this is merely disingenuous new packaging for the same unacceptable reality.

Reports from Brussels suggest the deal will contravene both of those red lines. Just as important as the word “deal”, however, is “draft”: nothing will be finalised until it is signed off by the EU Council this month or next. If the shape of the agreement is as expected, we should also expect Cabinet resignations. May then faces a choice between ploughing heedlessly on with a deal that cannot win the support of her executive, to say nothing of the legislature, or returning to Brussels to beg for more concessions. Neither path looks likely to generate a happy outcome.

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent.

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