No-one wants to have the argument. It's late. We are all tired. This bloke's been a massive pain in the bum. So let's just tell the media we've done the disciplining.
That's where we were on Tuesday night with media outlets reporting Prime Minister Scott Morrison had rebuked the member for Hughes Craig Kelly.
Kelly is a goose gone wild. The squawking and honking at every available opportunity. The preening. The strutting.
Anyhow, we enthusiastically believed. With zero evidence, we accepted the PM had hauled Kelly in and given him a good talking to (readers, on Thursday morning, the Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt told the ABC's Fran Kelly that sometimes the Prime Minister brings in people for a preliminary discussion before the actual chat. This, in a home setting, is known as the warning before grounding).
Meanwhile, a hardworking mother of three knew enough about the behaviour of children to take matters into her own hands. Do not, under any circumstances, write to me to say that I mustn't mention children when speaking of women in powerful positions. Bugger off. The care and management of children is a valuable asset in all circumstances.
Anyhow, it is 8am Wednesday. Tanya Plibersek, the woman who should be Prime Minister (and I will never resile from that position) is always on, operating, alert. She'd just done a spot on Sky, then a doorstop on the appalling job losses at universities followed by a question on Craig Kelly. She answered: "He needs to shut up. And if the Prime Minister had any spine, he would tell him to do so."
Then some genius said: "Well you can do that, he's right behind you."
The entire encounter was not more than three minutes but Kelly wore his best fringe. I can tell you right now that Tanya did not leave that encounter with any regrets. That was a pent-up "telling off" right there. Not for her thinking of the smart retort about half an hour later at the bottom of the staircase, l'esprit de l'escalier. Not for Tanya, the rueful rehearsed conversation with her husband about what she should have said to the manic member for Ivermectin.
No, just as we sat in front of the replays of Julia Gillard's misogyny speech in 2012, way too many of us watched the interaction between Plibersek and Hughes on Wednesday night and well into Thursday. We would not be lectured about public health by this joke of a man. Not now. Not ever.
As Kelly comes up to her in the media corridor, he who is not her toenail, asks if she is making any big announcements. Gaia knows if Plibersek practised this (part of me hopes she did, another part of me prays that she just decided she wanted to dismantle him and it came all in a rush of genius spontaneity). She goes yes, "I was actually telling them that the PM has to stop you spreading these crazy conspiracy theories."
We have all had a Craig Kelly in our lives. They barrel towards you like a bull in a pen, talk over the top of you, repeat their inanities endless and come right up to you.
He repeated that we should take the advice of an immunologist whose expertise is in treatment for bronchitis (ok, he didn't say the bit about bronchitis - but I looked Robert Clancy up. He's a genius at bronchitis, not a genius at COVID. Also, in hot news, the vice chancellor of the University of Newcastle Alex Zelinsky has flung Clancy and Kelly under a bus. "The University does not consider Robert Clancy a subject matter expert on COVID-19." Ouch.)
Thing is, Tanya Plibersek was having a ball. Composed, funny, dragging her entire family into the debate. (Turns out Tanya's mum, in her late eighties, still lives in the Hughes electorate. Plibs grew up in the Sutherland Shire. Her brother still lives there, his daughter, her husband, their kid. (Hughes Labor. Can't you recruit one of this family? Leadership is in the blood.)
Anyhow, after Tanya destroyed Craig (she even mugged for the camera with trademark grin), obviously Morrison had to act and called in Kelly for his "disciplinary action" and made to write lines.
Unfortunately those lines did not include: "I will not promote hocus pocus. I will not promote hocus pocus." Instead a bland statement from his office saying he supports the government's vaccine rollout: "I have always sought to support the success of our nation's public health response during the pandemic," he said. Limp as.
Despite all the hullabaloo and the unexpected confrontation with Tanya Plibersek, someone hid a bunch of posts - maybe seven or eight - on Kelly's hyperbolic Facebook page. Still remaining are ones promoting Clancy as a COVID expert, Ivermectin, hydrochloraquine and global cooling among other conspiracies.
As Tom Kristensen, Hughes activist and Facebook analysts observes: "They always hide a bunch to disguise something they really want to hide."
Also, what's with politicians blocking constituents on their social media? It's almost like Kelly doesn't like a level of debate such as the one espoused by Kelly's fellow traveller Matt Canavan. Sure, block the death threats but surely suck it up if your voters disagree with you. That's actually what we call debate, not just some loudmouth MP untrammeled.
We have all had a Craig Kelly in our lives. They barrel towards you like a bull in a pen, talk over the top of you, repeat their inanities endless and come right up to you (gets right up in your grill as the young people say). The finger pointing. The demonstrable lack of listening skills.
Tanya Plibersek gave a class in how to discipline and dismantle a raging lunatic. That is, a person who is not the leader of her party taught the Prime Minister exactly what to say and how to say it. He was so out of practice with disciplining the members of his party that it took him 30 minutes to do what she did in three.
Where possible, employ a mother to keep order. She's had practice. And Kelly is, for the moment at least, grounded.
- Jenna Price is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University and a regular columnist.