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.


Pension Age Change A Budget No-Brainer

WITH THE FEDERAL BUDGET drawing nearer — and with the shape of an austere document starting to take form in the public conscience — Treasurer Joe Hockey is charged with delivering a responsible package that redresses the immediate mess bequeathed by Labor, and goes some way toward fixing the structural weaknesses in the budget over the longer term. To this end, raising the age at which eligibility for the age pension is reached is a no-brainer.

I want to talk about this because to my mind, the kite that is being floated in public view should most certainly be allowed to fly; the issue of the age at which retiring folk become eligible to receive an age pension has remained unchanged for decades, and the mooted variation to that will allow, literally, decades for those affected to plan for it.

The Treasurer has already allowed the notion of a pensionable age of 70 to enter public debate, with his remark that “It may be the case that my generation has to work for an extra three years;” Hockey — a 48-year-old Generation Xer (and seven years my senior to the day: we share a birthday) — has much to sift, evaluate and ponder in framing arguably the most critical budget to Australia’s economic health since 1996, and fallout from increasing the retirement age by a few years ought to be the least of his concerns.

It bears remembering that the age pension (as it exists as a Commonwealth benefit) was originally introduced in 1908, and the age at which it can be accessed has remained set at 65 ever since.

It scarcely bears pointing out that back in 1908, life expectancy (for both men and women) was well below 65; the pension was a benefit paid to “old people who were destitute” who had worked (generally to 60 or 65 anyway — if they made it) to provide a modest stipend of income support in their final days of life which, by the standards of the day, would be relatively brief on average in any case.

Today, of course, males born in 2014 can expect to live for an average 80 years, and females to 85; improvements in medical treatments, vaccinations, hygiene and so forth have led to drastic increases in the length of time people can expect to survive, and in the context of this particular social security measure this has the practical effect of transforming payments that may have lasted on average for a year or two into payments that can last for decades — compounded by the fact these outgoings are paid to people who have also ceased to contribute to the enabling revenue pool through the payment of income taxes.

It is clear that the age pension regime introduced in 1908 — quite literally — has outlived the purpose for which it was intended.

Labor, under Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard, have already set about lifting the age at which a pension can be drawn to 67, which comes into effect in 2023; a further increase to the age of 70 (which makes a sensible compromise between the need to look after old people and the fact that on average, they will have more productive years leading into retirement than past generations) is being tipped to become effective by 2040: more than a quarter of a century from now.

If that suggestion represents the form a further increase to the pensionable age does indeed take, it won’t affect anyone for decades: no-one affected could possibly argue they haven’t been given ample time to prepare, to save, and to make other arrangements.

I should point out at this juncture that the National Disability Insurance Scheme will catch many of those who fall through cracks in the system by becoming incapacitated in the interim, and consequently unable to continue to be productive and to work to provide for themselves in retirement: for the money the NDIS is set to saddle taxpayers with this point really must be emphasised, because the $22 billion annual cost (in today’s terms) when the scheme is fully operational struggles to justify the value it seeks to provide in relation to the need it purports to address.

So, too, will superannuation, which under present legislation may be accessed from the age of 55; there is no suggestion, as things stand, that the preservation age in relation to superannuation will be increased.

Hockey has made much of the need to end “the age of entitlement,” and I agree; there are a great many benefits paid out by the Commonwealth — all funded by a pool of taxpayers that is shrinking and will continue to do so, as the Baby Boomer generation continues to retire and withdraw from the tax-paying workforce — that were introduced with the very best of intentions (and by governments both conservative and Labor alike) but which have delivered the situation today where 37% of all monies paid out by the federal government are spent on one welfare benefit or another.

It is true Tony Abbott promised before the September election that the pensionable age would not be altered, and it’s true the irresponsible mouthpieces within the ALP have already signalled their intention to engage in cheap politics over what is a very sensible change.

But Labor is in no position to criticise moves to increase the pensionable age, having commenced the process itself, and it has no moral or ethical credibility on the issue from an economic perspective to oppose it either: the structural problems in the federal budget may or may not have originated (as Labor protests, with a finger pointed backwards at Howard government tax cuts) on its watch — that’s a whole different argument I’m not going to be diverted into here.

But whether they originated during the Rudd-Gillard government or not, nobody can argue credibly that those structural flaws were not vastly exacerbated by the sheer incompetence and mismanagement that the ALP applied during its time in office.

The simple truth is that irrespective of who is responsible for what, those flaws need to be fixed: best to do it now, well in advance of the remedy affecting anyone, than leaving it until it is too late and adversely impacting a far, far greater number of people with little or no warning.

I accept there are people who cannot look after themselves, and contrary to assertions of Liberal Party cruelty from the ALP, I sincerely believe the government understands this as well; there has always been provision to take care of these people, and whilst arguments can be had over the adequacy of such arrangements, those discussions have absolutely nothing to do with age pensions for productive, able-bodied people who are able to work.

Criticisms of a delay in the pension age based on using sick or disabled people are a deliberately-placed red herring: the two groups of people to whom the different welfare regimes apply are mutually exclusive.

With particular emphasis on the long lead time before any of these changes will apply, the best thing anyone who finds the mooted changes to be an outrage can do — rather than whining and putting their “rights” ahead of their responsibilities — is to knuckle under, work hard, save money and set themselves up: the age pension regime as it stands is not sustainable, and the amendments that look like being made to it are hardly unreasonable when all other factors of relevance are considered.

At the end of the day, nobody is entitled to a free life forever at the expense of the taxpayer; and whilst I am sympathetic to the argument that people who have worked hard and paid their taxes should be entitled to something back in their twilight years, the fact those “twilight years” now increasingly last for several decades demands that the “entitlement” to something be nudged onto a more realistic — and more sustainable — footing.



Hard Reality: Only A Fool Advocates “Banning” Nuclear Weapons

THERE IS LITTLE DOUBT that nuclear arms rank among the most destructive instruments of human ingenuity ever devised; there is no doubt that any global war involving their widespread use will either enslave the handful of survivors or be so lethal as to ensure there are none. The best possible intentions envisage a world without nuclear weapons, but the real world and its realities dictate that only a fool would ever attempt to realise such an objective.

I have been reading a story from the Fairfax press today, which reports on a meeting of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative in Hiroshima; this event was attended by the foreign ministers of 12 non-nuclear countries, and unsurprisingly featured survivors of the US nuclear bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 as advocates for the outright banning of the possession of nuclear weapons worldwide.

Their call failed to elicit a commitment from the delegation to such an end; thank goodness it did.

I think nuclear weapons are horrific instruments of warfare; it is virtually impossible to use them without killing thousands — perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands — of innocent civilians every time such a bomb is deployed, even if the intended military or strategic target is destroyed.

I also generally believe that nuclear-armed nations should refrain from any first use of nuclear weapons.

There are exceptions: during the first Gulf War, US President George H.W. Bush issued a barely veiled warning to Saddam Hussein that any use of chemical and/or biological weapons on Allied troops would elicit a nuclear response on Baghdad; in the wake of the terrorist atrocities of 11 September 2001, many commentators (including me) openly advocated nuclear retaliation if the attacks could be conclusively linked to either a foreign government or state-sponsored terrorist attack (they couldn’t).

But these are rare (and thankfully isolated) instances of unprovoked aggression warranting a nuclear response that, fortunately, failed to materialise, and I contend that provided there is enough restraint on the part of nuclear-armed powers to refuse to be the first to launch, this at least is one safeguard against the prospect of general nuclear warfare that would decimate civilisation as we know it.

Where the equation starts to blur is around notions of deterrence and nuclear blackmail; the weapons don’t need to be actually used to either safeguard their owners from attack or to achieve sinister objectives under duress. I don’t even think lunatics like the regime in North Korea envisage nuclear retaliation for an unprovoked atomic attack raining down upon it with any relish; it is fair to say that even the most hardened despots find the prospect of their own nuclear annihilation abhorrent, even if their regard for that of others is cavalier at best. Thus, the irony is that it is on the very questions of deterrence and blackmail that the root of the debate over nuclear arms resides.

The conference in Japan to which the Fairfax report pertains — staged, as it was, against the backdrop of the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine — even noted that the Russian action may not have occurred had Ukraine not ceded the nuclear arsenal it inherited upon the collapse of the USSR back to Russia in 1992: I’d say it’s a very fair assumption to make, given nobody would have intervened in the interests of either side had a localised Russia-Ukraine nuclear exchange erupted over Crimea. (Yes, I am aware of the issue of fallout such a regional conflict would impose on surrounding countries. My point is that those countries and their allies would hardly worsen the problem by inviting the spread of the conflict itself onto their soil).

Whilst that scenario is obviously a hypothetical one, a live version of it was played out early last decade between belligerently nuclear-armed India and Pakistan; these are countries whose religiously based hatreds run deep, and whose military planners for a long time viewed nuclear weaponry as simply the latest — and most potent — thing to lob at each other should they return to a state of war, most notably over the disputed border region of Kashmir.

At the time, wiser heads prevailed upon both sides to cool the tensions that led perilously close to war. But the undercurrents that remain could as easily be stirred anew: shortly after the last explosive crisis was defused more than a decade ago, India’s nationalist, right-wing BJP government was defeated by the Centrist Congress Party; that wheel has now turned full circle, with the BJP expected to return to office in a landslide in elections underway as we speak after two terms in the wilderness. And Pakistan is hardly a country noted for its stability or security, and in which a hardline military junta could seize power at any time — just as it did in 1999. Unlike the hypothetical Eurasian scenario, the variables in this regional powderkeg remain just as volatile, and heavily armed with nuclear weapons to boot.

One of the reasons there is no serious talk of military assistance to Ukraine and against Russian aggression is because Western powers know it is action they cannot take: nuclear-armed Russia might respond by engaging in conventional warfare. But there is no guarantee that Vladimir Putin wouldn’t select the nuclear response available to him, either.

I can hear my critics. Doesn’t all of this speak for — rather than against — the abolition of nuclear weapons?

Margaret Thatcher once said (of a proposal by President Gorbachev for the USA and the USSR to unilaterally disarm, which Ronald Reagan contemplated agreeing to) that you could no more “disinvent” nuclear weapons than you could “disinvent” dynamite: from her perspective, which was that of the Anglo-American alliance, if others had them, then Britain and the US must have them as well.

She was absolutely right, much to the horror of the CND activists who momentarily believed their wildest dreams would come true.

For one thing, for the abolition (or banning, elimination, whatever you want to call it) of nuclear weapons to be feasible, there must be trust among the stakeholders involved; I point directly to the Kremlin, noting that the actions of Vladimir Putin in Ukraine — whilst not involving nuclear weapons, or at least, not yet — are evidence enough of the repercussions in such situations where one side simply disregards the imperatives of the other.

Does anyone seriously think that if Russia agreed to unilaterally destroy its nuclear arsenal that it would honour the deal? It might permit international inspectorates to monitor the dismantling of x number of warheads. But Russia — not to put too fine a point on things — has shown itself to be untrustworthy. Who would risk the security of the entire free world on a potentially empty promise from its government?

For another, there are those states that either refuse to officially confirm the existence of their nuclear arms (Israel) or refuse to sign instruments aimed at the control of nuclear weapons and curbing their proliferation (India, Pakistan, North Korea). North Korea in particular is unlikely to ever voluntarily surrender what limited number of warheads it possesses; it also has a recent history of being led by lunatics hellbent on inciting anti-US hatred among its population. A denuclearised America would face the very real prospect of a North Korean container ship being sailed into San Francisco Harbour, and…kaboom.

It is well known that China’s military mischief in recent years — principally over matters of disputed territory that it pushes claims over with Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, South Korea and Vietnam — have been constantly ratcheted up and underpinned by the nuclear muscle to settle any or all of them at a stroke if required; one of the realities that constrains China from doing so is the fact Uncle Sam would retaliate in kind and in such a fashion that there simply wouldn’t be a China (a scenario which also raises — depending on whose version of geopolitical allegiances you listen to — the prospect of Russia coming to China’s aid against the US).

In all of these cases, the very existence of nuclear weapons on one side of a given equation is a balance and a restraint on the other from using its own. It isn’t an ideal situation by any stretch. But it has prevented nuclear conflict since World War II, and certainly since the USSR achieved an offensive atomic capability of its own to match the United States in 1949.

And there is no guarantee whatsoever that the scenario regularly presented by the younger President Bush — that nuclear weapons might fall into the hands of terrorists, whether sold by a rogue government or stolen, that can then be used against countries like the USA and its allies — will never happen. In fact, an international disposal operation of tens of thousands of warheads would increase the likelihood of precisely that occurring, given the heightened difficulties in accounting for every warhead during such a massive undertaking, and verifying and documenting the dismantling and destruction of their components.

We’ve only touched on a handful of the world’s hotspots and the hypothetical scenarios and permutations they conjure up. There is no shortage of others. But to fundamentally alter the uneasy nuclear balance that has evolved over almost 70 years is, to my mind, to fundamentally undermine international security and heighten — not eliminate — the risk of an unprovoked nuclear attack occurring somewhere in the world.

Do I deny the risk of nuclear accidents? Of course I don’t.

Do I deny the possibility of a sneak nuclear attack occurring as things stand? Of course not.

Do I deny the horrific suffering inflicted on the people of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945? Of course I don’t.

And — except for the attacks in New York in 2001 — I don’t think any of the world’s conflicts since 1945 should have been settled using nuclear weapons; 2001 is a moot point, as there was no identifiable enemy against whom to retaliate in such a tangible fashion.

(And anti-Iraq War people: don’t read more into that than it says at face value; Hussein had to be overthrown and the US was right to do it, even if the “intelligence” provided by the Blair government that justified the operation subsequently proved to be largely incorrect).

Even if the eight known nuclear-armed countries pledged to irreversibly dispose of their nuclear arsenals (and even if, by some miracle, North Korea actually did it) there are three considerations that cannot be discounted, and the existence of any of them should be a bar at least to our friends in the US and the UK, in our interests and theirs, from dismantling their arsenals.

1. Someone might hold out: someone might retain a “secret stash.” It’s not impossible by any stretch.

2. Someone else might have nukes and/or sell them to stateless third parties who then act independently to launch against a disarmed Western country stripped of the deterrent of the US-UK nuclear umbrella.

And (most importantly) 3. Destroy the warheads by all means, but the technology would still exist. There are already those, such as rogue Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, who have proliferated this technology to North Korea, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and God alone knows who else. The knowledge is too widespread to be wiped from existence, and too valuable not to be preserved. It will always exist. Any belief to the contrary is, frankly, so intellectually negligent as to defy belief. And for as long as it exists, the threat posed by nuclear weaponry will exist as well.

The “goal of a world free of nuclear weapons” is a noble one, but it can never happen: in this vein, the foreign ministers at the Hiroshima conference were right to resist the call to ban nuclear weaponry outright, and it is a matter of some small mercy that its recommendation to ban the production of “fissile material for nuclear weapons” will carry so little weight as to never be enacted.

In Fairyland, there will never be nuclear war. In the real world, the prospect of it can never be entirely discounted. The hard, cold reality is that deterrence is a better option than a state of disarmed helplessness. Only a fool would suggest the latter is in any way preferable.



Political Flashback: Straight Answers To Straight Questions

IT WAS THE FEISTIEST and bitterest rivalry in conservative politics in Australia, and on 5 September 1985 it seemed that John Howard had prevailed over Andrew Peacock after a botched attempt to replace Howard as deputy Liberal leader resulted in his ascension to the top job. Of course, this episode simply raised the curtain on several years of simmering, seething hostility. But in defeat, Peacock exhibited a candour that few politicians deploy today.

I must apologise for yet another of my little stints on walkabout; my world has had me preoccupied with other matters this week, and these have kept me from finding time to post. Indeed, with just such time available tonight I’ve spent it snooping around YouTube looking for old curios, and having found “something interesting” thought I’d publish some comment on it whilst working out, over the next day or so, where we’ll pick the present day conversation back up.

I did one of these flashback pieces once before, talking about the surprisingly gracious speech former Prime Minister Paul Keating made upon conceding defeat back in 1996; it got a lot of reader attention at the time (and still has “bursts” of topicality, based on the metrics I can see as the administrator of the blog), so I will be very keen to see what people make of this. If there is demand for the “flashback” idea I’m happy to do them, but only once in the proverbial blue moon: too many would turn the column into a history book rather than a discussion forum providing comment and analysis on what’s going on in the world of politics.

But my little hunting trip tonight (or, to be more exact, this morning :)  ) took me to the press conference given by former Liberal leader Andrew Peacock in the aftermath of his resignation on 5 September 1985 and the subsequent elevation of his deputy, John Howard, to the leadership on the same day.

The reason I have decided to share this and talk about it (and readers can access the clip here) stems from the candid, fluent and direct approach Peacock deployed in the face of heavy questioning by journalists, and the rather ironic fact that subsequent events showed the sincerity of some of that candour to be…well, a little less sincere than his emphatic statements might otherwise have suggested.

The thing that I find worth revisiting in the context of an ongoing discussion of Australian politics, some 30 years later — and in some ways like the Keating piece — is the degree of directness in Peacock’s remarks, and the contrast it provides with the sort of thing we might expect from senior politicians (of all political stripes) today.

There is no obfuscation, or a hiding spot constructed from the repetition of idiot-simple phrases that make little sense; Peacock takes each question and — as can be best expected of a politician at all — answers them, and answers them meaningfully.

If we were to reflect, with total honesty, how many of the current crop of MPs in senior roles would do so as eloquently?

Younger readers might not recall Mr Peacock — the so-called “Colt from Kooyong” — acknowledged by friends as a polished political performer, and by critics as a one-trick show pony; either way, this media conference is an accomplished performance, and whatever Peacock’s shortfalls might have been when it came to questions of substance over style, credibility in the harsh glare of a press pack was never one of them.

Personally — despite his status as a Liberal moderate — I liked Peacock enormously, and supported him over John Howard throughout their rivalry; the Howard who eventually became Prime Minister in 1996 was of course a vastly different (and changed) entity to the awkward, sometimes tentative and downright unpopular Liberal leader who battled through the mid to late 1980s. “Mr 18%,” the now-defunct Bulletin magazine once headlined him, with the mocking subtext “Why on Earth does this man bother?” in reference to the abysmal personal approval ratings Howard routinely recorded.

The emphatic, persistent and genuine-seeming declarations of support Peacock pledged for Howard, that Thursday afternoon in Canberra, were exactly the right noises to make, and struck all the right notes; Peacock’s unconditional public offer to serve Howard was accepted, with the latter appointing him shadow minister for Foreign Affairs: a portfolio he held in government under Malcolm Fraser, and a role that to this day evokes memories of the affair he once had with American actress Shirley MacLaine, who famously declared that she would give the then-Foreign Affairs minister “a foreign affair he would never forget.”

Even so — and despite the commanding farewell performance as leader in 1985 — politics is politics; and the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Of course, as time wore on it became clear that the rivalry with Howard was far from resolved despite the suggestions of Peacock that day; in fact, shortly before the 1987 federal election Australians had a graphic glimpse of what Peacock really thought of Howard, and readers can reminisce about that, too, by clicking here. (Just don’t play this second clip with small children — or prudes or wowsers — in earshot).

And on 9 May 1989 that rivalry boiled over again, as Peacock and his lieutenants executed a snap coup against Howard to return to the Liberal leadership: the man of style — the “great campaigner,” who had run the Hawke government surprisingly close at the 1984 election, just 21 months after the Fraser government has been tossed out — was deemed likelier than his colleagues to lead them back into office than the man of substance.

And Peacock might have become Prime Minister in 1990, too, had a handful of his mates opted not to appear on the ABC’s Four Corners programme shortly after the 1989 coup to brag, admitting to the treachery and outright lying they had engaged in to terminate Howard’s leadership. The episode left a permanent taint on Peacock’s second stint as Liberal leader, and probably destroyed much of the momentum he might otherwise have generated heading into the first of three “unloseable” elections fought by the Liberal Party in the early 1990s.

In any case, this performance — the dignified, direct and graceful performance after relinquishing his position to a detested political foe — is, to me, an illustration of the finery and sophistication that once characterised our polity, and is nowhere to be found today.

What do readers think: is there room for this kind of thing, or is the use of simple slogans as battering rams a crude but much more effective way to operate? And with the benefit of three decades since the event, was Peacock worth the hype, despite his two election defeats, or was the Colt from Kooyong simply a prancing show pony with nothing more to recommend him?

I’ll be interested to see your thoughts. And later today, I’ll be back with something on retail issues pertaining to current events.


Labor Pain: Bolt Only Half-Right On ALP Affliction

THE ASSERTION by Herald Sun writer Andrew Bolt — that policy, not the unions, lies the root of the Labor Party’s precarious standing as a viable political entity — is only half-right; only a fool would suggest (and Bolt, of course, doesn’t) that ALP policy is anything other than the stuff served up by an outfit totally divorced from community expectation and reality, but the fingerprints of the union movement lie all over the problem at its genesis.

Back in 2005 — fresh from a thumping fourth election win, and armed with a majority in the Senate — the Howard government introduced what was presented at the time as “the final objective of John Howard’s 30-year career in politics” in the form of a suite of laws designed to increase flexibility in the labour market and place curbs on the degree of intrusion unions were able to make into workplaces. That package of legislation, of course, was WorkChoices.

Labor, then in opposition and led by the avuncular Kim Beazley, was flummoxed; it was an outrage, Labor said, an attack on the party’s core constituency, and introduced without a mandate. Yet despite the noise and outrage emanating from the ALP the best it could mostly do was to draw close to Howard in reputable opinion polling: Howard, it seemed, would probably get away with it.

Watching in the wings was the leadership of the union movement, which collectively took a deep breath, steeled itself, and flung itself into battle; a $13 million advertising and media campaign — “Your Rights At Work” — was prosecuted with deadly precision (if not, perhaps, particularly honestly) and Labor zoomed ahead of the Coalition in the polls.

To ensure its advantage was pressed home, Beazley was dumped: the unions desperately wanted Julia Gillard to take on the leadership, and the contest that saw Beazley replaced certainly set her up for “next time,” emerging as she did with the deputy leadership and a bloc of votes without which Beazley would probably have survived. But the next best thing was the driven, distastefully ambitious Kevin Rudd, who had set himself up carefully as an electable face the party could turn to. Rudd, as we all know, went on to become the giant slayer who beat John Howard.

I begin thus because I have read Andrew Bolt’s column in the Daily Telegraph today and I think he is only half-right in the case he presents; certainly, Labor’s policies — and they have cost that party very dearly in the past couple of years — belong somewhere between cuckoo-land and some God-forsaken socialist utopia. But I contend they are very much consequential to the main problem, rather than the cause of it.

The episode over WorkChoices, to me, represented the point at which the unions finally completed their takeover of the political operation of the ALP; we’ve spoken about this at great length during the lifespan of this column, and whilst the ALP and the unions have always been entwined — after all, the ALP is the political wing of the union movement, and one grew from the other — the past ten years have seen Labor “evolve” into a “union party” rather than the Left-of-Centre party affiliated to and significantly influenced by the unions that it mostly had been.

To complete the WorkChoices analogy, the Fair Work Act — and all its legislative and organisational instruments — might as well have been written over at Trades Hall in Carlton; this regime, along with the abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, were tantamount to handing the union movement a blank cheque.

Don’t get me wrong: there is very, very little in Bolt’s column today that I disagree with. He is right to describe Labor policy as it stands today as “lunatic,” and his roll call of the party’s recent (and deserved) electoral humiliations, the carbon tax and its lethal politics, the culpable and almost criminal dereliction of its asylum seeker policy and the like are potent symbols of a once-mighty political party that has not only lost its way, but strayed into the realm of a prescriptive nanny-state that few Australians have either the engagement with nor the inclination to support.

But there are two large disagreements I take with Bolt’s arguments.

The first, of course, is their central premise: that Labor policy, rather than the unions, is the source of the party’s woes.

It can’t be any clearer that union control of the ALP is so endemic that such an assertion simply fails to withstand scrutiny: led by a former unionist, who replaced another leader with roots deep in the union movement, Labor’s MPs are disproportionately skewed toward a demographic that left school, went to university, and worked either for another MP or for a union before entering Parliament.

Those who didn’t work for a union directly are nonetheless beholden to the movement indirectly by virtue of ALP preselection processes, which remain largely the preserve of union warlords despite present fashionable rhetoric about “democratising” the ALP, and which are carved up and allocated among factions controlled by union interests well before names are allocated to individual seats or electorates.

Labor’s industrial policies (again, courtesy of the union effort on WorkChoices) are a virtual no-go zone for anyone in the party who might seek to alter their pro-union intent: such is the debt Labor owes the unions for its anti-WorkChoices campaign a decade ago.

And Shorten’s reticence to fall into line with the Royal Commission into the union movement isn’t simply a manifestation of his directionless methods in seeking to offer all things to all people; he simply can’t do otherwise. He is too beholden to the unions himself, and I can’t even say he’s beholden to “union masters” because as the former head of the AWU and a deeply connected union figure himself, he is one of those masters.

Certainly, one may follow the other — Labor’s policies may well be the partial result of stacking out the deck with union hacks and ceding control of the party to others in the union realm. But the policies are very much consequential, not causative.

The other “disagreement” I have with Bolt isn’t so much a disagreement per se as an addendum: Bolt is right that Labor seeks scapegoats; it looks everywhere except where it should, of course, with any meaningful assessment of the control the unions wield over it sacrosanct despite some “smart” formulations otherwise expressed (such as “opening” the ALP to non-union members, despite the unions continuing to control 50% of the vote at party conferences — a reality nobody in the ALP seems to have the stomach to confront).

The additional scapegoat Bolt merely alludes to in the most peripheral sense is the one it should be taking full aim at alongside the unions: the Communist Party of Australia Greens, whose jaundiced and cynical socialist view of the world — wrapped in the innocuous cloak of tree-hugging environmentalism — finishes for the Labor disease what the union movement starts.

Labor’s carbon tax, its asylum seeker policy, its class warfare and its anti-business, anti-family, anti-wealth inclinations all pander to varying degrees to the insidious scourge that is the Greens, to which a substantial portion of the Labor Left has decamped and on which the ALP is increasingly dependent on preferences simply to survive as a viable political entity.

In other words, rather than Labor developing a platform of its own in the best interests of the community at large as it sees it, the ALP pays its thirty pieces of silver in exchange for whatever favour or service or benefit it thinks it can extract on its historic mission to get Labor bums into green ministerial leather, as unencumbered as possible by any responsibility to deliver anything that most people actually want, or support, or — God forbid — might have voted for.

The same can be said of its callous disregard for anything people might have voted against, which is perhaps peculiar given the role WorkChoices played in its return to government in the first place in 2007.

This is the behaviour of political prostitution, not political principle, and in one sense the description at all of its bastard fruits as “policy” is an affront to the otherwise meaningful, considered process of developing sensible public policy crafted in the aim of advancing the public interest.

Even if that policy is called WorkChoices.



Could Campbell Newman Lose Queensland In 2015?

A SLEW of poor opinion polls has conservatives in Queensland pondering what should be an unthinkable question: could the LNP, under Campbell Newman, lose office in Queensland next year? The proposition — in the face of a colossal election win two years ago — ought to be ridiculous, but stubborn poor polling dictates it be considered. The smart money says the LNP is safe, but it has a “get out of jail” card if things appear to become truly dire.

Like many readers — and as an old Brisbane boy — I follow the political goings-on in Queensland very closely; whilst opinion polls are simply snapshots in time that often bear no resemblance to a subsequent election result, the determinedly downward trend in the Newman government’s numbers, in light of the huge win it scored just two years ago, is a warning that should only be ignored at its peril.

I’ve been reading The Australian this morning and thought I should make some comments on the story it is carrying, dealing as it does with the latest quarterly Newspoll in Queensland showing a swing against the LNP of nearly 11% after preferences based on the 2012 election result: a swing, to be clear, that could see the government not just lose its majority but lose an election outright depending on where the votes fall.

Nobody can say, 12 months from an election, whether this kind of finding will translate into actual votes; it could very well be that Queenslanders — confronted with the reality of the choice between re-electing the LNP or returning to the train smash that was 23 years of almost unbroken ALP rule in their state — swing back to Newman in droves, and that the LNP holds office with the loss of a relatively small number of seats.

I opined after the 2012 election that the gain of 15 additional seats in 2015 (on top of the 7 out of 89 the 2012 election saw it hold) would be a highly credible result for the ALP, and a small but definitive step along the road to political recovery. In some respects, it still would be.

Yet whilst opinion polling has its limitations, sustained polling heralding the same outcome — in this case, a massive swing against the LNP — must be taken seriously.

To be clear, Queensland Labor has neither made the case to resume government, nor refashioned itself into a political outfit deserving of being taken seriously; as recently as this morning this column has had something to say about its joke of a leader, who would rather split hairs over a business class airfare for the Premier than focus on the huge potential benefits of the trade deal that airfare carried him to the negotiating table for. This charade alone pretty much sums Labor’s — and Annastacia Palaszczuk’s — limitations up.

The Queensland ALP received a free bonus of sorts in February, winning the seat of Redcliffe in a by-election swing of some 16%. But it would be dangerous to read too much into it; Redcliffe had been vacated by an utter grub who should never have been preselected, and whose actions had him in line for expulsion from Parliament before he took the coward’s option of slinking out the side door. And Scott Driscoll, whose questionable financial transactions might yet see him face criminal charges, probably accounted for at least 10% of that 16% swing.

Even so, the poor headlines for Newman’s government continue; despite the wishful thinking of some within the ALP, the LNP’s cuts to public expenditure have not resonated with the broader electorate: in the sense that they might have there is a broad understanding that the government has been doing what it was elected to do, which is to clean up the mess Labor made of its budget (like Labor makes a mess anywhere that it is foolishly entrusted with the management of taxpayers’ money).

But the Driscoll fiasco damaged it, as did the embarrassing spat centred on Bruce Flegg and his sacked advisor 18 months ago; and the cavalier machinations of Clive Palmer — who stomped out of the LNP because it refused to do exactly as he wished in government — are, where Queensland is concerned, designed with the almost singular objective of rendering as much damage upon the LNP as possible.

The episode that seems to have done the most damage, however, is the crackdown on outlaw bikie gangs the government has pursued, and laws around the right to associate and assemble that are worryingly reminiscent of some of the excesses of the Bjelke-Petersen era.

Not that a strong-arm, arrogant, autocratic style is a bar to governing Queensland, mind; Bjelke-Petersen wasn’t the first Premier in the Sunshine State to exude those tendencies and he wasn’t the last, and nor was his purveyance of them confined to the conservative side of politics. The name Wayne Goss springs vividly to mind. In some respects, that of Peter Beattie does, too.

But the crude noise makers at the ALP (and its cohorts in the union movement) are putting a more concerted effort into tearing the Newman government down than they are in perhaps any other conservative-controlled jurisdiction in the country: given the lengths they went to demonising the Prime Minister — ultimately failing to prevent him winning an election — that’s a big call.

And momentum — that intangible force in politics that can be with you one moment and against you the next — seems to be running against Newman if not, perhaps, explicitly in the favour of his opponents.

So could he lose?

The first point to make in any consideration of this question is that Queensland’s electoral boundaries are rigged in Labor’s favour; like its counterparts interstate who overcame electoral boundaries weighted toward rural voters to win office, Labor replaced gerrymandered boundaries in 1992 with “fair” electoral laws that contain a bias of 2-4% toward the ALP.

If anyone doubts this, a revisitation of the 1995 state election — at which the Coalition won 53.6% of the two-party vote and failed to win a majority — should dispel those doubts.

And having scored 63% of the two-party vote in 2012, there are different opinions on exactly what movement against the LNP would reap what consequence, chiefly on account of the number of contests not fought out between the LNP and Labor. Even so, the best guess I can make is that a uniform swing of 10.3% will cost the LNP its majority, and a uniform swing of 10.7% will elect the ALP in its own right: 2.4% less than what, on paper, would see the LNP vote fall below 50% after preferences.

And Labor has presided over every state redistribution in Queensland since the notorious one undertaken by Bjelke-Petersen and his crony, Russ Hinze, in 1985: even if it wanted to, the LNP can’t undertake a redistribution under Queensland law until after next year’s election, and the spectre of the gerrymander would simply hand Labor a sledgehammer with which to campaign if it attempted to do so.

The question of the fairness or otherwise of boundaries shouldn’t even come into the equation, given the scope of the win two years ago; a swing to the ALP as a correction is a certainty, and a swing of 5% or thereabouts would probably be a reasonable expectation as a starting point: no matter how well Newman and the LNP governed, there are seats it holds that by rights should never have been lost by the ALP (and no, I am not going to specify which ones they are :)  ).

To me, the question of whether the LNP might lose office has less to do with statewide considerations than it does with the political atmospherics within greater Brisbane; from the Goss victory in 1989 until the LNP triumph in 2012 Brisbane was an impermeable ALP citadel. Even in 1995, when National Party leader Rob Borbidge would have led the Coalition to a romping win had the boundaries been fair, the Liberals could muster just seven of the (then) 30 seats in the capital.

Stripped of the silly LNP structures that I still maintain should never have been entered into, Queensland has a Liberal-dominated government for the only time in its political history; that 2012 win saw ex-Liberals storm the citadel, along with a clean sweep in most of the coastal and regional electorates they contested. Of the 74 continuing LNP MPs, more than 40 are ex-Liberals; the fate of the government hangs on their fortunes, for the ex-Nationals sitting in country seats are far likelier, proportionately, to hold onto seats they have held for many years.

An interesting feature of the coming contest is the Premier’s electorate of Ashgrove; once a traditional Liberal seat, it was won by Labor in 1983 and held by the ALP for most of the time since, and usually quite comfortably.

Newman has indicated he will not transfer to a safer seat for next year’s election: this is a great shame, with Moggill MP Bruce Flegg — who holds the safest LNP electorate in Brisbane — having arguably reached his political use-by date almost a decade ago, if not years before even setting foot in state Parliament. The switch of “yesterday’s man” for the Premier would be a logical one to make, although I appreciate such a move is fraught with the kind of internal hari-kari only Queensland Liberals are capable of either engaging in or comprehending.

My sense is that the LNP will be re-elected next year, come what may, although it might not be by a great margin; a messy scrap resulting in a swing of, say, 8% (and the loss of about 20-25 seats) could be worse than losing altogether, especially if the epicentre of the movement against the LNP is in Brisbane. The recriminations — and the infighting — could get well out of hand, to say nothing of the fillip such an outcome would provide to a demoralised Labor Party in desperate search of a change in its fortunes.

Intangibles lurk in the form of the Katter Australia Party and the Palmer United Party: in the case of the former, much of its primary vote in 2012 was drawn off the LNP, which might otherwise have scored 55% of the vote; and whilst polling consistently shows Katter support collapsing to near non-existent levels, in the crudest sense the quantum of its 2012 support is likely now tied up with Palmer’s crowd.

Palmer, for his part, seems hellbent on the destruction of the LNP, which makes me shake my head each time it becomes evident he has won something by drawing support off the conservative parties: the man is, by his actions, an asset to the ALP, which should have even the most disenchanted LNP supporter questioning whether a flirtation with Palmer is worth the bother.

There is ample evidence he heralds little appeal in the larger southern states, and was decisively rebuffed at the state election in Tasmania last month. Yet just when it seemed safe to anticipate the Palmer tempest might be passing, its attention-addicted figurehead aped his way to a 13% primary vote in WA and the easy election of a Senator last weekend. Yes, it was a by-election in all but name. But even so…

Along with the unknown behaviour of Brisbane voters, Palmer is the single biggest threat to the LNP government. Yet his gripe with it seems primarily aimed at Newman personally, despite his penchant for firing off verbal rounds at other LNP figures whenever he sees fit.

I return to Newman’s seat of Ashgrove, which with a 5.7% margin is in the big scheme of things and considering it was acquired at the crest of an electoral tidal wave, insecurely held — and this brings me to the “get out of jail” card I mentioned at the outset.

Ashgrove could become an unwinnable seat for the LNP simply on account of its past member, Kate Jones, acceding to the pressure being piled onto her in ALP circles to stand again. Jones is no world beater, and she could decide that her two small children are more deserving of her time than the rigours and frustrations of politics. But she is (by all accounts) a lovely girl who retains the affection of her former constituents, and forged a reputation as an effective local member. Newman got lucky against her once, but whether he would do so a second time is yet another variable that must be sifted from the mix.

If it becomes clear there is no way Newman can hold Ashgrove — and he’s already ruled out another seat — it may be that at some point toward the end of this year, he announces he’s retiring: resign the LNP leadership, and allow Tim Nicholls to become Premier.

It would need to be a Brisbane MP; country bumpkins such as three-time election loser Lawrence Springborg and the deeply unpopular Jeff Seeney simply won’t cut it with metropolitan voters, although the current fracas involving doctors in state-operated hospitals has probably terminated Health minister Springborg’s viability as an alternative LNP leader for good.

If Newman really has become the root cause and figurehead of the LNP’s woes and Ashgrove is beyond salvation, a leadership switch could be a panacea, but it’s a double-edged sword: if the move is miscalculated it will leave the LNP looking little better than NSW Labor, and only hasten its electoral demise.

Tricky times in Queensland. Not for the first time since heading south 16 years ago, I’m glad I’m no longer part of the membership body which must chart a course forward.



Free Trade Agreements: Government Doing Its Job

HISTORIC AGREEMENTS on Free Trade (or, at least, freer trade) — finalised by Prime Minister Tony Abbott on his tour of Asia — herald enormous benefits for Australia, and should be lauded; even so, the fact a government attracts attention at all for simply doing its job casts an ugly pall over its predecessor. It should give the opposition pause for thought before it continues to behave as a band or carping wreckers consumed by petty self-interest.

I have to say that I’m very impressed with what Tony Abbott and his entourage are doing in Asia at the moment, and it’s perhaps instructive of this government’s ambivalence toward feeding the 24-hour media cycle — in contrast to its predecessor — that whilst news of the free trade deals struck with Japan and South Korea have permeated local news, the balance of the trade mission’s activities, largely, has not.

I will however take the opportunity to poke a finger in the eye of the Queensland ALP; its useless leader — the forgettable Annastacia Palaszczuk — sought to play gutter politics last week over the fact Premier Campbell Newman was travelling with the Prime Minister’s group: the agreements the Abbott delegation have secured to date will add tens of billions of dollars to Australia’s economy in coming years through increased exports, job creation and investment, which includes Queensland, and like the petty tyrant in the ALP mould that she is, Palaszczuk held a press conference to lament Newman’s purported jet-setting (and apparently took issue with the fact he flew business class).

It’s the kind of incident that neatly illustrates why Labor is not fit to govern in this country, and it shows why Palaszczuk’s present stint keeping the leader’s chair warm will end as soon as Queensland Labor can get someone with a bit of nous back into the Parliament after its annihilation two years ago.

That said, pursuing and securing arrangements for freer and more favourable trading conditions with international partners for Australian industries is exactly the kind of thing governments ought to be doing; the government certainly deserves to be congratulated on the deals it has clinched to date, but it would be remiss not to point out that to do so simply forms part of the job it should be doing anyway.

I was at a meeting late last year that included Trade minister Andrew Robb, who is leading the charge in Asia as we speak, and I promise readers that the rhetoric everyone has heard about Australia being “open for business” is by no means idle banter. The deals with Japan and South Korea are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what Robb has in the works.

That rhetoric is being backed by an enormous amount of the right kind of activity taking place where international relations and trade are concerned, and these two deals precede a lot, lot more to come.

It leads me to talk about the government from an overall perspective, and whilst my remarks aren’t going to extend to too much depth, my point in mentioning these agreements is to highlight the substance the Abbott government is adding to the skeletal philosophical directions it outlined prior to the September election, and how that stacks up against the government it replaced.

The deals with Japan and South Korea open markets in both of those countries to a raft of Australian industries, most notably to beef and dairy producers, and service industries; in addition (and this is a thumbnail sketch only), a range of tariffs and other prohibitive protection mechanisms of local industries in both countries are being either abolished of slashed.

In return, Australia is providing greater access to Australian markets for Japanese and South Korean industries through a suite of similar measures, with those most commented to date being new cars and consumer electronics — in both cases slashing retail prices for Australian consumers. And, as I said at the outset, the effect will be highly stimulatory to Australia’s economy, and add billions to local industry in the process.

Any new government  takes time, after it is first elected, to begin to add brush strokes to a picture of the kind of government it will be; the direction in which it seeks to take the country, what kind of society is seeks to shape and influence, and whether it leaves the country better or worse off.

I think the present trade mission to Asia (and the deals struck by Abbott and Robb) lock another element of that image into place.

We can see that this government is more serious about the realities of free trade (rather than paying mere lip service to it) than any government previously; it is also refreshingly unsympathetic to handing billions of dollars to poorly run companies in the form of grants, handouts, bailout packages or any other euphemism for pork barrelling you care to name.

It is serious about reducing the tax burden on both business and the consumer; the abolition of the carbon tax and the mining tax are a welcome start (if they clear the Senate), and I think the day will come — if the Liberals’ electoral longevity is sufficient to outlast the repair job mandated of it on the disgusting state of the budget it inherited — when further substantial tax relief will become possible.

(I would also like to see the “tax switch” — increasing taxes on consumption and expenditure, i.e. the GST, and cutting taxes on income — although that might not happen in my lifetime :)  ).

It is certainly serious about bringing the federal budget under control, and slashing the profligate and wasteful spending that underpins the ballooning deficit bequeathed to it by Labor: anyone who doubts this will quickly be set straight on budget night next month.

But it is also a government that appears to be emphasising personal responsibility, and self-sufficiency where it is feasible to do so; the end of the “culture of dependency” that Treasurer Joe Hockey speaks of is about to be backed by real action, and provided the very poorest and most helpless are not disadvantaged, nobody can argue with that.

In short, this is a government determined to put Australia on its own two feet, and to charge forward with confidence; it is in this context I make my remarks about its overall complexion, and whilst it is simply doing the job it was elected to do, the contrast with what went before it is a stark one indeed.

The last government was led by a cretinous dickhead whose approach to the kind of delegations Abbott and Robb are undertaking was to lecture his hosts; led, that is, until his replacement with a divisive and conceited stooge who would do the bidding of the union movement because he himself refused to do so.

It was a government predicated on igniting and fanning the flames of class warfare that long ago died; attacking the “rich” whilst nonetheless worsening the lot of the poor.

It was a government beholden to lunatic socialists and communists, whose idea of nirvana was taxing and regulating industry and business out of existence: which, in its best endeavours, it set about doing with gusto.

It was a government whose concern for the welfare of this country was so scant and cavalier that without urgent remedial action, some $670 billion in debt will be racked up in the next four years without the new government spending a single additional cent; to compound this criminal dereliction of duty, the continuing ALP has the nerve to deny all liability, or even that the problem exists at all.

And it was a government that sought routinely to buy off huge constituencies with money that didn’t exist: the NDIS is a good example of this; the so-called “Gonski reforms” are another. In full flight, these programs alone will cost $22 billion per annum. They should be abolished, and abolished now; no-one thinks they aren’t ideas with some merit. But they are totally unaffordable, and it is better to chop the funding off before it even starts to flow than to allow those chosen to benefit from it to get addicted to this additional debt incurred to China, at which point it will become impossible to stop.

The trade agreements secured in the past few days by Abbott and Robb are just what a government — in the proper execution of its duties — ought to be doing.

Yet as I said at the outset, the kind of government Abbott defeated makes these achievements — comparatively speaking — seem remarkable, exceptional, extraordinary.

Clearly I could have gone into much greater detail, using many more examples of the former government and the current one, to make the point in contrasts than I have; I don’t think it’s really necessary, as readers will see my point.

Simply stated, and incompetent government whose entire program was based on a self-obsessed feathering of nests has been replaced with a competent regime whose long-term program will be to the enduring benefit of Australia, and will serve to strengthen this great country — not enslave it to a handout mentality in a thousand different guises.

The kind of successes Abbott and his ministers are achieving could have been Labor’s, too, had it governed in the national interest rather than its own, and that of its masters in the union movement.

That hard, cold reality is one that should be contemplated every time the opposition seeks to slap down Abbott, veto and obstruct legislation, or send rent-a-crowds of hooligans onto the streets to masquerade as the demonstration of “the will of the people:” an expression for which the ALP has seldom cared beyond the propagation of such gestures, and certainly does not care for today.

But it won’t, of course. Much better to have fun, throwing lies and insults and perpetuating falsified realities, and trying to fool voters who aren’t as stupid as the ALP believes they are.

In the meantime, if the trade mission to Asia is just the beginning, then Abbott and Co should be encouraged. Even Palaszczuk might get to go along next time if she can come up with something constructive to contribute.