NSW: Racist Labor Campaign Steers Baird To Certain Win

THE BRAZENLY RACIST campaign deployed by the ALP in New South Wales — attempting to frighten voters about Chinese investment in the state’s utility assets, and appealing to base human prejudice — is rightly set to explode in Labor’s face, with Premier Mike Baird now certain of victory in tomorrow’s state election. It terminates Labor’s slender hope for a cheeky election win, and should bring questions over Labor’s methods into open question.

Say anything to win an election:” when it comes to perceptions of politics and politicians, this dubious “principle” ranks near the top of any list of voters’ gripes about the people who govern them, but in recent times the practice of telling the electorate literally anything to accrue votes — with scant regard for the responsibility, accuracy or decency of such statements — has underpinned a ballooning proportion of Labor’s communications with the voting public.

Now, it seems set to cost them.

NSW Premier Mike Baird can go to the polls tomorrow assured of victory, barring some cataclysmic unforeseen disaster today; in the wake of NSW Labor’s idiotic and reprehensible attempt to damage the Coalition with suggestions Chinese participation in the government’s asset leasing program would compromise national security and drive up electricity prices, the latest Galaxy poll for the Daily Telegraph has found the government’s final standing rests at a 55-45 lead over the ALP.

Coming after two other polls in the past week showing the Liberals ahead by a 54-46 margin on the two-party measure, the three polls more or less validate each other, and confirm two things: one, that the decline in the state Coalition’s vote over the past year was arrested before it plunged into the electoral red zone of uncertain outcomes; and two, that the NSW Coalition — unlike its LNP counterparts in Queensland in January — has actually widening its lead over Labor by a couple of points during the campaign.

It also means that in the event of an unexpected late Labor surge or the “accentuation” of the swing away from the government by NSW’s optional preferential voting system, the Baird government has a buffer of a couple of points before it can be put at risk of losing its majority (a prospect that comes into play with a 2PPV of less than 53%), whereas the LNP in Queensland fronted up on polling day already well inside this prospective killing zone, with final polls showing it on 51% (in the event, the ALP scored 51.1% in Queensland after preferences).

Galaxy finds Baird preferred as Premier over Labor’s Luke Foley by better than a two-to-one margin, leading on this measure by 53% to 25%, and whilst this measure is historically difficult for opposition leaders to head, Foley’s position in the death throes of this state election campaign compares extremely poorly with similar results from other state Labor leaders in Queensland and Victoria (and even the Liberal Steven Marshall in last year’s ill-fated election in South Australia) ahead of the most recent elections in those states.

Readers can access the Tele‘s breakdown of the Galaxy results here; accounting for the final election polls we’ve seen thus far, it seems a swing of 9-10% against the Coalition is in order, which should see it returned to office with between 50 and 55 of the 93 seats in the NSW lower house. Based on the election result in 2011, it faces voters with a notional 69 seats, the results of a number of by-elections since then notwithstanding.

For Baird and the Liberals, it seems the widely anticipated “Abbott factor” will be at worst insufficient to cruel their electoral prospects, and whilst a portion of the swing against the government will inevitably be ascribed to the unpopularity of the Prime Minister and his government, it won’t be decisive: and unlike the election in Queensland in January, this consideration was really NSW Labor’s only real hope for causing another boilover in yet another Liberal-held state.

Just like the unexpected Newspoll on Monday — coloured as it probably was by NSW state voting intention rubbing off on findings around federal support — a state election win in NSW could provide a fillip for the Abbott government which, if skilfully exploited, could see this week used as the bedrock upon which to mount a sustained political recovery (although with another Hockey budget and the patent risks associated with it coming up, we’re not going down that tangent this morning).

I think — despite its problems, the most obvious of which has been the loss of 10 MPs over donations scandals uncovered at ICAC, including former Premier Barry O’Farrell — that the government deserves to be re-elected tomorrow; after a slow start and especially since Baird took the reins last year, the Coalition has gone some way to repair the mess left in NSW after 16 years of Labor government, and has taken steps to kick-start Australia’s largest state economy after the torpor and dysfunction in which it was left in 2011.

I should be clear, however, that had Labor not made an unbelievably unprincipled slip this week — pandering to racial prejudices over the Baird government’s plan to lease 49% of the state’s electricity assets — that tomorrow could well have been on track to see a much different outcome, with an incrementally larger swing enough to at least force the Coalition into minority and with it, inflict a rerun of the infamous 1991 result on the conservatives.

I’m not at all surprised Labor has been crass enough to try to fan anti-Chinese sentiment as a way of garnering support; the increasingly amoral campaign methods used by the ALP have been surfing very close to the line insofar as acceptable political conduct is concerned for some time, and arguably crossed it in Victoria last year as militant unionists donned facsimiles of emergency services uniforms to masquerade as ambulance drivers and firefighters (and to harass and bully people into voting Labor at polling booths, no less).

It is a credit to prominent NSW Labor figures such as Paul Keating and Michael Costa that their has been a blunt and unequivocal put-down of Labor’s latest campaign tactic.

The wanton politics of race have no part in a campaign like this — if there was some actual issue that sat squarely in the middle of legitimate community disquiet over actual events and/or actions, it might be different.

But Labor’s talk about security concerns stemming merely from the fact Chinese companies are interested in investment opportunities the asset leasing program will present is tasteless, to say the least.

Perversely — for all its talk of commitment to minorities and the championing of diversity — Labor has shown its true colours, more than willing to brazenly play the race card when political need suits it. It will be interesting indeed to see whether this shifts votes to the Coalition in the seats that house Sydney’s Chinese community, which is the largest in the country.

But really, this seemingly isolated issue is symptomatic of the insidious disease afflicting Labor more widely.

In NSW, it seeks to win votes by fanning anti-Chinese sentiment, and by threatening to cancel the very licences for coal seam gas exploration in the north of the state it issued itself in its last term in office just a few years ago.

In Victoria, it lined up rent-a-crowds composed of union thugs to pretend to be trusted emergency services personnel, in a ruse that worked, although voters in Melbourne are unlikely to fall for it a second time, and voters elsewhere now know what to expect.

Labor graduated to that disgusting ploy from using union members to pose as “sick” patients on hospital trolleys in Melbourne’s Alfred hospital to advance a wage claim.

Federally, Labor prosecutes a fallacious and malicious personal crusade aimed at destroying Abbott not just politically, but personally as well.

It flatly denies the consequences of its mismanagement of federal finances, and spent part of its last term in office setting up the situation wherein exploding residual federal spending steadily worsens a budget deficit to the point it kills off a Liberal government (so Labor itself, presumably, can return to government to wreak even more damage as a bulwark against “next time).

On and on it goes. Labor will say, and do, literally anything to win office.

As I have always said, Labor cares about power, not people: and happily enough, this shameful flaw in its priorities is set to explode in the party’s face tomorrow.

When the dust from tomorrow’s election has settled, the Liberal Party across Australia will have been charged with a fresh obligation: to stop shadow-boxing and obsessing over risk aversion, and tackle the hideous Labor ogre for what it is: an unprincipled and reprehensible stain on governance prepared to compromise or sell out anything, literally, in the naked lust for power and the indulgence of union cronies whose violent and wanton militancy should have been left in the 1970s where they belong.

Baird deserves his election win tomorrow, and I have no reluctance in providing an unqualified endorsement for a vote for the Liberal and National parties, albeit one that would have been more difficult to make were his predecessor still Premier.

Yet these considerations are based on issues, facts, and the balance of political realities; Labor’s campaign has ended with a racist taunt and a xenophobic smear.

NSW voters should be thankful that the ALP will not be returning to the Treasury benches in Macquarie Street for at least the next four years.


Union’s Penalty Rates Deal A Smoke And Mirrors Trick

THE DEAL ON PENALTY RATES announced yesterday between Business SA and the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association may be a rare and welcome shred of labour market flexibility, and it may even constitute a step in the right direction. But robbing Peter to pay Paul is a fraught pursuit, and this smoke and mirrors trick simply cloaks the underlying burden of wage costs to businesses in a veil of “consultation” and “consensus.”

I have been reading about the “historic” template agreement signed yesterday between the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDAEA) and Business SA — which is said to “slash” penalty rates — and I have to wonder if I’m the only one who hasn’t been conned by what can only be described as a hoax; The Australian‘s Grace Collier tears strips from it in a complementary argument to mine, although stablemate Judith Sloan takes a gentler view of it.

The whole point to any debate over penalty rates (at least, where the poor bastards in small business lumbered with paying them is concerned) is that these archaic, obsolete relics from a bygone era as “compensation” for “unsociable hours of work” have in fact become a millstone around the figurative necks of many small and medium-sized enterprises, forcing them to restrict the times they trade, the number of staff they can hire, or both.

But this deal is simply a conjuring trick; everyone with a stake in it professes to have had “a win” — even the employers, their industry representatives, and the supposedly pro-business Liberal government — yet the only winner out of this is the union involved, which has hoodwinked the business interests concerned by a breathtaking sleight of hand.

First, the positives as I see them.

One, the abandoning of penalty rates on a Saturday is an absolute no-brainer, and this indefensible impost on businesses ought to be removed across the board: Saturday has become a day just like any other over the past few decades, and there is nothing unsociable about working on it.

Two, and similarly, the reduction of penalty rates from 100% to 50% on Sundays and from 150% to 100% on public holidays is at least a step in the right direction, reducing at face value as it does further imposts on small enterprises that — with a tiny number of exceptions, such as Christmas — simply fail to stack up against the ancient criteria still wheeled out by Labor and the unions to justify them.

The “right” — set to be enshrined as part of the agreement at hand — not to work on Sundays and/or public holidays is one I can find no fault with; after all, if people don’t want to work on given days they shouldn’t be forced to do so, although I reiterate that with a very small number of exceptions they shouldn’t have their hand out for multiples of their ordinary time earnings if they do work at those times.

And anything that helps flatten out and simplify a ridiculously complex regime of penalty allowances, loadings, and other wage components for hourly employees can only be a good thing.

But the positives are instantly neutralised with one very big negative: the 8% increase in base pay rates the agreement enshrines for its workers in return for surrendering a portion (not all, mind, just a portion) of their entitlement to be paid penalty rates at certain times, and the guaranteed 3% annual increases it includes will simply compound this.

On the one hand, this agreement takes some penalty rates away — some — from the hourly employees it will cover.

But on the other, it will mostly give them straight back in the form of a higher hourly rate.

The proof is that the template calls for the workers it covers for it to be no worse off under its terms for the agreement to be binding.

And the employers, desperate for relief from the punitive burden of paying penalty rates, will still pay out the same amount of money in wages — but broken down and accounted for a little differently.

The higher hourly rates will mean the employer effectively pays current penalty rates at any time of the day or night on any day an employee is working in their business.

What an absolute farce.

It’s unsurprising Labor and the unions are gushing over this; the SDAEA has probably uncovered an exciting new mechanism, compliant with the Fair Work Act, with which to continue to shaft small businesses whilst preserving their self-designated status as the “champions” of Australian workers.

It’s unsurprising the union, even a right-wing union like the Shoppies, would strike such a deal (despite any illusion otherwise) because it enables it to diminish a contentious area of industrial policy — penalty rates — by hiding part of it in an area of wage entitlements that it will never be held to account or challenged over; the penalty rate problem becomes smaller, more manageable and easier to fend off, whilst the unmitigated overall pressures on business are maintained.

But it is a surprise, distastefully enough, that various employer and industry bodies are hailing this as some kind of breakthrough when it is nothing of the sort; a red herring like this should have been easy to spot, and apparently it wasn’t.

And it’s just obscene that various figures in the Abbott government have seen fit to crow about this deal as “a constructive approach” and a “vindication” of its thoroughly gutless position that setting penalty rates should be left to the Fair Work Commission — which Labor in government set up as part of its sop to unions for their role in destroying the Howard government over its WorkChoices legislation.

About the only one of the key players quoted in the articles I’ve included today who has it right is Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm, who described South Australia as an “economic basket case” and correctly observed that those who want to work on weekends had been priced out of the market by penalty rates.

And crucially, when the dust settles and the businesses affected reconcile their outgoings on labour — and find nothing has changed — this deal will not make it easier for a single new job to be created, despite the loose rhetoric being tossed around to that effect.

In the final analysis, the union has insulated the earnings of its members by permanently entrenching the cost burden of penalty rates on the affected employers under a different guise.

It can hardly be described as a reform. The parties to this silly agreement might as well have not bothered in the first place.

Federal Newspoll A Big Clue NSW Coalition Will Be Re-elected

ANOTHER BIG MOVEMENT to the Coalition in Newspoll — appearing in The Australian today — is unlikely, as I criticised a similar finding a month ago, to be rogue; rather, as some 30% of the national electorate is readying to vote in a NSW state election on Saturday, it holds a clear sign the Baird government will be re-elected. The poll offers a sliver of hope to the Prime Minister. It remains to be seen if he and his colleagues can capitalise on it.

Opinion polling is a notoriously inexact science — as most readers know — and in an apparent reversal of the prevailing wisdom that the Abbott government is dragging down the stocks of its state-based Coalition counterparts across Australia, it seems today’s Newspoll sees the opposite phenomenon: one popular Liberal state government dragging the federal Coalition up with it as voters in that state are focused on an actual election, rather than the usual hypothetical caveats that apply to polling exercises.

Every indicator from Newspoll today (and you can see the tables here) sees improvement in the Abbott government’s numbers, including the headline finding of a four-point movement after preferences that slashes Labor’s lead to sit at just 51-49: and whilst it’s only an estimate, if NSW voters are readying to re-elect their Liberal state government by, say, a 54-46 margin and such a buffer has bled into the federal figures, that would be enough to offset a 56-44 result for the ALP in the rest of the country.

Of course, such considerations are not as cut and dried as that, but this column is a discussion about politics — especially when talking about routine polling, unless I’m doing something especially forensic with it. I simply think that this movement back to the federal Coalition can’t be dismissed as a rogue result, as wary as I am of it: and that means something else must be distorting its findings. In that sense, it is only necessary to look north of the Murray River to ascertain what that factor might be.

I think there is a mix of things going on here, and whilst I might be wrong to infer the relatively better standing of the NSW Coalition is colouring federal voting intentions in this particular poll, there are sound reasons for thinking so.

For one thing, the two most recent state-based opinion polls conducted in NSW — one by Galaxy, the other a Fairfax-Ipsos survey — both found the Baird government set to receive 54% of the two=party vote in Saturday’s state election: and whilst the state Coalition could be forced into minority if its vote dips below 53%, the movement against the Liberals in that state appears to have halted.

For another, NSW is not generating any of the kind of headaches for the conservatives in its own right that the unpopular, divisive, confrontational LNP government in Queensland did; Campbell Newman was regarded dimly in the end by most Queensland voters, fairly or unfairly. Baird, by contrast, is the most popular political leader in the country at the present time.

And despite Labor’s best efforts to replicate the stunning upsets it engineered at state elections in Victoria and Queensland, the effort in NSW is less cohesive, and the latest example of this can be found in former ACTU leader and senior Labor minister Martin Ferguson tearing strips off NSW ALP leader Luke Foley over his irresponsible and populist standpoints on energy policy, utility sales and relations with the union movement.

But just as NSW seems intertwined with this particular survey, so too is there plenty happening in federal politics to mirror and augment that influence.

It seems some in the Labor Party — to say nothing of the electorate — are finally beginning to wake up to the stupidly dishonest populism and rank opportunism of their so-called “leader,” Bill Shorten, who seems to think he can coast into the Prime Ministership by sitting back and waiting for the Abbott government to make mistakes; it’s a theme we have explored in this column before.

But just as Labor hardheads realise — thanks to “reforms” to their party’s leadership selection process designed by Kevin Rudd to enable him to rule forever, elections notwithstanding — that they are saddled with Shorten, it seems the penny may have finally dropped that the utter dearth of meaningful policy ideas and a sheer vacuity in Labor’s dealings with the electorate have left it dangerously exposed to the risk of being gazumped.

It is perhaps no surprise that the federal Coalition has enjoyed better weather whilst Prime Minster Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, sunned herself — literally — on a holiday to Fiji; it is a great shame she didn’t stay there.

But if the amateurism and poor judgement that have marked the Coalition’s first few months this year again return to characterise its day-to-day behaviour, it will add impetus to calls from those hellbent on seeing Credlin dismissed from her post.

And all of this comes in the run-up to a critical federal budget that many Liberals are dismayed will be delivered by Joe Hockey as treasurer, given the spectacularly ham-fisted fuck-up last year’s effort has proven to be, and especially in light of recent rhetoric from the government suggesting it will be a ho-hum exercise that will do little to rock to boat.

Or make a serious attempt at fixing the budget without squibbing some obvious hard decisions, for that matter.

In this vein, Hockey’s antics in Question Time yesterday (following an apparently leaked story that suggested Foreign minister Julie Bishop’s aid budget is set to be slashed, in a revelation that was “all news” to her) did little to inspire any confidence.

In fact, the japing good time Hockey appeared to be having for himself was a poor look, and it is to be hoped he puts as much energy and effort into crafting a budget worth implementing this time rather than the disparate and unsaleable series of measures aimed at enraging Coalition voters in marginal seats that he passed off as fair and appropriate ten months ago.

And there are signs — the furore over the foreign aid issue one in a long list of them — that the federal Liberal Party is silently falling in behind Bishop, rather than Malcolm Turnbull, as the likeliest replacement for Abbott should his leadership finally be judged terminal.

In turn, this means that any leadership switch in the government is increasingly likely to be accompanied by the dual positives of the departure of Credlin from Canberra and the avoidance of an unedifying brawl between Liberal moderates and conservatives over the merits of Turnbull as an appropriate frontman to attempt to sell to sometimes sceptical branch members and constituents.

So where does all this leave us?

Tellingly, Shorten’s approval numbers — as they always do when the Abbott government’s mistakes are not explicitly driving its poll fortunes — have collapsed, and with just 36% approving and a rising 47% disapproving of his performance, Shorten is once again trending to be only marginally more popular than Abbott.

Is it any wonder the blowtorch is beginning to be applied to this most lightweight of Labor show ponies.

Abbott’s numbers — despite a second consecutive small improvement — are dreadful, as they almost always have been for the past five and a half years, although it is a perverse fact they are no bar to winning an election. Abbott himself has proven as much.

But a conjunction of circumstances has conspired to offer the Abbott government some clear air: what it does with it, of course, rests in its own hands, and the return of Credlin and the imminent 2015 budget should not be underestimated as fertile and febrile resources with which to plunge the Coalition back into the abyss of scathing public opinion.

Yet all of this adds up to the Abbott government being confronted, for the first time in some time, with a sliver of hope: and should Baird survive in majority government on Saturday as seems increasingly certain, there might even be — dare I suggest it — a modicum of momentum behind the government, and a little wind in its sails to boot.

As has been the case for most of the parliamentary term thus far, however, the Coalition will be the master (or mistress, with a nod to Credlin) of its own fortunes: and whilst the chickens might be wandering ominously toward their roosting spots in Labor’s coop, it is the Coalition that will continue to drive the shape of electoral opinion in the immediate sense.

What it does with the tiny opportunity that appears to exist is entirely its own decision.


Leak Against Kroger Showcases Issues Liberals Must Fix

LEAKING AN ILLICIT RECORDING to The Age — presumably in an effort to embarrass incoming state President Michael Kroger — has perversely legitimised the mammoth overhaul needed by the Liberal Party’s moribund Victorian division, if not nationally; it is a reflection of sorts on whoever leaked it that they chose to broadcast Kroger talking good sense. Even so, that this occurred at all is symbolic of the deep problems the party faces.

I must confess that I’m unsure just how annoyed to be at what can only be construed as a malicious leak against Michael Kroger from the confines of a Liberal Party membership event, when weighed against a sense of amusement over the fact that whoever did it had the stupidity to divulge material that depicted the new party state President serving up a dose of hard-nosed and long overdue common sense: probably not the image that was meant to be conveyed.

Whichever way you cut it, though, it isn’t a good look, and it neatly underlines just about everything wrong with the Liberal Party in Victoria, its get-square culture of factionalism, and the total ignorance that abounds in some quarters of it around exactly who it is the party ought to be fighting against: Labor and the Communist Party Greens, not ourselves.

To be honest, the same observations can be made, to varying degrees, of the rest of the state divisions of the party across the country.

I was at a Liberal Party membership function in Bentleigh on Saturday morning that was attended by Kroger and the new state Liberal leader, Matthew Guy, and for a moment when I saw the Fairfax press this morning I thought the recording had been made there; The Age notes, however, that the tape came from another function in Mordialloc, not that it really matters: the points Kroger made at both were virtually identical. And whether some in the party like it or not — or feel aggrieved enough to leak them to an unfriendly newspaper — Kroger is absolutely right.

In sharing this link I urge readers to not only peruse the article from The Age that covers Kroger’s remarks, but to listen to the (obviously) edited version of his comments the newspaper has seen fit to include with it; to me there is not one syllable in what Kroger has been telling membership meetings of the Liberal Party across Victoria for some time now that does not make perfect sense, and any member of the party who objects to the sentiments that he expresses should take a hard look at themselves, and leave.

There are a couple of obvious giveaways that this was an attempt to damage or embarrass Kroger: the fact it was given to the Fairfax press — no friend of the Liberal Party and/or the Right at the best of times — reflects a calculation on the part of whomever did it that their handiwork might explode in Kroger’s face; the phraseology used (the talk of learning from the Greens, being out-campaigned by Labor, being “killed and killed and killed again” by Labor) shows that whilst it did little more than quote Kroger, The Age has done so in such a way as to portray that message in a light that reflects upon the Liberal Party in the poorest way possible.

And it seems a logical conclusion to draw that whoever is responsible comes from that group in the party that is about to be cleaned out of the sinecures and centres of power and influence within it: and frankly, if this is the calibre of their expression of the best interests of the Liberal Party, the sooner they are pushed out and back to mere branch member status the better off the Liberal Party will be.

For the full duration this column has existed (and for many years prior to that, privately, as those who know me would attest) I have been saying that one of the crucial weaknesses the Liberal Party faces is that when it really comes to it, the Labor Party is far better at hard politics than we are: variations of that sentiment are sprinkled throughout the archives of this website.

I don’t see how anyone could take umbrage at Kroger’s assertion that the Liberals are “a party of old people:” one visit to your common-or-garden local Liberal branch meeting is evidence enough of a membership whose average age is pensionable.

His remarks about the recruitment practices of the Greens (aptly citing the methods of Mao Zedong) and being “killed” by Labor might be colourful, but they are exceptional only insofar as they are brutal in their candour: and honesty in self-appraisal and blunt realism in self-evaluation are attributes that have been sorely lacking in the Liberal Party for far too long.

All of this echoes sentiments I have published on Kroger’s return to the Liberal state Presidency, and on the mess generally in which the party finds itself after a state election loss in Victoria, and the prospect of additional pain at the fast-approaching federal election if nothing is done to try to avert it.

The party needs to improve in all areas if it is to generate for itself the sustained electoral success (and the dividends they can deliver to its core constituencies) that is increasingly enjoyed, by and large, by the ALP: in tactics, strategy and communications; in central and local campaigning, and campaign management; in doorknocking, membership recruitment and policy development; in fundraising and central party management; and — as Kroger has highlighted beautifully in the speech that has found its way into the willing arms of the Fairfax press — connecting emotionally with the voters we expect to deliver us into government, and to prosecute both the logical and emotional cases for people to vote for us.

None of this is rocket science, of course, and in the final analysis the worst crime that has been committed here — any malicious intent notwithstanding — is to telegraph to the party’s opponents an itemised list of the things that are now firmly on its agenda for redress.

Still, if the party’s internal discussions are to be made public, then the better it be that those conversations exhibit a healthy dose of good, common sense: the restructure that is soon to commence in Victoria can and should be a model for other states (and, indeed, the party’s federal wing) to follow.

Political parties exist — as I have written many times in this column — for one reason, and one reason only: to win elections, and as useful as the social aspects of party membership might be, they are actually meaningless if the party is not achieving success at the ballot box to deliver on the principles and beliefs its offering is based on (and yes, the party’s suite of policies is also in line for a rethink).

A good start is an end to internecine leaks and silly factional games that ultimately benefit nobody aside from the ALP.

In this regard — and given the vested interests inside the party clearly find such a course distasteful — Kroger is an ideal choice to oversee the demolition of amateurish and self-immolating practices and their replacement with a more professional approach to the business of electoral politics.


Overt Threats Of Nuclear Attack By Russia Help No-One

AN ISSUE OVERDUE for discussion involves Russian President Vladimir Putin’s remarks that had Russia been confronted militarily over its annexation of Crimea or its mischief in Ukraine, it was ready to use nuclear weapons; now, Russia threatens nuclear attacks on Denmark if it aligns more closely with NATO. These brash declarations may be bluster, but the only wise conclusion to draw is that Putin is capable, literally, of anything.

One of the issues I alluded to a week ago that I would have to come back to when time permitted has, in fact, returned on its own, and whilst tonight’s article is big on links for further reading, I’m going to keep the commentary portion of it fairly succinct: clearly this is something that isn’t going to go away, and it seems certain we’ll be talking about Vladimir Putin and his thousands of nuclear warheads again — and probably sooner than anyone might like.

The revelation by Vladimir Putin (reappearing in public after seemingly vanishing into thin air for a week and a half) that Russia would have responded to any military confrontation over Ukraine and/or Crimea with nuclear weapons is ominous enough, even if such a declaration could be ascribed to the chest-thumping bluster of a notoriously macho shithead.

But — lest anyone make the mistake of dismissing these veiled nuclear threats as isolated — I have been motivated tonight to publish the post I meant to write a week ago by the news that Russia’s ambassador to Denmark, Mikhail Vanin, has stated that his country would target Danish warships with nuclear warheads if the Scandinavian nation joins NATO’s missile defence shield, a US-led venture to safeguard against nuclear missiles launched by “rogue states” (read: North Korea and Iran), which Putin has long believed is aimed explicitly against Russia.

30 years ago, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — alarmed that Ronald Reagan went within a whisker of signing away the West’s nuclear deterrent in response to a proposal by USSR chief Mikhail Gorbachev that both sides unilaterally eliminate their stockpiles of warheads — famously observed that you could no more disinvent nuclear weapons than you could disinvent dynamite: despite the best will in the world, nuclear weapons and the technologies that enable them are with us forever.

The irony of course is that Gorbachev was probably the one Soviet or Russian leader in the last 70 years the West had no reason to fear. But the warmer relations it enjoyed with Gorbachev soon turned chill under Boris Yeltsin, and have become positively icy on Putin’s watch.

On one level, Putin’s well-known desire to restore Russia to the glory of its Soviet heyday as an economic and military superpower is understandable.

But the ridicule once attracted by Russia’s military as a decaying reserve of infrastructure and obsolete weaponry overseen by a contingent of manpower that was shrinking as quickly as its members could desert it has given way to the realisation — that those of us with an interest in such things knew — that all the while, Russia was rearming; that whilst the West (and the present occupant of the White House in particular) was signing new deals with Russia to make steep cuts in nuclear stockpiles, Russia was lying to its “partners” in the West, testing new weapons, overhauling old ones, and restoring its strategic forces to a position of superior strength.

Now — against a backdrop of nationalist fervour whipped up in Russia by master propagandist Putin — Russia is slowly but surely beginning a faltering advance aimed at “safeguarding” its “people abroad” (think the Russian-speaking peoples of Ukraine, and Belarus, and the Baltic states) and reclaiming its “historical sovereign territory” (think Crimea, whose annexation was legitimised by a “referendum” widely believed to have been fixed and universally regarded in the West as illegal under international law).

Now, we have Russia asserting its right to station nuclear missiles in Crimea — bringing all of Western Europe into much closer range — at a time of belatedly heightened international alarm over Russia’s motives and in apparent response to naval exercises in the Black Sea that infuriated Russia.

We have Russian military drills of their own, involving 45,000 troops and dozens of warships in the Arctic, which the Kremlin is openly telling any Western media outlet that cares to listen are all about getting the Russian military to a state of “combat readiness.”

We have reports that Russia is testing what sounds suspiciously like a neutron bomb, or similar, the intended purpose of which is ominously obvious.

We have ongoing attempts to decouple Europe from the United States with propaganda and misinformation — the old Soviet playbook — which should surprise nobody, given Russia has spent the past 20 years trying to get Europe addicted to supplies of Russian gas as a way of guaranteeing the dependence of the EU on Russia and detaching it from American influence.

We have reports of Russian attempts to station nuclear missiles near the Polish border and/or plans to invade or otherwise attack Poland; doing so would almost certainly draw in Germany, and with it NATO: and once the question of active warfare is one of NATO versus Russia, that — to use the vernacular — is tantamount to the whole powderkeg going “kaboom.”

And all this comes several years after Russian nuclear bombers resumed long-range patrols in international airspace and, more recently, as its fighter planes have repeatedly made incursions into European airspace, particularly around Britain, as they apparently seek to test the combat readiness of the Royal Air Force: flying up the English Channel and close to Britain’s south-west coast, forcing civilian passenger aircraft to take urgent evasive action and/or for flight paths to be re-routed, these are not the actions of a country seeking to minimise or mitigate against the prospect of a deadly and incendiary accident.

And it comes as the US — “led” by its most strategically dangerous and insignificant President since Jimmy Carter — mulls plans to arm the Ukrainian military against Russian-backed insurgents fighting against it in parts of Ukraine, with the attendant risk that doing so may provide the pretext for a direct Russian military response that could lead to God only knows what.

I do not post this evening to appear alarmist, inflammatory or to sound frightened, for I am none of these things.

But the simple fact is that over the past few years the accrual of evidence of a belligerent and confrontational Russia is overwhelming; its footprint is everywhere, and Russia’s fingerprints extend too far and too thoroughly across the Eurasian region now to suggest anything other than a bellicose Putin prepared — literally — to do anything in order to reclaim the lost lands of the USSR, and willing to risk the consequences of doing so.

Russia is not a friend, or a partner, or an ally: it is the enemy of freedom, and the sooner more people realise this basic truth of 21st century politics, the better.

And its antics can hardly be ascribed to bluster any more, or the mere trifle of a few military exercises that nobody should worry about.

Any nuclear attack launched by Russia on any country or countries in the Western hemisphere will be met with overwhelming nuclear retaliation against Russia by the United States and Britain; nobody should suffer from the delusion Putin appears to suffer from that nuclear force would not be responded to in like kind.

Those in the UK who seek to question the future of Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent — in the context of the election campaign underway in that country at present, and with the Labour opposition struggling to fend off an assault on its Scottish seats from the irresponsible and criminally populist SNP, which is campaigning on a pledge to remove nuclear submarines from the River Clyde — would do well to consider that without Trident, Russia could simply level the UK without resistance if it chose to do so, the threat of retaliation from the Americans notwithstanding.

And in fact, the disarmament daydreams of Barack Obama are likely to see his successor in the White House (preferably a Republican) make the reinvigoration and restoration of US strategic forces an urgent priority. The beaten Republican candidate in 2012, Mitt Romney, claimed during that campaign that the West would face the risk of nuclear blackmail and perhaps nuclear attack from Russia — and was laughed at. Romney was right, and this column acknowledged as much at the time (and I elicited much derisive comment and accusations of conspiracy theorism for my trouble). Nobody is laughing now.

But with or without Britain’s Trident nukes, if the Russians start shooting — and the US responds — the ensuing apocalyptic episode will render considerations of general elections, military alliances and even planning as far as the following week forever redundant.

Any reader who has not seen this chillingly credible depiction of nuclear warfare previously should spend the requisite couple of hours doing so: in what is unquestionably a fresh Cold War between Russia and the West, it’s high time this kind of thing once again sears the collective conscience of those faced with nuclear blackmail or, even worse, the existential threat of a general nuclear war and the hundreds of millions (if not billions) of lives it would terminate.

I’m going to leave it there, for the purpose of this article is to get a reasonable chronicle of recent events regarding Russia and its warlike behaviour — to say nothing of its loose and provocative nuclear rhetoric — onto our radar; this is the first time we have discussed such matters for some time, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.

And at some point we might have a look at the handling of Russia by the West since the fall of the Soviet Union, for just as Putin is depicted in some quarters as a madman and a lunatic, not all of the fault for the developing crisis and return to Cold War conditions lies with Russia: the West has made mistakes in its treatment of the Russians ever since the Berlin Wall came down, and as immeasurably superior to a life under Communism as the free world might be, there are some — the first President Bush being a case in point — who simply couldn’t resist poking the Russian bear in the eye with the very sharp stick of triumphalism.

But in the end, those men who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it: it is not too late to avert a disaster, and it is not too late for Russia to reach an accommodation with the West that does not stink of appeasement by the latter, or include ambit and unreasonable demands from the former.

But the trend of escalation is now clearly to be seen, in full view, with the apocalyptic threat of a nuclear war made in stark and blunt terms for the first time in decades. It isn’t a set of circumstances to be taken lightly, diminished with propaganda, or simply to be ignored.

Former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser Dead At 84

FOLLOWED BY CONTROVERSY throughout a career in public life that spanned seven decades, former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser died in Melbourne early this morning, aged 84, the day before what would have been the 40th anniversary of his election as leader of the Liberal Party. A dour and divisive figure from privileged roots, Fraser will be forever remembered for engineering the dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975.

If readers will permit me a personal reflection, Malcolm Fraser was central to my first outing in active politics, aged 5; accompanying my mother to vote in the safe Liberal Queensland seat of Petrie at the 1977 federal election, I proceeded to entertain polling officials and other voters with a reasonable rendition of the Liberal Party’s election pitch; at the end of my remarks — and this is the only part of the episode I recall clearly — a polling official with big black glasses knelt down in front of me to look me in the eye. “But why would you vote for Mr Fraser?” he asked. “Because he’s got better policies than Mr Whitlam and a fistful of dollars,” I replied solemnly.

The polling official — as my father reminded me last night, ironically as we recounted the incident just hours before Fraser’s demise — confided to my mother once I was out of earshot that I had made more sense than Whitlam and Fraser, too.

Time changes all manner of things, and this wealthy scion of Australia’s landed squattocracy and descendant of Federation pioneer Sir Simon Fraser will largely not be remembered by the wider public with any affection or warmth; despite achieving the two biggest election wins in Australian political history and spending seven and a half years as Prime Minister, Fraser — famously a loner, and nicknamed “the Prefect” by his colleagues — was never personally popular, and despite his stature as a political titan in the 1970s led a government lamented by liberals and conservatives alike to this day as an opportunity squandered.

Fraser is rightly acknowledged as having presided over the restoration of economic and social stability in Australia in the aftermath of the brief and turbulent tenure of the Whitlam government, and his government is credited with several notable achievements — the establishment of the Federal Court and the Australian Federal Police, the creation of SBS, the introduction of child endowment allowances, opening Australia for immigration by refugees from Vietnam, the return of powers to the states, as well as measures in environmental policy and Aboriginal land rights, to name a few.

But despite commissioning the Campbell report in 1981 — which paved the way for extensive deregulation and opening of Australia’s economy and financial system — Fraser refused to allow his Treasurer, John Howard, to implement its recommendations: the report would instead form the basis of the eventual reforms introduced by Hawke government Treasurer Paul Keating.

It is this failure to reform, coupled with the related criticism that it did nothing to substantially reform industrial relations laws during its tenure in office, that earned the Fraser government scathing criticism after its defeat that it had been a do-nothing government that persists today.

Yet Fraser will be remembered forever, with his name etched deep in the events of October and November 1975 that saw the Whitlam government dismissed from office; I have made the case in this column sporadically in the past that the Dismissal was, at heart, a constitutional law case, and that Governor General Sir John Kerr acted in accordance with the only constitutionally valid course open to him in withdrawing Whitlam’s commission as Prime Minister on 11 November 1975 so a deadlock between the Houses of Parliament could be resolved by a double dissolution election.

(We most recently looked at it in the aftermath of Whitlam’s death late last year, and readers can access that piece here).

Those tumultuous and controversial events divided Australia, and Fraser was at their epicentre as their driver and their beneficiary; there is a school of thought that quite plausibly ascribes the thin record of reform achieved by his government to a latent sense of illegitimacy in view of the manner by which it arrived in power, and whether readers subscribe to such a theory or not, it doesn’t change the fact that whilst Fraser led a competent government in the broadest sense, as a right-wing reformist outfit — unlike its contemporaries in the UK, the US, later in Canada and in parts of continental Europe — it was a failure.

But reform or no reform, Fraser was controversial, and controversy and division dogged his political career almost from the time he became a minister in the 1960s; he spectacularly resigned from Cabinet in 1971, accusing Prime Minister John Gorton of “gross disloyalty” and interference in his discharge of ministerial responsibilities and accusing Gorton of being “unfit to hold the great office of Prime Minister.” This outburst ultimately led to Gorton being replaced by William McMahon: scarcely an improvement, whatever Fraser might have thought of Gorton.

With the Dismissal and the thumping 1975 election win out of the way, Fraser led an unhappy government that was racked by scandal and resignations throughout its tenure; by 1981, he faced a challenge to his leadership from heir apparent Andrew Peacock — which he easily saw off — but having made many enemies in a political career even then 25 years long, it was evident that Fraser’s grip on the Liberal Party had started to slip: and as it did, so too did the bond between the Coalition and the electorate, as a severe recession in 1981-82 and the arrival of Bob Hawke in the parliamentary ALP eventually saw the Fraser government trounced at a double dissolution election early in 1983.

Controversy has followed Fraser ever since, conferring some notoriety upon him two years later as Australians awoke to the news that “Big Mal” had been found wandering around a hotel in Memphis, wearing only a bath towel, and unsure as to the whereabouts of his trousers and other personal effects. For some, it seemed for the first time that the oft-detested Fraser was almost human.

Yet one of the paradoxes of Malcolm Fraser is that this good, decent man, with a reputation among those who knew him for great warmth and personal compassion, was so coldly regarded by Australians generally: one of the favourite themes of political cartoonists of his day was a portrayal of Fraser in the statuesque manner of an Easter Island precipice — carved and hewn by bitter winds out of granite.

But a solitary childhood spent on the rolling agricultural properties that underpinned his family’s wealth and privilege meant that Fraser never connected easily with people, although when he did he was renowned for his loyalty and generosity.

He enjoyed great loves, two of the best-known being a fondness for cars and motor racing and a passion for the Carlton Football Club, and it was particularly pleasing to me today — as I went about my business in and around Melbourne — to hear a number of key Carlton figures from the club’s heyday during Fraser’s Prime Ministership (especially the coach, David Parkin) pay tribute to him on Melbourne radio for the devotion and hospitality with which he repaid the club’s attention to “a fan” as it won three Premierships in four years between 1979 and 1982.

And in later years, he reconciled with Whitlam — spawning an unlikely but truly great friendship — with the pair working alongside one another to advance a number of causes, the best known being their advocacy for a republic at the (thankfully) doomed referendum on the issue in 1999.

I would like to offer my sincerest condolences to Fraser’s family, and I acknowledge his widow Tamie — who, as the country’s First Lady, brought a grace and elegance that so often served as a foil to the more abrasive antics of her husband, and who rightly remains warmly regarded and popular by millions of Australians even now. Our thoughts are with her at this painful and difficult time.

Those who know me know I have spoken dismissively and harshly of Fraser, particularly where the failure of his government to utilise the colossal mandate it held to reform Australia is concerned and in view of the apparently increasing leftward trajectory of his views, and especially in the years since he deserted the Liberal Party that had nurtured his career for so long in 2009.

I would emphasise that these criticisms only ever applied to Fraser’s ideas and actions, or the lack of them as the case may have been; personally I liked Malcolm enormously, for he was a good and decent man in spite of whatever criticism may have been levelled at him, and even if not perhaps having truly achieved the greatness that his promise might have heralded.

In the end, Fraser was a man and a politician of his times: and the views he held that are roundly decried as left-wing, bleeding heart poppycock today are almost unchanged from those he held 40 or 50 years ago that earned him the contrary description of right-wing authority figure and anti-democratic tyrant.

Time, indeed, changes all manner of things.

Yet in a final irony, it changed Fraser little as the years passed, and as Australia (and the world) evolved around him: for a man whose utterances suggest a profound distaste for conservatism his life has been a virtual embodiment of it, and the man dismissed 50 years ago as wanting to “Put Value Back Into The £” (sic) and on a mission to restore Australia to the “golden age” of Sir Robert Menzies and the 1950s has remained as relevant, and as controversial and divisive, as the continuing beliefs and ideas he propounded have proven more enduring than anybody could probably have dared to believe when he was pilloried for them.

VALE, John Malcolm FRASER AC CH (21 May 1930-20 March 2015), 22nd Prime Minister of Australia, 1975-1983.

Goebbels Gaffe: Distasteful, But Abbott No Worse Than His Critics

TWO WRONGS do not make a right, and the use of personalised Nazi slurs in Australian politics is, on balance, a practice best avoided. Yet the depiction of ALP “leader” Bill Shorten as “the Dr Goebbels of economic policy” is no worse than similar smears used against Tony Abbott, and other Liberals, by Labor: including by some who now feign outrage. The thrust of Abbott’s remarks, however — that Shorten is a bullshit artist — remains accurate.

Having long been active in Melbourne’s political and business circles, it probably comes as no surprise that I have a number of associates and cherished close friends who are Jewish; yet even if this were not so, I have never had any time for anti-Semitic filth, and I make no defence of others who see slurs against Jews as an acceptable form of discourse.

Yet when Prime Minister Tony Abbott got himself into trouble earlier this year over his use of the term “Holocaust” to describe an employment crisis, this column remained silent; that word — replete with its evocative imagery of the evils inflicted on the Jewish people during World War II, and rightly so — has plenty of other applications in the English language that ostensibly have nothing to do with Jews at all. Do we associate “a nuclear holocaust” as a smear against Jewish people? Of course not.

And given prominent figures on the Left have seen no bar to the use of “holocaust” themselves, I opted not to dignify the hypocrisy with comment.

But Abbott today finds himself under fire again, this time for his description of opposition “leader” Bill Shorten as “the Dr Goebbels of economic policy,” and whilst this description is tasteless (and would perhaps best have been avoided), it has been blown out of all proportion by Australia’s outrage industry, sections of the Left-leaning press salivating over anything it can turn into indignant attack material against Abbott, and by the Labor Party — including some of its MPs who it seems have chosen to hurl stones at Abbott from their brittle glass houses.

Abbott’s comments, made in the context of remarks from Shorten in 2012 that the Gillard government had “brought the budget back to surplus” — the deficit continues to stand at some $50bn annually, with Labor under Shorten explicitly refusing to allow savings measures aimed at redressing it to pass the Senate — sought to portray the Labor “leader” as a propagandist, a snake oil salesman, and a bullshit artist.

Shorten is certainly all of those things, and more.

But I think the invocation of Third Reich imagery — on all sides of politics — is, whilst perhaps mostly not the hanging offence the sanctimoniously aggrieved political opportunists might suggest, nevertheless a practice that should be summarily dispensed with.

Even so, the most outraged of Labor’s MPs — shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus QC, also Jewish — had neither the right nor the standing to profess offence, having himself accused Abbott of “Goebellian cynicism” four years ago, over the latter’s campaign against Labor’s carbon tax.

Federal Labor has been free with its Nazi portrayals of both Tony Abbott and others in the Liberal Party for many years, as this report in today’s Herald Sun evidences.

And anyone who has studied politics at an Australian university knows that interaction with even Labor’s youngest and greenest acolytes quickly uncovers a narrative of all conservatives as “Fascists,” and the ALP’s use of Nazi insults is an old story, not a new one: a ready example is Labor’s decades-long likening of former Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen to Adolf Hitler personally — a practice that continues many years after Joh’s death — and routinely saw Labor protests in Queensland featuring collateral portraying the Queensland Premier with swastikas, dressed in Nazi uniform, and other examples of the conduct is now seeks to decry.

Its demonisation of Campbell Newman was enacted, in part at least, on exactly the same basis.

Can I just say that whilst throwing Nazi insults at each other is a practice that our politicians would be best served avoiding, the assumption of some moral high ground by the ALP is every but as repugnant as the words it seeks to crucify Abbott over: were we to catalogue every Nazi insult levelled publicly against conservative figures by the ALP, we would be here for a very, very, very long time indeed.

And that doesn’t make it right either.

Tony Abbott is of course no saint and, like anyone else, comes with his faults.

But I am getting really tired of beat-ups in the national press, seeking to crucify him over relatively trivial incidents, as often as not aimed at the Prime minister from a position of utter hypocrisy, and all concerned with the destruction of a Liberal Prime Minister at any cost.

Any genuine regard (in this case) for the sensitivities of the Jewish community Labor purports to express outrage on behalf of is, as best, an afterthought: not least when the likes of Dreyfus have been guilty of throwing the very same taunts at their opposite numbers when it has suited them.

Yes, Shorten is a complete bullshit artist; only an idiot would pay any attention to the story he seeks to peddle. Yes, Abbott could have better chosen his remarks, and it’s not the first time such an observation could be made of the Prime Minister: he hasn’t needed to invoke the spectre of the Nazi Party to attract controversy in the past.

And two wrongs certainly do not make a right.

But in the final analysis, this — like Abbott’s “job holocaust” remark — is little more than a storm in a teacup, and what currently passes for political discourse in this country serves it badly enough as it is without cynical ALP MPs trying to create major political controversies from such trifling errors as Abbott made yesterday.

Everyone should grow up, smarten up, and move on: and leave the Nazi jibes out of the political arsenal, where they have no place anyway.