Palmer Palaver: Clive Might Do Tony A Favour On Direct Action

THE OPEN THREAT by eccentric mining billionaire and federal MP Clive Palmer to act to block the Abbott government’s Direct Action policy on climate change — up to and including forcing a double dissolution election over the issue — can hardly be ignored. The fraught subject of “carbon politics” is one on which Australia is a fool to seek to lead the world, not a hero, and in blocking Direct Action, Palmer may be doing Abbott a favour.

The decade-long political shitfight over “climate change” — whether it exists, whether it is natural or man-made, and what (if anything) can or should be done to stop it — has wreaked a trail of political destruction in this country that to date has claimed two Liberal leaders, two Labor Prime Ministers, and ruined a swathe of careers and professional reputations in academia, business, the media and the public service.

This poisonous issue has seen anyone not marching completely in lockstep with those amalgamated in the unanimity of prosecuting the climate change case branded as “deniers” and other insulting terms to suggest they are frauds and charlatans, with disgustingly reminiscent echoes of the language of the Holocaust used to harden the assault; a more recent development has seen the climate change lobby attempt to reclaim control of the debate by suggesting the “deniers” had shanghaied the issue to such an extent that they — purveyors of “the science” — now face the risk of being “burnt at the stake” and similarly quasi-emotive gobbledygook.

That “science” — robustly proclaimed as “settled” by its proponents — looks at least a little shaky, with average global temperatures having failed to rise now for some 15 years, and with some of the wild predictions designed by warriors of the heavily Left-leaning climate change industry (such as Al Gore’s prediction that the polar ice caps will have melted by next year) shown up for the blatant fearmongering and blunt battering instruments they always were.

Of course, to utter a syllable questioning “the science” is to elicit howls of moral outrage from the climate industry and the political Left that make responses to historical moral outrages experienced by Australia and the world look mild; indeed, a couple of weeks ago — in one of the ABC’s routinely offensive QandA expositions of Leftist social thought — there were open suggestions that anyone who did so should be denied airtime on TV or space in print.

Such people were a menace to society and to themselves, the outrage peddlers puffed: some of them, unsurprisingly, senior Fairfax and ABC  journalists. It is ironic the episode considered questions of freedom of speech, with the exquisite oxymoron that the very people chiding those who disagreed with them and suggesting they should be denied the opportunity to air their views were those claiming to be the strongest defenders of the right to speak. With the qualification that nothing they disagreed with themselves was ever said, of course.

I don’t propose to get into a long diatribe on the rights and wrongs of climate change science; that has been more than adequately covered in other forums, and this column — and contributing commenters — has conducted a robust debate on this, intermittently, over the past few years.

What is clear, however, is that whether you are (and excuse me using these ridiculous labels — I do so merely for simplicity) a “believer” or a “denier,” the vast majority of the Australian electorate is in no way supportive of a carbon tax, and it is here I want to make what will be — having laid the background to them out — a fairly straightforward series of remarks.

It is beyond dispute that last year’s federal election provided the Coalition with the clearest possible mandate to rescind the carbon tax inflicted on this country by the ALP and its puppet masters at the Communist Party Greens. After all, Tony Abbott spent at least two years campaigning on very little else.

I have long held, and have said here repeatedly, that the carbon tax is not a market mechanism aimed at reducing carbon emissions, but rather a taxation mechanism: the figures from the first year of the tax’s operation, during which emissions fell by less than a percentage point, bear this out.

I have also said (as have many, many others from politics, the media, academia and business) that Australia (to put it bluntly and succinctly) is barking mad to saddle itself with such ridiculous, economy-destroying measures when the real global polluters sit on their hands, idle, and do nothing.

Whenever you point this out to the “believers,” the standard riposte is that the US, China, Japan et al are “talking about” introducing economy-wide measures to cut global emissions. “Talk” and “action” are mutually exclusive concepts in this context, and whilst the comeback from the “believers” might be correct in its most literal sense, it is — at the very least — disingenuous, and intellectually dishonest in the extreme.

And those who point to the emissions trading scheme in Europe would do well to note that it applies to mostly basket case economies that have been raped and pillaged by European socialism, and the state of those countries is argument enough to leave well alone when it comes to the question of whether their policy settings should be emulated.

One point I would make is that no matter the merits or otherwise of the science relied on by “believers,” climate change has become a political issue in its application, not an environmental one. The proof lies in the fact that the Left’s prosecution of it is identical to the methods and tactics it applies to other pet causes, gay marriage being the other one currently occupying its focus.

And I should simply point out that on climate change at least, those methods and tactics now pose the risk to the “believers” that they will lose the fight altogether: fair-minded and reasonable people are not convinced of anything by defaming, abusing or seeking to vilify them; nor are they likely to be swayed by being compared unflatteringly to the wholesale slaughter of millions of Jews by Adolf Hitler in the 1930s and 1940s.

Here in Australia, there is now indisputable evidence (hard, rock-solid evidence in the form of votes cast at general elections) that whatever Australians think of climate change and its science, they refuse to support the prescriptive measures of the Left in dealing with it.

Certainly, a Labor government found the political will to legislate the carbon tax when instructed to, bent over and with its trousers lowered, by a Greens party happy to threaten to withdraw the existential lifeblood of critical preference flows to ALP candidates if it refused to do so. But this type of “will” is the worst kind: it isn’t courageous, it isn’t daring, and its self-interested vagaries do not equate to the provision of leadership.

Now, Clive Palmer has described Abbott’s alternative to the carbon tax (and the emissions trading regime supposed to follow it) as “hopeless;” he says it is “gone” — which, in Palmer-speak, means he will direct his Senators to refuse to pass the measure through the Senate.

Not to be outdone, there are reports that Abbott and his Environment minister Greg Hunt are readying to call Palmer’s bluff by embedding the enabling legislation for Direct Action in the appropriation bills for the Budget: effectively daring Palmer to block the budget, potentially setting up a double dissolution over the issue toward the end of the year.

Direct Action, primarily, is concerned with achieving “the same reductions in emissions as a carbon tax, without the carbon tax” at a cost of $3.2 billion over four years, with the payment of incentives to polluting industries to quite literally clean up their act.

Whether it would work or not, the politics of climate change are now so toxic as to render even that consideration moot, in my view: even if it proved effective, the next fight will be over whether the same result could be achieved more efficiently and at less cost to the federal budget by a reimposition of the carbon tax, and then away we go again.

I think Abbott would do well to concentrate on fighting the fights worth fighting; there is nothing in climate change or emissions trading for the government to gain from, and this may be a time when unforeseen circumstance — the intervention of Palmer — opens the door to quietly dropping a silly policy that wouldn’t have otherwise opened.

The easiest thing for Abbott and Hunt to do — knowing they will please relatively few people by legislating their package, and that the glowy-eyed warriors of the Left will continue to hunt* them over the issue no matter what they do — is to announce that the composition of the Senate makes it impossible to introduce the Direct Action package, and for that reason the promise to do so will not be kept because, in the most literal sense, it can’t be.

Any such announcement, of course, ought to be contingent on some sort of binding and non-negotiable undertaking by Palmer to repeal the carbon tax, and one without his self-interested demands of retrospectivity attached to it: meeting such ambit claims will sit even more uneasily with the electorate than retaining the tax would.

Abbott could then redirect some of the money to what used to be simply called an “environmental package” — something on the lines of the Howard government’s Natural Heritage Trust, with some of the aspects of Direct Action factored in to provide incentives for polluters to reform — with the rest of the money, say $1 billion of it, going straight to the budget bottom line to help close the deficit gap Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey urgently need to address in the coming budget.

A promise to revisit some form of emissions trading at a time the US and China do so — perhaps with the objective of everybody acting simultaneously — could then shut the door on the destructive daily  politics of climate change in Australia, and the government could move on to other issues.

The “believers,” whether their cherished science is right or wrong, must confront the reality that their desired political action is so politically explosive in Australia that further pursuit of it is impossible without the large emitting countries on board; and rather than forcibly advocate a regime that will destroy huge chunks of Australian industry while the world sits back and laughs at us, their efforts should perhaps be redirected across the Pacific and the South China Sea.

They won’t do that, of course: Uncle Sam would laugh at them. In China, their views would — very simply — be unwelcome, to say the least.

They could, however, retain the pious and smug sanctimony of “knowing” they are right — something they will do irrespective of the fate of the carbon tax or anything that might follow.

Palmer — for once — may be doing Abbott a favour by refusing to vote Direct Action through the Senate, even if his actions in doing so are unintentional.

It may be that Abbott and Hunt rethink their approach, and quietly let Direct Action be euthanased. It would save an awful lot of grief for next to no result: after all, even the carbon tax — that preferred vessel of the Left — has already been shown to be as good as useless.

 

 

*with no pun intended.

$6 Medicare Co-payment: Abolishing The NDIS Should Follow

APPARENT CONFIRMATION that the Abbott government will impose a co-payment on bulk-billed GP consultations, with some limits and exceptions, in the imminent federal budget is sensible policy that may address the issue of ambit and unnecessary over-use of doctors’ services. It must be remembered, however, that this is budget policy, not health policy: the “real meat,” on that score, is a decision the government should take, but won’t.

As the widely touted “horror” federal budget draws ever nearer, its shape is slowly morphing into public view; today it has been all but confirmed that the proposal first floated in December to introduce a co-payment of $6 on bulk-billed visits to GPs — capped at 12 visits per patient per annum, with health care card holders and pensioners exempted altogether — will be implemented, and this column adds its robust endorsement.

I acknowledge that the co-payment will not be universally popular; certainly, an article in The Australian today notes that feedback from various organisations and stakeholder groups set to be affected by the change has been mixed. But as I noted here yesterday, opinion polling at the time the charge was initially floated did not show the issue as an overall negative for the Coalition support, and in stark contrast to the attempt made by Bob Hawke to introduce a similar impost in 1991 it may be that — broadly — consumers have come to accept that the healthcare system is staggering under cost pressures that threaten to become unsustainable.

As ever, there is some detail to be fleshed out. Will the charge apply to those visiting hospital emergency departments and if not, what strategies does the government have to deal with the potential torrent of fee evaders set to descend on already over-stressed public hospitals? Will the co-payment be applicable to the after hours home doctor services that are rapidly growing in popularity — especially with families with small children — that presently bulk-bill, in part to help discourage people from sitting at a public hospital all night with sick, contagious kids?

As I pointed out when this proposal was first mooted, the co-payment being considered by the federal government does not represent a change in health policy, and is not the thin edge of the wedge in some dastardly shift either toward dismantling Medicare or (God forbid) in the direction of the dreaded two-tier US-style healthcare system the noisemakers of the Left constantly rattle on about.

Rather, this is a shift in budget policy, made necessary by virtue of the shambolic state of disrepair the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government left the place in — mortgaged to the eyeballs, to be clear about it — as one of a swathe of measures likely to feature in the budget to shift it back onto a solid, sustainable footing and repair the damage inflicted on the national balance sheet by the ALP.

At $6 per GP visit — and taking into account the clear exemptions and caps for people of limited means, combined with the Medicare figures quoted in The Australian showing an average of 5.6 visits per person per year to a doctor — this initiative fits the mantra of Treasurer Joe Hockey that “everyone will be asked to pitch in” in a way that spreads the burden evenly, and hardly represents a significant impost for most consumers to be expected to pay.

I reiterate the point that this is not a change in health policy: it is a necessary measure to help tackle the $40 billion annual deficit and $350 billion foreign debt levels that the last Labor government left behind; neither of these less than impressive statistics even existed when the ALP was elected in 2007 — the Howard government having cleaned up the last mess Labor left in its wake 12 years earlier — and the fact they need to be dealt with at all continues a solid Labor tradition of economic vandalism and a scorched Earth approach to taxpayer money that has endured since the Whitlam era.

All that said, however, the co-payment is only slated to raise $750 million over four years: other savings have to be found in the government’s quest to repair the country’s finances, and there is no better or deserving candidate for execution (with the possible exception of the Gonski funding package) than Julia Gillard’s so-called National Disability Insurance Scheme.

It is difficult to see how a scheme of this nature — estimated to cost $22 billion per annum in today’s dollars by the time it is fully operational in 2019, with an acknowledgement in government circles that even this obscene number might be undercooked — can possibly deliver value for money, or even satisfy considerations of reasonable and fair value on any criteria of appropriate expenditure of public funds.

Generosity and largesse are not the same thing; compassion and reckless stupidity are not synonymous, either.

Yet the NDIS is set to throw tens of billions of dollars every year at a pool of recipients and beneficiaries that even the most optimistic estimate I have seen suggests number about 130,000 people; it boils down to about $170,000 per year, per beneficiary.

It is a national outrage, not a source of national pride, and when it is considered that a fair portion of that $170,000 will be eaten up by putting more pen pushers in jobs — probably more than 50% of it — it’s actually a national disgrace, and a damning indictment on whoever thought this particular piece of social engineering would be an appropriate whim to indulge.

I wrote about the NDIS last year — readers can revisit that article here – and I should just point out, for clarity, that the $8 billion annual cost I talked about in that article refers to the cost of the so-called trial years between now and 2019 when the blasted thing is fully “operational:” at the time, nobody wanted to put their neck on the line and state the full cost of annual operation of the scheme, and at $22 billion (and possibly more) it is little wonder why.

The NDIS, as I have repeatedly stated and do so again, is certainly a fine idea motivated by noble sentiment and is aimed at a need in society that exists: I think only the most callous cynic would suggest otherwise.

But it is unaffordable, uncosted, and so ridiculously (and prohibitively) expensive that is should have been laughed out of the first cabinet meeting at which it was raised.

The “fix” orchestrated by then-Treasurer and contemptible specimen Wayne Swan looks even more jaundiced now than it did a year ago in light of that $22 billion price tag; ordinary folk now face the triple whammy of a hike in their Medicare contributions, the cost of private health insurance or a Medicare surcharge if they earn more than $70,000 per annum, and probably something far nastier to pay for this package than any $6 fee for seeing a doctor could ever hope to cover.

As things stand, the only place the money can come from — as Gillard and Swan knew all too well — is to borrow it from China, and with the budget settings fixed to push external debt well above half a trillion dollars by 2018 by the time Labor was booted out of office, that unpalatable choice is simply not an option.

Readers will know that I am an ardent supporter of Tony Abbott, both personally and as leader of the Liberal Party, and there are very few issues on which I object to what he is doing. The promise to implement this dreadful waste of money, however, is one of them.

It surprises me that Abbott and those around him could have been so gullible as to have fallen into the NDIS trap, although with an election the Liberal Party was likely to win comfortably already visible on the horizon, one could ascribe it to a case of not “threatening the horses.”

However you rationalise it, what makes it worse is that Gillard explicitly said at the time that she would not pursue the policy without the commitment of the Liberal Party: given the Communist Party Greens were enthusiastically prepared to legislate the NDIS anyway in whatever form Gillard and Swan presented it in, this alone should have set alarm bells ringing in Abbott’s inner sanctum.

Either way, this is a bad package of bad policy and should be jettisoned by Hockey in the budget. As I have said before, it’s a lot less painful to get rid of this kind of spending before it starts; trying to do so once the selected beneficiaries are “hooked on the drug” makes it exponentially more difficult in a political sense to throw them off it.

This was a political instrument designed as a long-term investment in the ALP’s fortunes ahead of an election it knew it would lose badly: it sought a) to lock the Liberals into something no rational case could be made for; b) to buy off the disability community on a permanent basis with a level of state spending not enjoyed, per capita, by any other interest group in the community; c) to create an abyss into which Abbott and Hockey would by necessity stumble in their quest to finance the NDIS beyond 2019, if not sooner, the alternative being d) to render the federal budget completely and utterly unsustainable in time for the 2019 election if the Coalition failed to raise taxes or cut spending adequately, elsewhere, in order to finance it.

Add that to the $8 billion in recurrent annual expenditure for Gonski and the swathe of Gillard-vintage Green programs costing tens of billions of dollars each year, and the real intent of the former government — far removed from compassion or concern about disabled people — springs into sharp focus.

A responsible budget will see the NDIS either abandoned altogether or pared back so far as to slash its allocated outgoings by at least two-thirds. Alas, I fear neither scenario will eventuate.

 

AND ANOTHER THING: I know (based on past conversations with readers) that this is the point some will raise the Abbott government’s paid parental leave scheme; I support the principle of the scheme, but have already said repeatedly that it isn’t a good look to be introducing something paying out up to $75,000 per year. My preference would be to give the scheme a haircut, perhaps bringing it into line with the scheme presently enjoyed by Commonwealth public servants as a happy medium. I should point out, however, that whatever shape the scheme ultimately takes, it will be funded by a new levy on big business: and whether you agree or disagree with that concept the funding doesn’t have to be found within the budget per se, and is thus immune from the criticisms I have been making in this column of the NDIS, Gonski and the so-called Clean Energy measures.

 

Entitlement, Cuts, Corruption: What Is Government Even For?

A NASTY UNDERCURRENT in political debate that has been tangible for some time now raises the obvious question: what is government even for? It seems that too many people — voters, commentators, and MPs — have lost sight of what the institution represents, and what role it should play in Australian society. Do we want a high-tax regime that doles out services? Or is government a niche manager and facilitator to otherwise be kept from people’s lives?

I’ve been moved (finally) to write an article of this nature by — of all things — a dogfight on Twitter with a supporter of Clive Palmer that lasted more than 24 hours; it wasn’t especially nasty until close to my third and final attempt to terminate the conversation, by which time she (I think it was a “she” – you can’t be sure with Twitter) had turned abusive against “LNP agents” like me when I refused to start championing her tinpot single issue in this column. After trying wit, sarcasm, an outright declaration of a cessation of proceedings and then giving her both barrels in shooting down her silly arguments — all to no avail — I ultimately told her to piss off.

It’s an obscure way to open my remarks, I’ll grant you; but this kind of conduct — this time on Twitter, which seems to empower people to behave like anarchic oaves without courtesy, ethics, or restraint — is getting to be far too prevalent in our national discourse for my liking. It seems that away from the pristine pages of some of the more reputable organs of journalistic record, it’s not possible to be “honest” or “sincere” any more when discussing politics without being offensive, and it sometimes seems that if you’re not being as insulting or as insidious as possible, then you are not considered to be prosecuting your objectives in an effective manner at all.

It is true that there are a number of people in Australian politics for whom I have little or no personal regard, and readers know that I am upfront about this (Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan, Julia Gillard, Christine Milne and Peter Slipper being the most obvious). By the same token, there are others who I like enormously on the personal level, and have great respect for — Malcolm Turnbull springs to mind — but with whom I have serious problems from time to time about his stances on certain issues, and who this column has taken to task once or twice (not recently, and not since he stopped agitating against Liberal Party policy).

Even so, a colleague baled me up after one of those columns a couple of years ago: I must really hate Turnbull, he said. Not at all, I replied, making remarks very similar to those I have just shared here. I’ve met him a few times, I said. He’s a really great guy, I said. We agree on most things but differ on a few others we each feel very strongly about, I said. My colleague listened very courteously, a huge grin appearing on his face. “Go on, admit that you hate him,” he said. After all that, I had to be lying: nobody who had taken Turnbull to task as I had — legitimately — could possibly regard the man with anything other than contempt.

This focus on the politics of personal debasement is becoming a national obsession (and if my remarks on Rudd, Gillard, Wayne Swan et al tar me with the same brush then I must plead guilty). Yet this is all part of a broader cocktail mixed around deeper attitudes to politics and government, which is why I’d been mulling over talking about these things well before the Twit from Twitter exhausted my patience yesterday.

If we think back to the last Parliament, there are two images seared into the national conversation that sum all of this up.

The first is a group of anti-carbon tax protesters who travelled to Canberra — some of them from very far away — to confront Julia Gillard over her broken carbon tax promise. They carried placards. “Bob Brown’s Bitch,” one read. “Ditch the Witch,” read another. Then-opposition leader Tony Abbott met with the protesters to support their demonstration.

Later (and in defence of the grub Slipper when his position as Speaker was threatened by the revelation of filthy text messages he had been sending) Gillard rose in Parliament, and gave a confected speech filled with mock outrage and invective aimed at Abbott. “I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man,” it began, which was ironic in view of the sexually explicit and disgusting material Slipper had been sending by text message to his associates. That speech went viral, defamed Abbott, and earned Gillard a poll boost from people who heard the reported punchlines, but weren’t even interested in the circumstances in which the speech was made to make a balanced or informed judgement.

All of this — part of the political hurly-burly as it is — is merely superficial.

What it points to, however, is an increasingly aggressive and less civilised manner by which politics are practised in Australia — and, in turn, this points to the issues that the contest is being fought over.

And this, ultimately, raises the question I posed at the outset. What are politics and government even for?

Right now, a conservative government is readying to deliver its first budget since taking office.

It follows a period of Labor government — latterly in alliance with the Communist Party Greens — which left a slew of expensive social and socialist policy packages on the statute books and the federal government’s balance sheet in an appalling state of disrepair, with the national debt slated to rocket above half a trillion dollars within four years of its electoral demise.

Treasurer Joe Hockey has spoken often of the government’s need to end “the culture of entitlement” and whilst I agree, the remark is incendiary in terms of the modern ALP’s standard narrative that “Labor governments build; conservative governments cut to the bone.” It isn’t as simple as that and such a mantra is intellectually dishonest, to say the least, but into the equation come assessments of Abbott as “Dr No” which will be followed, as sure as night follows day, with depictions of Hockey as Scrooge and the Grinch.

There are really two models for governance, and two only, and whilst that will sound to some (like the fool from Twitter) as being incredibly closed-minded, it is the case that most ideas of governance — even those that might be termed “out of the box” — generally fit within one of these two templates.

The first (represented in Australia by Labor and the Greens) involves high real taxes and the accrual of significant national debts to fund new social welfare initiatives, to expand others, and to advance causes in the name of being “progressive” that its intellectual elites and other champions of non-traditional visions of democratic society are wont to push. All of this runs parallel to “crackdowns” on “the rich” to get them to “pay their share,” a proportion that never seems to have been realised irrespective of the increases the Left are able to inflict on that pilloried patrician faction.

The second (represented in Australia by the Liberal Party and reflected, in varying degrees, in the Nationals and Clive Palmer’s outfit) centres on reducing government, cutting taxes, empowering people to take responsibility over their lives and fostering the expansion of choice for everyday Australians to exercise rather than government doing so on their behalf by decree.

As a result of the first of these models, the current Coalition government has assumed office to find a carbon tax in place that damages industry and imposes soaring costs on consumers; a mining tax that is so poorly designed as to raise no money, albeit with a string of electoral bribes (schoolkids’ bonus, superannuation top-ups for low-income earners, etc) contingent on the enabling legislation remaining in place; a package of Education funding (Gonski) that will cost tens of billions of dollars but is not tied to improvements in educational outcomes, and will likely be used as a reservoir to fund the pay claims of  teacher unions; the National Disability Support Scheme, which will also cost tens of billions of dollars simply over the initial rollout of its trial stages; various schemes to pay unionised workers in a number of sectors (child care, government cleaning contractors etc) substantially more than their non-unionised counterparts; a bloated, inefficient federal public service stacked with ALP appointees earning an average of $150,000 per annum; a raft of so-called Green schemes also slated to cost tens of billions of dollars; and the Commonwealth budget haemorrhaging red ink at the rate of nearly a billion dollars a week: this money has to come from somewhere, and right now, it is being borrowed from China.

My list covers only the headline items. I know it’s incomplete. The items in it are enough to make the point.

And still early in the latest incarnation of the second model, the path to its implementation seems fraught.

The obvious major target requiring urgent redress is the state of the country’s finances, yet the method by which politics is increasingly practised in Australia — vitriolic, personal and by no means constructive — sees the new government locked out of the most obvious targets for abolition.

Abandoning the so-called Gonski reforms is a no-brainer, but having flirted with just the suggestion of it, Abbott and his Education minister Christopher Pyne surrendered their handsome “honeymoon” lead in most polls in the face of a vicious onslaught from the union movement and the ALP, and have spent the months since tracking even-stevens on average in the reputable measurements of public sentiment. It is clear that this can’t and won’t be attempted again.

Abandoning the National Disability Insurance Scheme is another: a noble idea that is almost totally unfunded in terms of provision by the Commonwealth to pay for it, the ALP’s chief mouthpieces in the Fairfax media even admitted prior to the September election that when fully operational this scheme would cover just 130,000 people nationally (although there was discussion in other forums about how 15% of the Victorian population might be able to be hooked onto this expensive new welfare drug). The political atmospherics of any attempt to squash this program (or even trim it) remain unclear. But it’s a fair bet that the tens of billions of dollars it will cost are unlikely to be recouped by abolishing it.

Yet Abbott and Hockey were elected in a landslide, in part, because they won the national argument over the so-called “debt and deficits” issue: that is, simply stated, that they convinced a majority of Australians that the country faces a budget emergency.

You bet it does. But those same voters who were convinced of the problem also form part of the bellicose bloc hellbent on shouting down some of the best options for fixing it.

It is true that a potential co-payment regime on otherwise bulk-billed doctor visits set at $5 per consultation failed to elicit the outrage a similar measure did when the Hawke government tried to introduce it in 1991. Even so, unless the charge extends to public hospitals they will be overrun with fee-evading patients, defeating the objective of using the charge a) as a patch on the budget, and b) to discourage ambit use of Medicare for insignificant minor medical symptoms. And even if that hurdle is overcome, the measure is only projected to raise about $700 million per annum, and hardly solves the wider budget issue on its own.

Australians object to higher taxes and charges and hikes in their cost of living expenses that were imposed on them by the Rudd/Gillard government.

Yet so ingrained is the culture of entitlement when it comes to things tax dollars have been paying for (and seem set to pay even more for) that to talk about modest cuts to family tax benefits, or deferring the pensionable age, or abandoning schemes that haven’t even started (Gonski and the NDIS) or looking at things like the First Home Buyers’ Grant is akin to high treason.

The country can’t afford any of this, and the fact remains — as I fervently and passionately believe — that allowing people to hold onto more of their own money through a lower tax take, allowing them to decide where, how and on what their money is spent, with government as far removed from day-to-day life as possible, is the soundest and best model of governance there is.

But the country is in a mess, largely because we’ve spent years robbing Peter just a bit too enthusiastically to pay Paul, and now that something has to be done about it, nobody wants to shoulder the burden.

Instead, we yell at each other; pick fights over “issues” that descend into abuse, whilst the real issues are unaddressed; and our politicians spend more time on dumb stunts and chasing photo opportunities than they do producing intelligent and/or workable ideas that might resolve the root cause of the problem.

Clearly, three into two does not go. Yet that, it seems, is what voters want: their fistful of dollars in one hand, with the other clasping their hip pockets closed to the government to render that handful of handouts irrecoverable.

Ultimately, the bill has to be paid if the order is placed.

Model A — the socialism and class warfare of Labor and the Greens — was clearly unpalatable to the electorate. Model B, whose big moment comes in early May with the budget, isn’t looking like receiving the rapturous reception it might have expected either. What gives?

The animosities and the alliances, the friendships and the enmities, the corrupt bastards and the honest toilers: politics and politicians in every shade and hue, both ugly and glorious.

Readers, you tell us: what do people want? What are our institutions of politics and government even for, from the perspective of community and individual expectation? Because as things stand now it seems they want it all for nothing, and irrespective of whether you sit on the Left or the Right, that approach — quite clearly — is a one-way ticket to nowhere.

 

 

Ruddwatch: Kevin Rudd As UN Secretary-General? Sorry, But No

THERE IS NO DOUBT that given the option, Kevin Rudd would race off to the UN as its Secretary-General in a flash; his time as Prime Minister of Australia — the carefully crafted public representation of it, that is — may as well have explicitly been a rehearsal for precisely that. But the cretinous ex-PM is more a national embarrassment than hometown hero: having offended key international figures before, he could be relied upon to do so again.

Former NSW Premier and (briefly) Senator and Foreign minister Bob Carr has been in the press of late and of course, and for all the wrong reasons; thanks to Carr having spent his 18 months as an unelected Senator and minister mostly compiling anecdotes and personal grievances to fill his diary-style tome released during the week we’re all fortunate to know that he resented being forced to slum it in business class on long-haul flights, and have been privileged to be honorary distant witnesses to his tantrum that airline pyjamas weren’t supplied in first class, and that he was compelled to sit in “tailored suits” for the duration of such flights.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the taxpayer will be enraged that so little value was derived from what could have been, in other circumstances, the sort of economy regime the plebs have to content themselves with!

I’m only partly joking, because there is a neat segue from this sort of thing to the kind of tantrum Kevin Rudd became legendary for: some of which, coincidentally, I’m sure, occurred during his own stint as Foreign minister between his two bites of the Prime Ministerial apple.

I wanted to briefly address this today because once again, the rumours and suggestions about Rudd as the next Secretary-General of the United Nations have resurfaced in tandem with the publication of Bob’s book.

The unbridled fantasy that Rudd — an imbecile and a cretin, whose ability to hoodwink Australian voters was laid bare for the myth it is last September — would best fit the podium at the United Nations, holding court and lecturing representatives of the most powerful governments on Earth, has always been laughable.

There are no “national interest” grounds to justify the Commonwealth sponsoring his bid; Rudd might like to boast of being a “career diplomat,” but between 1988 and 1996 he worked in Queensland for Wayne Goss (aged 30 to 38) and from 1998 onwards he was a member of federal Parliament.

It must have been some career as “Boy Wonder” prior to throwing his lot in with Goss to justify the Secretary-General’s chair at the United Nations.

In fact, there are examples of Rudd’s “diplomacy” strewn across his career, for all to see; whether reducing flight attendants to tears because he didn’t like a meal, or wild rages unleashed upon unsuspecting ministerial staff and/or colleagues, or getting thrown out of a New York strip club for inappropriate conduct — the mind boggles — or this little gem from around the time he was also caught out in Copenhagen referring to the Chinese as “rat fuckers,” a clear picture of the calibre of Rudd’s inherent and particular skills as a diplomat has never been far from public view.

As readers will note from the article I have linked to today, the permanent members of the Security Council retain a veto over prospective candidates for the Secretary-Generalship, which means the Chinese (if of a mind to reciprocate the sentiments expressed of them) could torpedo Rudd’s chances before his campaign even gets going.

Alternatively, the Chinese delegation to the UN may have a sense of humour: how very gratifying for them to set Rudd loose in an attempt to round up votes? He could lecture and belittle and abuse people about everything Australia shouldn’t stick its nose into that he went ahead and did anyway during his various tenures in government. Give him enough rope and let him hang himself; it doesn’t take a genius to be able to conceive of the outcome.

Either way, Carr — for what little it’s worth — enthuses that Rudd has his support: “He would be a very strong, credible candidate,” Mr Carr said, as quoted in The Australian. “It would be the most natural thing in the world for him to stand.

“I think the forcefulness Kevin showed sometimes in selling a case might be considered by some in the UN as an advantage.”

Which might be so, provided those recognising the advantage are aligned against whatever head Rudd seeks to kick at any given time, or onside against the latest unfortunate to have pissed him off and getting yelled at, which — in a forum like the United Nations — wouldn’t be a great number of people, I wouldn’t have thought.

Incumbent Ban Ki-moon remains in the role for a further two years, so it’s inevitable this subject will come up again, and unless there is some fresh angle to it (like the salacious revelations of Bob Carr’s book, which provided him with the chance to pump up Rudd’s tyres) I will probably ignore it the next time it does.

Arguments about national prestige be buggered: this country needs the national embarrassment that is Kevin Rudd parading around on the world stage again like it needs the proverbial hole in the head, and even most of his old mates over at the Labor Party will admit as much. Many aren’t even worried about being caught on the record when it comes to Rudd’s faults, and this we’ve seen before as well.

It’s just as well — as stated in the article by a spokesperson for Rudd — that as the role rotates geographically, Rudd isn’t under consideration as he isn’t from eastern Europe.

And that, my friends, invites the inevitable conclusion that knowing the creature as we have come to do, he will spend every minute of those two years plotting and scheming to come up with a way to circumvent this apparent bar to his candidacy.

If headlines about Kevin and Therese relocating to the Czech Republic materialise in the next year or two, it wouldn’t surprise a soul.

 

 

Memo Clive Palmer: We Don’t Want You In Victoria

THINGS ARE BAD ENOUGH with the Communists Greens and the plethora of independents and single-interest parties chasing public election funds already on the loose without rewarding Clive Palmer’s obsequious, outrage-based tactics with seats in Parliament. Palmer and his party promise no more than simply to be elected, if their cynical rhetoric fools enough people. With a state election due in Victoria, they are not welcome in my home state.

One reality of politics that never ceases to amaze me is the fact that the people who most loudly profess disgust with the political process — and with the Liberal and Labor parties in particular — are also mostly those who couldn’t be bothered joining a political party in an attempt to have some input into the process, let alone bother to avail themselves of the finer details of issues or to look beyond the spin (that Labor especially peddles) in which their outrage comes ready-packaged (which is what, in some respects, it’s designed for).

Equally, political parties that roar onto the scene promising to either win landslide outright election victories from a starting position of exactly zero seats in Parliament — or with the explicit aim of capturing the balance of Parliament in a given jurisdiction, and nothing more than that — should come with the warning that their real objectives are to either cause as much disruption to the political equilibrium as possible, or to use it to extract self-interested baubles from government that will have little, if any, benefit whatsoever to the pissed-off punters whose votes they seek in order to realise these aims.

Yet those two phenomena (and I don’t know which is worse) exist in a direct, causal and recurring relationship: the votes of the disaffected nourish the existence and growth of minor parties and Independents who either add nothing to political outcomes, or — in the sense of the public interest — actively compromise them; this generates greater numbers of voters who are dissatisfied with politics, which feeds more Independent and minor party candidates. It is a vicious cycle.

This odious, disingenuous approach to politics brings me to talk today about the latest adventure earmarked for pursuit by Clive Palmer and his eponymous political party; Melbourne’s Herald Sun is carrying the (not unexpected) story that Palmer’s outfit has applied to be registered in Victoria, and — surprise, surprise — Palmer himself is quoted as stating that his party’s objective is to secure the balance of power in the Victorian Parliament at the state election due in November.

Some readers will call my position conflicted; I’m a member of the Liberal Party and I have been (albeit with a break after I moved to Melbourne) since 1990, and the consequent suggestion that I’ve got a vested interest in the elimination of minor parties is facile, overly simplistic, and — to be blunt — more a reflection on those who make it than it is on me.

Prior to the amalgamation of the Liberal and National Parties in Queensland at the state level, Palmer was variously an employee, office-bearer and major donor to the National Party in that state; having poured millions of dollars into the National Party and later to the merged LNP, Palmer stomped out of the party when it became clear the Newman government was not going to be railroaded into giving him whatever he wanted. (“Railroaded” is a good term, considering the route of a rail freight line was one of the things he wanted aligned with some of his mining operations).

Palmer has three MPs in Queensland: deserters from the LNP who were stupid enough to follow him out of the party, and whose tenure is yet to be tested at a subsequent election. Gold Coast MP Alex Douglas, who in any other political setting would almost certainly never be considered in a leadership context — is the Palmer United Party’s “leader” in Queensland.

The Party (originally promoted as the United Australia Party until the name proved unavailable) is built around a personality cult with Palmer at its epicentre; as the story goes, Palmer is “talking about a revolution” and “reuniting Australia” but in reality, Palmer’s party is pursuing policies, goals and strategies that would, if realised, either directly benefit the bellicose billionaire and his vast array of businesses or settle simmering and ongoing scores with the conservative parties he deserted in high dudgeon.

For example, he supports the repeal of the carbon tax, but wants it made retrospective, a move that would entitle him to a refund of millions of dollars in payments he recently (and begrudgingly) made to the tax office.

He engages in an ongoing diatribe against Queensland Premier Campbell Newman and his government, calling Newman “corrupt” and accusing Treasurer Tim Nicholls of “cooking the books.” the LNP is, according to Palmer, “a bunch of crooks,” and only a simpleton could fail to see that at the most basic level Palmer’s antics are no more than a case of sour grapes and a tantrum over not being allowed to get what he wanted.

He seems to have taken a similar approach to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and it will be intriguing to see how this plays out: Palmer might not have won the federal election “with 100 seats” in Parliament last year, but he has secured a bloc of Senators which — whilst not holding the balance of power in the upper house outright — will nonetheless be pivotal to the government’s ability to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens.

And his policies, mostly, do not withstand scrutiny: I recall a radio advertisement placed by Palmer in Melbourne before the federal election, in which he advocated for the abolition of the GST; the theory was that if “we” (Australians) “cycled” the money through the economy so many times, the government would end up with the same revenue. This type of argument is blatant pandering to the economic illiteracy of many voters, or even their ability to work out complex mathematical equations at all, and that implies no criticism on the part of the voter. It’s the kind of intellectually dishonest pap fed to voters by politicians that is one of the root causes of political disillusionment in the first place.

And coming back to that point about disillusioned voters and minor/independent candidates, I stand by the notion that far from offering a safe place to park protest votes, such entities merely fuel the very resentment they claim to combat.

Just look at the Greens: as a direct result of the carbon tax, prices of electricity, gas and petrol have rocketed, hurting every voter in the country to differing degrees. That was inflicted on them by the Greens as the price Labor had to pay to remain in office after the 2010 election. Yet even now — and despite hundreds of columns by scores of commentators across the country, including me — it is still Julia Gillard who wears all of the blame for it in the eyes of the public.

Now we have Palmer wanting to seize control of the Victorian Parliament by winning a few seats on the crossbench.

Victorians have already shown their good sense once, giving Palmer the lowest share of the vote of any state or territory (bar the ACT) at last year’s federal election, at 3.6%; it is to be hoped this is repeated in November.

And aside from winning his three Senators and luring three of the less-than-loyal LNP MPs out of the government in Queensland, Palmer has won nothing: Tasmania gave him a Senator but not a single seat at its state election last month, despite wild predictions of majority government; the South Australian state election was a Palmer non-event.

Still, it’s difficult to get a handle on just where Palmer sits in the court of public opinion; the Senate election, of course, had to be run a second time in WA due to a cock-up by the Australian Electoral Commission; PUP’s win of a Senate seat in that state was on the cards anyway, but the doubling of its vote relative to the September election could be simply attributable to the by-election atmosphere the recent rerun occurred in.

But Victoria has an upper house elected using proportional representation too, and it isn’t difficult to see what Palmer’s objectives are; we have already had a taste of government being held to ransom in this state, and I don’t think Victorians are impressed.

The antics of the member for Frankston, Geoff Shaw, since leaving the Liberal Party have placed the Napthine government in an invidious position: it has to either deal with the renegade MP and fuel the infantile rantings of the state opposition leader, or risk engineering its own fall from office by antagonising Shaw.

Who would vote for more of this, with the added element of Palmer’s well-funded grievances against the Coalition to consider?

Jumping volubly up and down like some Ritalin-drenched, attention-compromised brat obsessed with being noticed — especially when that awareness is generated from boorish petulance and wildly fantastic edicts – is not policy, is not constructive, and is not something any voter looking for sensible and productive outcomes from government should support.

And it is becoming abundantly clear, too, that irrespective of the individuals elected under the Palmer banner, it is Palmer himself who is the principal mouthpiece of his outlet: at a press conference shortly after the WA Senate re-election, with Senator-elect Dio Wang in tow, Palmer did the talking: and even when challenged to let Wang speak by journalists, Palmer refused. It’s an instructive example of what people will actually get by voting for his team.

Whichever way you cut it, and despite the protestations from Palmer to the contrary, the only real objectives of any candidate elected in his name is to advance his personal agenda and to build his personal profile and, in the end, the only person who can benefit from that is Palmer himself.

I’m happy to talk about minor parties a lot more if readers want to and, specifically, to flesh out the concept of them feeding public alienation from the political process rather than simply being the beneficiaries of it.

But this is not the sort of thing we need in Victoria, and having watched Palmer try to turn every other jurisdiction in the country where an election is being held into a circus I don’t want the same thing to happen here.

Sure, he can sink another $5 million or so into advertising, and it deserves to be money wasted — just like whatever he spent on Melbourne and regional radio last year turned out to be.

But Palmer’s party has nothing to offer Melbourne, and it has nothing to offer regional Victoria that the National Party isn’t capable of delivering in partnership with the Liberal Party. Aside from the shock value — for those who enjoy such things — there’s no point having a Palmer presence in this state.

We don’t want you in Victoria, Clive: and if Palmer genuinely wants to alter that sentiment then perhaps less confrontational belligerence, less Coalition bashing and making his support for various things contingent on getting things that can only benefit his businesses might be a good way to go about it.

 

 

Premier Of NSW: The More Things Change…

NEW SOUTH WALES — by sunset today — will have its sixth Premier in nine years; whilst this column has enthusiastically endorsed Treasurer Mike Baird to take on the top job, it is to be hoped that whatever decision is made by NSW’s Liberal MPs signals the injection of some stability into the upper reaches of government in the Premier State. Pulling on the ballot to favour one candidate over another is not a good sign.

First things first: I want to clear up something that has been the subject of several telephone calls since I posted on the resignation of Barry O’Farrell yesterday.

It seems some readers have misinterpreted my remarks as having accused O’Farrell of corruption; this is simply untrue, although in the fracas that exploded around the issue yesterday I think it’s probably fair to say a lot of insinuations and accusations have been flung about injudiciously in many places and forums, and there is a need for some perspective.

O’Farrell has resigned, in short, because he misled/falsely testified/lied to (take your pick) a corruption inquiry that he had been called as a witness to, not because he was corrupt. There is a world of difference.

The reason this has rendered his position as Premier untenable is twofold: firstly (and despite suggestions to the contrary from some of his misty-eyed colleagues yesterday), giving false testimony to ICAC — on a scale of relative equivalents — ranks somewhere near misleading Parliament in terms of the gravity of the deed; it is, however inadvertent or well-intentioned, a serious act that runs counter to the very notions of honesty, openness and probity that a body such as ICAC exists to facilitate in the first place.

Secondly — and intertwined with the first point — is the political damage that would surely follow O’Farrell had he attempted to tough it out and remain in office: having campaigned incessantly from opposition on a platform to clean up New South Wales and root out corruption and other forms of malpractice, the fact he misled ICAC would have weakened his authority, perhaps fatally; damaged the public standing of the office of Premier of New South Wales; and potentially compromised the ongoing campaign to clean up the murky and often sordid mire that passed for government in NSW under the ALP.

All of that, mind, is before we even consider the really political stuff: already, opposition leader John Robertson is making public overtures about “an invitation” to the new Premier to “join him in cleaning up NSW together;” for a man who has admitted failing to report a $3 million bribe offer — presumably to protect a “maaate” by using his (questionable) judgement in the matter instead — Robertson seems to have too much to say all of a sudden by holding himself out as some shining beacon of squeaky clean governance.

Just imagine what he and some of his less-than-saintly cohorts would do to O’Farrell if he continued in office. It would be a crucifixion, a ritual slaughter, a bloodbath. Labor would emerge with blood on its hands but the Liberals would fare worse. The public would react with revulsion, as it would be entitled to do. The opportunistic Clive Palmer would swoop at next year’s election, picking up undeserved parliamentary sinecures like a vulture does carrion. None of this will occur now O’Farrell has (rightly) pulled the pin.

I do agree that it’s a bit ridiculous that a bottle of wine — no matter how expensive — has brought a state Premier down. Yet standards are standards, and under a system of responsible Cabinet government (in the real sense of the word) O’Farrell has taken the only appropriate course open to him, and fallen on his sword. To have done otherwise would be to render himself no better in stature or deed than the crooks in the ALP he rightly fought so hard to jettison from the government benches.

And whilst I have been scathing in my assessment of what O’Farrell has done with his time in the Premier’s office, that criticism is by no means personal: there are far, far worse blokes in politics than Barry O’Farrell, and the reality is that circumstance has conspired — if I can safely use that word — to terminate his tenure, which I believe needed to be ended in the interests of both the state of New South Wales and the Liberal Party, and at a time when no other mechanism to do so was apparent.

About the worst thing you can say of O’Farrell personally out of this episode is that he’s been a bit of a dickhead. He’s paid the price for it, too.

All of that aside, NSW will have a new Premier this afternoon, and not next week as initially reported; it seems that forces around O’Farrell (if not O’Farrell himself) have pulled the party meeting forward by a week in a move that appears designed to favour the lead candidate of the party’s moderate wing, Transport minister Gladys Berejiklian.

It doesn’t augur well, and it sends a typical but poor signal moving forward.

Berejiklian and O’Farrell are close, with the former spoken of in some quarters as the heir apparent; certainly those whose only concern is to see a woman elevated will be cock-a-hoop. But I don’t think, on balance, that she is the best candidate for the role.

Whilst a number of names have been bandied about in the media, this really is a two-horse race; unlike Berejiklian, Treasurer Mike Baird draws support from both the moderate and conservative wings of the party and thus — from a factional perspective — represents a more balanced candidate around whom the party can coalesce and regroup.

It would be naive to think such things do not occur, but lining a factional ally up behind O’Farrell to take over from him — especially in view of the difficulties NSW has posed for Tony Abbott — hardly amounts to the most constructive approach to co-operation with the federal government.

And whilst both ministers have been solid performers, it is difficult to argue that Baird hasn’t been the better of the two: he has made a very reasonable fist of a portfolio that was an absolute debacle when he took it on, and with Treasury at the heart of any government it has fallen to Baird to breathe life into the sleeping giant that is the NSW economy: an enterprise he has handled well, and which is increasingly showing signs of bearing fruit.

Whoever wins tomorrow (and I want to be careful to avoid spending too much time endorsing Baird — assuming, that is, that he even stands), the first objective of the new leader must be to restore some stability to government.

With nine Premiers in 25 years — including whoever becomes the ninth today — there’s obviously a real problem here; it’s been fun to joke about the “NSW disease” and the “revolving door of leadership” under the ALP, but that door spins a little further this afternoon when Liberal MPs vote on who next gets to walk through it.

Former Premier Kristina Keneally, meanwhile, has been briefing journalists in the past day or so to the effect that ICAC will uncover far more evidence of wrongdoing than it already has, and that more public figures in NSW will be dragged into the mire; and it does bear noting that three backbench Liberals based on the NSW Central Coast are also awaiting their day in the star chamber at ICAC to face allegations of official misconduct of their own.

The more things change, the more they stay the same; it is to be hoped — fervently — that no matter who emerges as NSW Premier this afternoon, that unhappy cycle can be disrupted, if not indeed broken altogether.

 

 

Expensive Beano: O’Farrell Quits Over Wine Lie

NEW SOUTH WALES Premier Barry O’Farrell has resigned this morning, caught out over incorrect testimony he gave to an ICAC corruption scandal; as others have learned before him to their detriment, ICAC plays no favourites. Whilst the high standards it enforces are responsible for O’Farrell’s demise as Premier, the NSW Liberals now have the opportunity to replace him with someone who will work more constructively with the Abbott government.

If NSW’s politicians have learned nothing else about ICAC in the 20+ years it has been operating, it is that it sets an unimpeachably high standard for that state’s public figures to adhere to; there are those who will complain that the bar is set too high, but — to be very blunt about it — that’s what it’s there for.

I was going to post on this last night, believing as I did when the story broke yesterday that Barry O’Farrell was finished as Premier of New South Wales: called to ICAC as a witness in the same Australian Water Holdings (AWH) investigation that has claimed the scalp of federal Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinis — temporarily, at least — O’Farrell was confronted with what seemed incontrovertible evidence that he received an expensive gift from one of the central figures in the AWH inquiry that he failed to declare and yesterday flatly denied being given.

The $3,000 bottle of 1959 Penfolds Grange Hermitage wine — apparently selected to correspond with the year of O’Farrell’s birth — from Liberal Party donor and AWH boss Nick Di Girolamo, sent supposedly as a no-strings-attached congratulatory token after O’Farrell’s election win in 2011, is the kind of thing that contemporary politicians should treat with wariness and probity at the best of times, and not least in the climate of increasing disclosure that is required of public figures: especially in NSW.

At the very least, it should have been declared on the register of pecuniary interests that all MPs are meant to keep up to date; had O’Farrell done so, he would not be in the situation he finds himself this morning.

Instead, O’Farrell claimed to have never sighted the gift, stating that he had not received it at home and alluding to poor security at his house — apparently suggesting that had the gift been delivered, it might have been stolen whilst he and his family spent the Easter weekend on the Gold Coast. The fact this cock-and-bull defence was even attempted flew in the face of  ICAC confronting him with evidence of the purchase of the wine as well as its delivery to his (then) home in Roseville, along with evidence of subsequent telephone contact between O’Farrell and Di Girolamo.

O’Farrell’s fate was sealed when a handwritten “thank you” note, from O’Farrell to Di Girolamo, was tabled at ICAC this morning.

The thank you note from Barry O'Farrell to Nick Di Girolamo

This is a clear, incontrovertible and open-and-shut case of an elected figure caught lying to a corruption probe, and the only alternative to O’Farrell resigning voluntarily would have been for his Liberal colleagues to blast him out in a vote of a special meeting of the parliamentary party. He has at least had the decency to spare them that unpleasant task.

O’Farrell still maintains he never wilfully misled ICAC; that is for others to judge, but I would suggest that at the very least the episode shows a distinct lack of attention to detail, or to the requirements of disclosure expected of every elected figure in the country, or to even prepare adequately for an appearance at ICAC for which he must have been given some inkling as to what he would be asked about. He has exhibited dishonesty and incompetence. Resignation was the only practical course of action open to him.

This is now the second time a Liberal Premier in NSW has been brought undone by an ICAC inquiry, but — unlike Nick Greiner in 1992 — O’Farrell is unable to suggest he wasn’t warned, or that he was unaware ICAC would do anything other than uncover what Malcolm Turnbull likes to call “the unvarnished truth” of the matter.

The irony is that Greiner was forced out by political pressure just days before ICAC, ultimately, cleared him of any case to answer. The O’Farrell case, whilst less serious than the inducement allegations faced by Greiner in 1992, is straightforward by comparison.

It is a matter of record that this column unequivocally withdrew its support for O’Farrell’s tenure as Premier of New South Wales earlier this year; I stand by that assessment and I think that, on balance, history will record O’Farrell as an underperformer (despite the magnitude of his election win that any competent Liberal leader would have secured) who failed to make the most of his opportunities or, on occasions, to do very much at all.

Indeed, it often seemed his greatest interest was the pursuit of factional rivalries, a key manifestation of which has been the repeated apparent determination of his government to poke Prime Minister Tony Abbott in the eye as hard as possible over issues such as the Gillard government’s Gonski reforms and the recently approved new airport at Badgerys Creek..

This was not — and is not — in the best interests of NSW or its people.

If there is any good that can come from the events of the past couple of days, it is that the NSW Liberals elect a new leader who will get on with governing in the best interests of the state rather than indulging in and perpetuating internecine internal factional intrigues.

To this end, we suggest Treasurer Mike Baird represents the best prospect available to the Liberal Party at the present time, and offer our support should he opt to stand for election to the party’s leadership.

Whichever way you look at it, the AWH investigation, from an overall perspective, is painting an increasingly complex and widespread picture of misconduct that spans business, politics, and — apparently — both sides of politics at that; as unpleasant as these matters are, I am in full support of anything that stamps out wrongdoing in public life, and support ICAC to the hilt as it goes about its distasteful business.

I’ll keep an eye on this as it develops, and post again later if circumstances warrant it.