Peter O’Neill doesn’t expect many backbenchers to follow Brent Rathgeber’s lead.
While Rathgeber makes some reasonable points I have my doubts very many other government MPs will be lining up to publicly criticize the government and its policies. One reason is that political people with all parties are quite tribal and put a big premium on loyalty, so any hint of disloyalty can cause problems. A second is that some might view Rathgeber’s criticisms as grandstanding, which also doesn’t go over well. A third reason is money. As you can see here, there are plenty of financial reasons to stay in the prime minister’s favour.
The minor outbursts of independent thought—from the minor to the profound—are actually starting to pile up: John Williamson, Mike Wallace, Brad Trost, Stephen Woodworth (and his supporters) and David Wilks (however briefly).
Paul argued last night that so long as the criticism has to do with the government not being conservative enough, the backbencher is probably free to speak. Call it the Bernier Principle. Criticize the government in a way that echoes the concerns of the opposition and then you’re in trouble. Call it the Wilks Principle.
The exception to the Bernier Principle might be Mr. Woodworth and his supporters. In that case (I’m guessing), the Prime Minister’s Office might be concerned by the prospect that a significant number—rather than a lone maverick or two—would publicly take a position that the government would rather not have to deal with. It’s one thing, in other words, for Mr. Rathgeber to question supply management, it would be something else if a significant proportion of the Conservative caucus endorsed revisiting abortion law.