Better Late Than Never, Bronwyn Bishop Resigns

FINALLY — after 18 fraught days that have caused the Abbott government no end of grief — embattled Speaker of the House of Representatives Bronwyn Bishop has resigned, following an expenses scandal any idiot could have foreseen. Not for the first time, Bishop has shown extremely poor judgement. Her resignation — after a grudging apology that had to be extracted almost by force — will not undo the political damage her behaviour has caused.

If we fast forward by a year or so, the greatest problem with the fiasco over Bronwyn Bishop’s $5,227 helicopter flight down the Geelong road may well be that it is seen in retrospect as an emblem of the Abbott government’s fall from office, in the same way Leo McLeay’s compensation claim on the taxpayer for a bicycle accident and Ros Kelly’s whiteboard for allocating over a billion dollars of government grants remain, even today, as symbols of the decline and eventual defeat of the ALP under Paul Keating.

But the fact she has resigned — at least a fortnight too late — is to be welcomed on all sides of politics, even if it is a textbook case of “better late than never.”

I should clarify that my calls over the past few weeks for Bishop to be “sacked” — a move that would require a vote in the House of Representatives — were not made in ignorance; rather, in the interests of some brevity, I chose to use colloquial terms for dismissal that would not lose readers in talk of the minutiae of parliamentary process.

But lining up to fire Bishop is exactly what Prime Minister Tony Abbott should have been doing for more than a fortnight. The fact he did not, and indeed continually restated support and sympathy for Bishop, will linger as a black mark against both himself and his government.

Abbott’s argument that Bishop’s conduct fell within allowable guidelines but outside public standards is valid, and indeed probably true, but ranged against the unstinting support he has offered Bishop since the storm broke almost three weeks ago, it sounds like the hollow (and futile) defence it was always going to prove to be.

Bishop’s self-sacrifice (made, if media reports are to be believed, only in the face of a threatened mass revolt by Cabinet ministers and backbench Coalition MPs alike) will afford the government some breathing space, and a successor — possibly Abbott ally and controversial minister, Kevin Andrews — will be appointed to the post soon enough.

But the government will wear the stain and the opprobrium for having dug in to defend Bishop when the claim in question was indefensible; only an idiot could have taken that particular charter flight at that reported cost and remained oblivious to the near-certainty it would sooner or later detonate in the government’s collective face.

The rumoured additional $6,000 claim that we alluded to yesterday — an aeroplane charter to evade a two-hour drive from Sydney — is only marginally less reprehensible than the helicopter flight that set this scandal in motion, and was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back in persuading Bishop that her position was completely untenable.

Bronwyn Bishop is no stranger to controversy: her tenure as shadow Health minister in the 1990s ended by a declaration of unequivocal support for tobacco advertising, and her tenure as Aged care minister in the Howard government terminated by a scandal over kerosene being used as a scabies treatment in nursing homes. On each occasion, her resilience and determination to bounce back ensured she recovered.

In this case, it seems Bishop’s long political career is drawing to a close, for now aged 72 — and having found herself at the epicentre of perhaps one scandal too many — there seems little prospect of any frontbench return, and one would hope Bishop would have the grace to reconsider contesting her ultra-safe seat on Sydney’s lower North Shore at the approaching federal election.

Yet whilst Bishop will be allowed to slip quietly into retirement, the political damage she has caused will not so easily be undone; once again, the Abbott government has been found wanting where sound judgement and astute practices of governance are concerned, and the cumulative effects of these missteps could cause it real trouble when next it faces voters.

As I outlined yesterday, a prudent response — and one which should help the government reclaim the initiative, and retrieve its standing — would be to institute an immediate and rigorous overhaul of the arrangements that govern and administer travel allowances and other entitlements for MPs, with the creation of a Parliamentary Travel and Expenses Commission to remove arbitrary control of these items from the Speaker’s Office and the Prime Minister’s Office, placing them instead at arms’ length from the government of the day and under the remit of an independent Commission.

I’m convinced this is the only way lasting, meaningful reform of MP entitlements can be enacted, and it now remains to be seen — given Abbott has promised “not tinkering but real reform” — what shape this reform takes.

For the ALP and other cynical opportunists like Clive Palmer, Bishop and her helicopter have provided a significant free hit in terms of deflecting public scrutiny from their own (considerable) woes that they have milked for all it is worth, and will continue to do so.

In Labor’s case at least, its “leader,” Bill Shorten, has switched from demanding Bishop’s resignation to now stating her resignation isn’t enough because she quit on account of a sense she was obliged to rather than “to do the right thing.” It should be noted that Shorten’s hunger for accountability begins and ends at the ranks of Australia’s conservative parties, and if he wants to be taken seriously he will allow the Registered Organisations legislation to pass the Senate — and allow the rotten unions that spawned his career to be subjected to the same standards of accountability as the business community is.

Until or unless that happens, nothing Shorten has to say about accountability or probity is worth a pinch of shit, and should certainly not be taken seriously.

But Bishop has left her Prime Minister compromised by the ill-advised loyalty he has once again shown a close ally beyond the point they became a liability; she has allowed the government to appear to be greedy, punch-drunk on hubris, and on the take; she has directly lowered the (already poor) level of esteem in which politics and politicians are held; and she has made re-election for the Liberal Party a much tougher ask.

There are those who believe what Bishop has done is no different to any other travel entitlements scandal in the past that has eventually blown over; as I have maintained throughout, Bishop’s case is nothing of the sort, coming as it does at a time people are completely fed up with politicians, in the face of the most vicious opposition Australia has perhaps ever seen, and involving the most unjustifiable and flagrant abuse of funds — $5,227 for a helicopter ride that a one-hour car trip could have covered at a sliver at the cost — most people have ever heard of.

Above all, Bishop has caused damage to Parliament and thumbed her nose at standards of decency that must not be incidental to political life, but underpin it.

Still, Bishop has fallen on her sword; it is now up to Abbott and his colleagues to pick up the pieces and to rebuild public trust where it enjoys very little indeed of this commodity, whilst others seek to profit politically from Bishop’s stupidity and the continuing government’s foibles.

Bishop is gone, better late than never. Good riddance.

 

Racist Garbage: Frankly, Adam Goodes Can Go To Hell

NAUSEATING finger-shaking over football crowds booing Sydney Swans player and 2014 Australian of the Year Adam Goodes hit a disgusting new low this week, with media railing against “racist” slurs on Goodes, Twitterati stating #IStandWithAdam, and the AFL making a typically vapid stand on racism in his name. Goodes chose to humiliate a young girl, making her a national target of vilification. He can go to hell if he resents the fallout.

One of the biggest problems with the compassion babblers and finger shakers and their cohorts in the politically correct bleeding heart bullshit industry is that they lie in wait, like an ambush party, just itching for an “issue” to appear so they can punch their “values” down the throats of the rest of the population: and when such an “issue” inevitably materialises they run off half-cocked, missing the point, and arguably doing far more damage than the “issue” they claim to be standing on does in the first place.

It’s become a modern retort against these people that one of the things they do is to start a hashtag — a tool for grouping like-minded comment and output on social media site Twitter — and the most recent misguided, factually incorrect, politically motivated example of it was the cretinous #IStandForMercy campaign, which purported to advocate for executed Bali Nine filth Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, but which instead amounted to no more than a fictitious but savage personal and political assault on Prime Minister Tony Abbott and, by extension, his government.

Now, they’ve latched onto the fact that football crowds over the past year or so have shown an increasing tendency to boo Sydney Swans player and 2014 Australian of the Year Adam Goodes — and as usual, the noisy, visible campaign they have engineered very conveniently ignores the reason for it, which has nothing to do with racism at all: just the fact that, to put it bluntly, Goodes is a hypocrite and a dickhead who, stereotypically, can dish it out but he can’t take it.

I will talk about Goodes in a moment. But first — seeing politics and football have intersected on this issue — I want to talk about my own club, Carlton.

We have a long and proud tradition of having Aboriginal players at Carlton, beginning with one of the first to ever play the game at the senior VFL/AFL level: Syd Jackson, who played 136 games in the 1970s, and who is rightly revered at Carlton as a dual premiership hero and much-loved icon of our club.

More recently, four of our best players — Andrew Walker, Eddie Betts, Jeff Garlett and Chris Yarran — have come to Carlton from Aboriginal backgrounds.

Betts has gone to Adelaide, and gets booed when we play the Crows: not because he is black, and not simply because he crossed the Rubicon to play at a rival club, but because his departure stemmed from Betts putting a ridiculous price tag on his own head as the cost for staying at Carlton, which was (in the view of supporters and, it seems the club hierarchy) unjustified based on his inconsistent but patchily awe-inspiring output as a small forward and goalsneak.

Most players who go to other clubs, in AFL fan culture, get booed. Just because they do. There’s nothing cerebral to it and certainly nothing racist about it.

Garlett has gone to Melbourne with the best wishes of Carlton fans: not because we are pleased to see the back of a black player, but because like Betts, the gap between “Jeffy” at his best and his worst was cavernous: a fresh start for the player at another club was probably in the best interests of both Garlett and Carlton — and this is a story that plays out at every club at one point or another.

Walker frustrates because, like Garlett, he is inconsistent: but unlike Garlett, he has been far more consistent over 13 seasons than Garlett was over six; and Yarran is widely touted as “trade bait” at the end of this season: not to get rid of a black player, but because there is a sense that the supremely talented, exquisitely skilled, lightning-fast Yarran simply doesn’t fit the club as it begins a total rebuild of its playing list, and that he might fare better — and gain more personally — at a club in premiership contention, which Carlton most certainly is not.

The point is that our members and supporters (who, admittedly, boo Goodes, like everyone else) are not racist and in fact, have embraced Aboriginal players like so many other clubs have done; for whatever reason, these players seem to boast grace and power and speed and skill in levels that are disproportionate with their caucasian counterparts; and far from being a difference that elicits prejudice, the Aboriginal players are revered.

Stories like those of our Aboriginal players at Carlton and the vaulting esteem in which they are held can be found at virtually every AFL club these days, and any booing that goes on (which, to be clear, is something that non-indigenous players get singled out for, too) is never racially motivated: Aboriginal players get the same treatment from football crowds as everyone else does — which is as it should be — and if they get booed at all, they have done something specific to warrant it.

Were it racially motivated, then every Aboriginal player would be booed every time they set foot on a football field which, quite clearly, they are not.

Many of them are names that bring people to football games just to see them play. And until very recently, one of those names was Adam Goodes.

Miranda Devine, writing in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph today, sets out the case against Goodes with a clarity that is sorely lacking among some of her contemporaries, including at her own newspaper: and she also sets out the mythical “redneck man” supposedly responsible for a crusade against Goodes, which is said to be racist, bigoted, and based on nothing more than the colour of his skin. Nothing could be further from the truth. I urge everyone to read Miranda’s article today.

Back in 2013, Goodes was instrumental in singling out and publicly shaming a 13-year-old girl who had called him “an ape” at a Sydney vs Collingwood match she attended with her grandmother, and whilst there may have been racial overtones to the sledge, the very culture of football blurs the line in positively determining that the comment was in fact racist: and in any case, Goodes’ behaviour over the incident was so far over the top, excessive, and out of all realistic proportion as to defy belief that even a passionate advocate against racism and Aboriginal disadvantage could lower himself to indulge in it.

Australian football — a game where “gorillas” are prized on team lists because of their size, power and capacity to physically intimidate opponents — itself blurs the line over whether “an ape” might be a racist characterisation, or at least in part another variety of a “gorilla;” one multiple premiership coach was revered for playing “mongrels” on every line, and this reference to dogs was never leapt upon by the sanctimony brigade in outrage in the way a young girl’s taunt that Goodes was “an ape” was.

But let’s just set aside the cultural references within the game itself that might have led an impressionable kid to think calling Goodes “an ape” was acceptable, and look at his response.

As Miranda notes, Goodes could see this kid was very young — he guessed 14, when in fact she was even younger than that.

Yet that didn’t stop him from demanding the AFL’s rent-a-cops single her out, march her from the grandstand, after which she was held and presumably interrogated for more than two hours, until beyond midnight, whilst separated from her grandmother.

The girl must have been absolutely terrified. Goodes is not a stupid fellow. He did not come down in the proverbial last shower. He knows how the AFL works. He must have had at least some inkling of how AFL officials would respond once he sooled them onto her.

In this era of live telecasting of AFL matches against the gate — and especially a high-profile clash between power clubs like Sydney and Collingwood — the entire demeaning episode, including the girl being frogmarched out of the stadium by the AFL’s goons, was beamed live around the country to a TV audience numbering in the millions.

Yet not content with this success, and apparently driven by a total disregard for the emotional welfare of a 13-year-old child who had already been nationally shamed, Goodes fronted the media the following day to declare that “racism has a face, and it is a 13-year-old girl.”

To do this — in spite of the humiliation and vilification that had been heaped upon her the night before, and with the apparent forethought suggested by having taken the time to consider what he would tell the press when they next asked him about it — speaks to Goodes, despite whatever else he might be, being a prick: nothing more, nothing less.

I don’t condone racism for a moment, and certainly not in professional sport. But this episode, by Goodes’ own actions, represents something else entirely.

The girl subsequently apologised to Goodes and wrote him a letter, but the damage was done: and whilst Goodes did and does enjoy the shelter of not just the AFL community but of the entire grandstanding, moralising, finger-waving lobby of Chardonnay drunks and social campaigners who are just looking to destroy people in the name of the causes they are obsessed with — to the total exclusion in most cases of any sense of decency, balance, or common sense — this young kid, who herself comes from a severely compromised background as the disadvantaged child of a single mother on a disability pension, had nobody to defend her and no voice of mass reach to counter the malicious onslaught Goodes’ apparently carefully considered words unleashed.

I am sick of hearing about Adam Goodes, and so are an awful lot of ordinary, decent, unbigoted people.

I personally don’t boo Goodes when I see him at the football, although I am also intellectually honest enough — unlike the PC chatterati set driving the “Adam has been racially vilified” bandwagon — to know there is nothing racist behind it. Not now. He was complicit in trying to destroy a little girl’s world in retaliation for one poorly chosen remark at a football game. He should, in fact, be ashamed of himself.

The fact he claimed late in the week to be unable to play football at the weekend because the controversy around being booed by crowds had all become too much for him to cope with is a claim that, regrettably, cuts no ice where I’m concerned.

Racially provoked or not, Goodes’ response unleashed consequences on the girl that were out of all proportion, unjustified and unjustifiable, and which could cause permanent psychological damage to someone who arguably wasn’t even old enough to fully comprehend what she had done wrong, let alone be a suitable target for making an example of her on a national stage.

But Goodes can’t handle the fact that the episode has directly led to football crowds viewing him very, very poorly.

He’s had AFL matches at the weekend all making faux stands against racism — ostensibly in his name — because people dare to hold him to account, the only way they can, for the frightful and malevolent approach he took to a 13 year old child, for goodness’ sake.

He’s had journalists and opinion makers all over the country coming out of the woodwork, suggesting anyone who dares to boo Goodes — or even to criticise him at all — is, unambiguously, a racist and a bigot, wildly generalised and thoroughly misguided statements that should be dismissed with the contempt they deserve.

He’s had the army of do-gooders on Twitter who ache for causes to shame and pillory and crucify people over tweeting that #IStandWithAdam which, presumably, means they fully sanction what he did to that poor girl.

The vengeful bent of reprisal that drove Goodes that night does not speak to a fair, forgiving or even reasonable mindset, whatever the provocation.

And the low regard in which he has subsequently been held by a solid portion of both the football public and the wider community is something for which he only has himself to blame.

Nobody forced Goodes — who, again, would have had a very clear idea of the likely fallout — to shame and humiliate that kid, and make her life a living misery in front of a national audience and abetted by the finger-shakers whose instincts are to destroy, rather than to heal or to reconcile.

That he now can’t handle the response — or if he doesn’t like the fact that the character his actions ultimately shredded was his own, not that of the girl in question — is of little interest, and no cause for sympathy, let alone the imbecilic outpouring that has taken place in recent days.

If you’re just a dickhead, you’re just a dickhead: and as far as I’m concerned, that particular shoe fits Adam Goodes. It has nothing to do with the fact he’s black.

If Goodes doesn’t like the fact those who once admired him now harbour nothing but contempt, he will just have to get over it; and the fact decent people without a racist bone in their bodies refuse to forgive the retaliatory experience he inflicted on a child does not constitute racism in any way — rather, the total horror that anyone would find it appropriate to put the poor girl through what Goodes, knowingly, saw fit to put her through at all.

And to date, no apology for that has been forthcoming.

In short, Adam Goodes can go to hell. And if he wants to complain any more about his lot where these issues are concerned, the hitherto slavering press pack ought to tell him to tell his story walking.

There are plenty of other Aboriginal identities who make excellent role models for their communities, and good Australian people from other backgrounds embrace them openly, as they once did Goodes.

If Goodes is no longer regarded by many people as one of them, there is nothing “racist” about it.

 

Bishop-gate: Sack The Speaker And Seize The Initiative

WITH THE FURORE over travel entitlement claims made on the taxpayer by Speaker Bronwyn Bishop refusing to die down or go away — and with the issue causing serious damage in the electorate — the Abbott government has no choice but to involuntarily remove Bishop from her post if she won’t go quietly, and to overhaul entitlements for MPs once and for all. Time, with an election on the horizon, is now conspiring against the federal Coalition.

Now that the (justified) outrage over Bronwyn Bishop’s $5,227 helicopter flight — at public expense — to travel what would otherwise have been a one-hour road trip for a fraction of the price is well into its third week, there are two points I want to make at the outset this morning.

One, that “simply standing firm” — a tactic from the political handbook that has served the Abbott government exceedingly poorly at times since it came to office, deployed as it has been in defiance of public opinion over the wrong issues to try to ride out — will, if it is observed for much longer over the Bronwyn Bishop saga, completely destroy any remaining vestiges of the political capital the government may have rebuilt in the six months since the abortive leadership coup against Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Two — and as cynically pragmatic and politically expedient as this may sound — with just one year remaining before it must call an election for the House of Representatives and at least half the Senate, this government is fast running out of time to staunch the bleeding from a seemingly endless parade of self-inflicted wounds that may very well prove fatal if allowed to fester and suppurate all the way to the ballot box.

And to be clear, the uproar over Bishop is not some common-or-garden transgression that voters will dismiss wearily as “just another” case of greedy politicians caught with their hands in the till.

I believe this particular case signals the time when people have finally had an absolute gutful of MPs making ridiculous and outrageous imposts upon the public purse and will stomach no more, and whilst some in the government may be indignant that it’s the Coalition wearing the fallout when ample evidence exists to suggest its counterparts at the ALP are every bit as culpable when it comes to the abuse of travel entitlements, the flipside of this is that the opportunity exists for the Coalition to be the party that cleans up the system once and for all.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph is today carrying a story that details other claims made by Mrs Bishop that are certain to fuel public fury against her; I’m going to let readers peruse the details of that, for I think there’s little point in re-listing and itemising them all here.

But this isn’t going to go away; a fair case can be made that the ALP is running hard on the Bishop issue for no better reason than to embarrass the government and seek a high-profile scalp, and that case extends as far as to make the observation that sitting in a brittle glass house indeed, Labor is in no position to throw stones.

Yet for now, it is the Coalition that is in government, and in the time-honoured way these things play out, it is the Coalition that bears the responsibility for cleaning up the mess.

More than two weeks ago, this column called for Bronwyn Bishop to be sacked if she refused to resign; the fact the issue remains front-page news almost three weeks after it broke is telling enough, but if anything, the damage it is doing to the Abbott government — and to public confidence in politics and politicians generally — is accelerating the longer it drags on.

To be clear, I stand by — and reiterate — the call for Bishop to quit voluntarily or be fired as Speaker.

There are suggestions, such as this case made for Bishop’s dismissal by The Australian‘s Peter van Onselen, that Bishop would retaliate in a fashion calculated to inflict colossal damage to Abbott’s (and the government’s) standing if sacked from her post: I acknowledge in these situations there is always the risk of a jilted ego determining to exact revenge in the most destructive manner possible, but in this instance the risks are outweighed by the political damage Bishop is already wreaking on the Abbott government.

But beyond that consideration, the fact Abbott is standing by Bishop appears to be yet another instance of the loyalty for which he is renowned — and which, in ordinary circumstances, would be admirable — being thoroughly misguided, and in any case taken so far as to be ridiculous.

Just like his loyalty to Chief of Staff Peta Credlin, who engineered a Gestapo-like regime for operating a government that has repeatedly proven wholly inept, staffed with hand-picked individuals who have proven incapable of prosecuting government “strategy” or effectively communicating its message, and who has been shielded from any consequences for its deficiencies through Prime Ministerial loyalty.

Just like his loyalty to Treasurer Joe Hockey, whose disastrous 2014 budget obliterated the Coalition’s standing in the electorate, and which (as I have repeatedly observed) actually targeted floating voters in marginal Coalition-held seats, as well as squibbing the task of paring back profligate government spending and waste which it had been explicitly elected to tackle.

In Hockey’s case and over that dreadful budget, the “simply stand firm” strategy, in the face of total Senate intransigence, was another factor.

And it may well be the case that Bishop is Abbott’s mentor, and that the pair go back decades, and that for years they have had each other’s backs, and so on.

But whichever way you cut it, Bishop’s behaviour as Speaker and the licence it now appears she has taken over unwarranted travel entitlements clearly shows that it is a relationship she has abused, with scant regard for the pressure her actions have placed on Abbott. There is no basis for continued loyalty here. Abbott has to make the hard call if Bishop refuses to spare him the bother.

And lest anyone doubt just how misplaced Abbott’s loyalty toward Bishop really is, veteran journalist Laurie Oakes neatly sums up the case against her today and points out — accurately — that almost all of Bishop’s parliamentary colleagues exude no goodwill toward her at all, let alone the inclination to defend her in light of the melloring she has brought upon the government by her actions.

Yet with all that said — and in particular, with an eye to the Coalition’s opponents, who will make merry with the Bishop issue all the way to an election if she is not removed forthwith — there is a big opportunity here for Abbott and his government, if they have the mettle to grasp the initiative and run with it.

To say that rorting expenses and entitlements — not an accusation, mind, but rather a reflection of the way this kind of thing is viewed in the community — feeds heavily into the low regard in which politics and its practitioners are held publicly is an understatement.

Every government is forced to deal with this kind of thing, and expenses scandals involving light-fingered MPs and the taxpayer dollar seem a perennial fixture of Australian politics and a permanent stain on those involved in it.

And to be sure, there are others with iffy expense claims just waiting to jump out of the woodwork: some involving government MPs, some involving those from the ALP. Manager of opposition business Tony Burke has been outed publicly as a priority target for the Coalition, and a primary target for retribution if Bishop is forced to vacate the Speaker’s chair.

I see two ways the Abbott government could reform the whole system of travel expenses, entitlements, and ambit claims upon the taxpayer that generate so much public opprobrium; and if it can’t or won’t fix the federal budget and the colossal debt pile and structural deficits shamelessly bequeathed by Labor Treasurer Wayne Swan, it can at least fix this.

It goes without saying that Bishop must be replaced. Full stop. Defence minister Kevin Andrews would be a replacement that ticked most of the requisite political boxes for Abbott.

But beyond that, one option would be to increase the remuneration of MPs by 50% and abolish all entitlements relating to travel, accommodation, vehicle hire or charter, and similar expenses altogether: the claims, rather than being directly funded or reimbursed from public monies, could become items to be submitted as work-related deductions on MPs’ tax returns each year — just like millions of ordinary taxpayers do — and the Australian Taxation Office given the necessary oversight to set guidelines around what is appropriate and what is not, and to take action against those MPs making frivolous, ambit, or downright illegitimate claims.

Just like it does against ordinary taxpayers who submit claims at tax time that cannot be substantiated.

The other option would be to create a new statutory entity — the Parliamentary Travel and Expenses Commission — which would operate at arms’ length from government (removing control over entitlements from the Speaker’s office and the Prime Minister’s Office) and making it next to impossible for claims like Bishop’s $5,227 helicopter ride to ever be paid for by taxpayers.

Obviously, such an entity would be subject to a charter, and charged with assessing claims according to rigorous guidelines; the establishment of a Parliamentary Travel and Expenses Commission could follow a short amnesty for miscreant MPs to voluntarily (and privately) make full reimbursements of dodgy expenses that have been paid, and would afford the opportunity to wind back excesses such as “study” trips abroad that see MPs file “reports” plagiarised from Google and Wikipedia, or $500 a night bills for luxury hotel stays in places quality accommodation could be sourced for half the price, or claims for “away from home” accommodation allowances when MPs are staying in properties they (or their spouses) own, and so forth.

The Commission could either pre-approve and pay for travel and other expenses in advance, provided they meet whatever strict criteria is established to govern them; alternatively (and to cover the real instances of short-notice and/or urgent requirements MPs are invariably confronted by from time to time) it could reimburse on presentation of receipts, and after any eligibility test has been applied to ensure compliance with the aforesaid strict guidelines.

Properly constituted and armed with real teeth to pursue recidivist offenders like Bronwyn Bishop, such a Commission might even go some tiny way toward restoring public confidence that their money isn’t being frittered away on the unwarranted fancies of those elected to govern.

That Bronwyn Bishop must go, if there is to be any constructive resolution to the mess that has enveloped her, is beyond doubt.

But an opportunity to provide redress and resolution — and to help ensure this sort of thing can never happen again — is there for the Abbott government to take.

It remains to be seen whether it will take it. Buoyed by public outrage and fortified by its trademark populist political opportunism, it is not an opportunity the ALP will fail to milk if the government declines to act on it — and this issue, which works in Labor’s favour, stands to be seen in retrospect as one of the plethora of self-inflicted wounds that costs the Coalition office after a single term in power.

 

Liberal Women: Quotas No Way To Boost Female MP Numbers

THE SOLE DETERMINANT of who is endorsed by political parties for seats in Parliaments across Australia should — and must — be selecting the best candidate on offer, irrespective of gender, race, religion, or sexuality; and whilst the Liberal Party is right to consider how to get more women into elected office, targets and quotas are no answer. Such measures stink of patronising tokenism, and have no place in a democratic political party.

In posting just the second article for the week, readers will have guessed I have been busy; I have a lot on at present in areas that must take precedence over our discussions in this column, although between this piece — and some others I plan to publish over the weekend, time (and two children) permitting — we will I hope catch up to some extent on what has been happening over the past week, including the promised article on the silly push by two Labor Premiers to lift the Medicare levy as a pathetic copout designed to evade the heavy lifting associated with genuine taxation reform.

Today, however, I want to talk about the renewed apparent push by some within the Liberal Party to introduce a so-called soft target (read: quota) to lift the proportion of female Liberal MPs to 30% of the party’s elected representatives, and to say I am completely and utterly opposed to such a demeaning, tokenistic and trivialising measure is something of an understatement.

I’m going to be deliberately vague on some of the details in retelling this anecdote, but roughly 20 years ago I had the misfortune to attend a round of preselections conducted by the Queensland division of the Liberal Party, and before the candidates for one particular seat — a vacant, nominally Liberal seat — made their presentations, some bloke ran around the party members assembled on the day, telling everyone that “the party wants a woman; the party wants a woman: see that it happens.”

I was immediately and consequentially inclined to vote for just about anyone other than the sole woman in the field of candidates; and having later listened to the respective presentations and deciding the best candidate on offer was in fact one of the four men who stood against her, voted for him.

But the woman was victorious: and whilst Liberals later thought she was just great (in the grand old Liberal tradition that all of “our” elected representatives are the best thing since sliced bread, until or unless they do something particularly naughty and/or cross the wrong people) the fact is that this eventual time-server of lengthy tenure contributed, in round terms, nothing. She never lost her seat to Labor, which I suppose is something, but in a reasonably solid Liberal area and in the context of a discussion about preselecting women on merit, that isn’t saying very much at all.

I wanted to start out by revisiting the episode because it’s significant, in my view, for a number of reasons: one, it wasn’t long after Labor had declared for the first time a binding target for 35% of its MPs to be women, a move decried at the time within the Liberal Party (including by many strong, capable women) as insulting patronisation. Two, it was in my view an attempt to rig a preselection, insofar as the four men who stood may as well have not bothered to turn up. And three, that process threw up a female representative who might have been an effective factional operative but who — in the context of representing people and/or adding to public administration — was abysmal.

It was with despair, therefore, that I saw on Wednesday an article in The Australian that detailed a push by Brisbane Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro for the party to adopt “an initial 30 percent target” for getting women into seats in Parliament.

This is no way to improve the numbers of female MPs; as soon as you start doling out seats in Parliament to women because — well, just because they’re women — you immediately invalidate any merit the ladies in question might offer, and turn them into mere baubles, chattels, trinkets: worthless, really, beyond the fact they’re not men.

There are those who look to the ALP and the fact its 35% quota has, on the surface, achieved the desired objective, largely in tandem with the contemptible Emily’s List that sends hardcore female socialists into Parliaments across the country, and in conjunction with union and factional structures that allocate parliamentary seats as if they were the gifts of an autocratic fiefdom.

Dig a little deeper, and it’s difficult to accept a lot of these women are the best candidates the ALP could put up: certainly, those who are ultimately elected probably benefit from the fact they’re endorsed Labor candidates who harvest votes from people simply inclined to vote for the ALP anyway.

But women — like men — whose CVs detail personal journies through left-wing sinecures in the ALP, the unions, and sympathetic entities arguably well removed from anything that could be construed as remotely mainstream, speak more to the kind of women who put themselves forward than to any particular success in getting good female candidates into office.

And herein lies the rub.

Those who know me know I am no sexist or misogynist, and in fact I agree wholeheartedly that more good and talented women are needed in Parliament. But it’s not a case of “gender balance” or some other trendy platitude that needs to be indulged in order to bring this outcome about: very simply, the issue is getting a greater number of capable women to put themselves forward, or even to get more actively involved in politics at all.

There are a couple of things I should probably be clear about.

The first is a “captain obvious” acknowledgement that there are plenty of dud male MPs floating around on all sides of the spectrum, and by virtue of the fact the vast majority of MPs are still male, there are more of them than there are dud women. Nobody needs to think they’re inventing the wheel to point that out — I’m well aware of it, thank you very much.

But the second — looking at parties like the ALP, and others with forms of so-called positive discrimination in place, like the Communist Party Greens — is that the kind of women who benefit from these assisted passage schemes into Parliament seem to be the last people on Earth anyone would seriously choose to have represent their interests, the fact they eventually get voted into their seats notwithstanding.

If they were required to win 50% of the vote in a lower house electorate rather than hiding in the undemocratic Easy Street that is the proportionally elected Senate, does anyone seriously think people like Christine Milne, Sarah Hanson-Young or (God forbid) actual Communist and fruit cake Lee Rhiannon would ever be elected to office in Australia? I think not.

Meanwhile, over at the ALP, people like Jenny Macklin (for whom I have always had a lot of time, despite our political differences) and Amanda Rishworth — who give a damn about people so tangibly it is written all over their faces — sit in the same party room as dangerous socialists like Tanya Plibersek and (once upon a time) Julia Gillard, whose ideas about politics and governance border on the delusional extremes of the Left, and slogan-regurgitating cardboard cutouts like Kate Ellis who, on any objective criteria, has been a major disappointment when her portfolio responsibilities and the nature of her output are considered.

Again, it’s a case of harvesting the votes that would flow to their parties anyway, and between the dud men and the dud women, both groups are rightly lambasted by Joe Public as reflective of the exceedingly poor calibre of parliamentarians clogging elected assemblies in this country today.

In other words, it isn’t just the case that more women (and the right kind of women) are needed in Parliament, but that more of the right kind of people — men and women alike — are required altogether.

But the third thing, in all candour, is the factionalised nature of political parties, who plays them, who benefits from them and who gets it in the neck for whatever reason: and I think this has an awful lot to do with why the Liberals in particular don’t have more women in parliamentary seats, although I would imagine a similar situation exists in other parties.

For as long as there is democracy — let alone formalised political parties — the natural instinct of human beings to organise at the most basic level means that factions, patronage and other power mechanisms will always exist: and whether we are talking about women or men, this reality is always going to distort outcomes in selecting candidates, and colour those outcomes wherever any attempt to manipulate them (like boosting representation of one gender at the expense of the other) is concerned.

This brings me to Prime Ministerial Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, and the rumoured intention to install her in a safe Liberal seat in Melbourne in the near future; having inserted her into the conversation on the back of that particular point, we’ll come back to her a little later. But anyone who wants to argue the merits of Credlin as a suitable candidate to represent the interests of 100,000 voters and their families has their work cut out, and it is only the exercise of the kind of distorting power I am talking about that will ever get her into Parliament. More on that in a bit.

If we come back to the basic question at hand — how to get more women into seats in Parliament for the Liberal Party — I think there are two issues that need to be addressed.

One, encouraging women to get more actively involved in the party (as opposed to simply going to branch meetings, perhaps intending to support a husband or male partner) so the input from these people is more forthcoming than it is.

And two — more importantly — looking at the reasons women seem less likely to put themselves forward for elected office than men, and working through ways to remove those barriers.

In other words, working to get more women into preselection contests rather than gifting the outcomes of those contests to them.

I refuse to believe there are not more very good females in the Liberal Party who would make excellent MPs (and probably do better than many of the existing MPs, men and women, that the party boasts).

Yet by the same token, anecdotal experience seems to suggest women are more put off by the stereotypical disincentives to parliamentary life than men: the brutal nature of politics; the grinding, long hours; the modest remuneration; the intrusive and often malignant media scrutiny that goes with the job, and the total surrender of personal privacy that accompanies it; and so forth.

Anyone who thinks life in elective politics is some gravy train junket that features untalented people rolling around in clover at public expense doesn’t know what they’re talking about (although the present fracas involving Bronwyn Bishop merely reinforces such uninformed stereotypes). Women, for whatever reason, seem more deterred by these things than men, although plenty of capable males — myself included — are similarly disinclined to seek Liberal endorsement for precisely these reasons, and don’t.

How you encourage excellent prospective female MPs — people with particular skills, or substantial career histories in private enterprise, or significant policy expertise and passion, or a mixture of these things, who also connect well with people and enjoy working on behalf of others — to move beyond those barriers and put their names forward for public office is not an easy question, and there is not an easy answer.

Some arbitrary quota (which is exactly what a “soft target” in fact is) of installing women into 30% of winnable and/or safe seats does not resolve those barriers.

In fact, such a quota is by its nature likely to disproportionately attract those women who — knowing space is available to them based on their gender — enjoy the backing of dominant power centres within the party, and who are disproportionately more likely to be interested in the accrual and exercise of power than they are in any meaningful objective to represent the interests of those they nonetheless expect to vote for them at an election.

The other argument used by quota advocates, especially where safe Liberal seats are concerned, is that women are discriminated against through being disproportionately endorsed to contest marginal seats that change hands with a change of government, or even when smaller overall swings see governments returned with reduced majorities. The argument fails to stack up.

For one thing, Sophie Mirabella (a woman) lost what on paper was a 65-35 Liberal seat in Indi at the last federal election to a conservative independent (who was also woman); of the 16 federal seats the Liberal Party* holds by margins of 15% or more, five (or 31.25%) are held by women — including the second-safest of these, Murray in Victoria, held on a margin of 20.9% by 30% quota advocate Sharman Stone — whilst women sit in 11 of the 39 seats (or 28.2%) held by the Liberal Party on margins of less than 10%, and one of those 11 is Kelly O’Dwyer in the blue-ribbon electorate of Higgins on 9.9% that common sense dictates is probably safer in practice than some seats held by far greater margins on paper.

In other words, the safer the Liberal seat, the more likely it already is to be held by a woman.

And for another thing, there is the small matter of where the female candidates actually live: ministerial-quality MP Sarah Henderson needed two attempts to win the marginal Geelong-based seat of Corangamite from the ALP, and now holds it by 3.9%; but as a Geelong local, was there a push to parachute her into a safe seat somewhere else? Of course not. Australia’s best-known classic marginal seat — Lindsay, in western Sydney — is ably represented by Fiona Scott, having won it from Labor in 2013. I don’t think Scott would see herself vaulted into a rusted-on sinecure on the North Shore, and neither should anyone else. She is representing the community she lives in, which is as it should be.

And this brings me, quite unapologetically, back to Peta Credlin.

With rumours continuing to persist that she is either lining up a safe seat for herself or being lined up for one by others despite present-tense denials that are unconvincing at best, it should come as no surprise that Credlin has been propagating the myth that the Liberal Party doesn’t preselect women to safe seats, and deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop (who is both female and the holder of an extremely safe seat indeed) is absolutely right to not only call Credlin’s story out, but to finger the real problem, which is the need for a more diverse spread of candidates in the Liberal Party overall.

Credlin is said to be in line to “inherit” either Kevin Andrews’ seat of Menzies, in Melbourne’s north-east, or my local electorate of Goldstein, in Melbourne’s Bayside, from Trade Minister Andrew Robb; I acknowledge that Credlin is originally from Victoria, but the notion that someone who has spent years based in Canberra and insisting (as Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister) that anyone who amounts to anything in government also live in Canberra would seem to have a problem passing herself off now as a local in Melbourne.

The fact the two seats are about 40km apart, and on different sides of the city, means that Credlin could scarcely be accused of prioritising meaningful ties to the local community, if stories that whichever of the two electorates comes up first would suit her are true.

Not merely Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, Credlin is married to the Liberal Party’s federal director, has spent more than a decade working as an adviser to various senior party figures in one insiderish capacity or another, enjoys the explicit personal support of Tony Abbott, and is known to command the bloc backing of a significant chunk of the party’s dominant conservative hard Right faction.

As a female candidate and purported success story the party might choose to inflict on the unfortunate voters in either of these two seats, it’s not difficult to see where Credlin’s support comes from. But in terms of the kind of appeal that might win swinging voters over to the Liberal Party from Labor, I contend she doesn’t have any.

In fact, Credlin has limited appeal within the rank and file membership of the party, too — the kind of people who, unlike me, mind their Ps and Qs and keep their views to themselves. These are the people who, despite public denials from the hard Right Liberals who defend her, are all too aware that the control over the Abbott government that has been exercised out of the Prime Minister’s Office — and the processes of vetoes, rubber stamps and preferment — that have been operated from there irrevocably implicate Credlin in everything that has gone wrong during this term in government. And those wrongs, to put it mildly, have been innumerable, and almost politically apocalyptic.

I don’t know what locals in Menzies think and to some degree that is a matter for them, but if Credlin sincerely wants a woman (and the best available candidate) installed in Goldstein whenever Robb moves on, I know of such a person: a well-educated, highly articulate and lovely lady, who boasts a career CV of formidable achievement and offering vast policy expertise, and who is as at ease with people in one-on-one situations as she is in high level situations. With or without the ghastly spectre of Credlin lurking in the shadows, I intend to canvass this person and urge her to stand — with the offer of as much support as possible — when Andrew Robb eventually moves on.

But if the people around Credlin see to it that the local membership is neutered in the preselection process, or other candidates leaned on to get out of the way for her, or a head office endorsement staged in order to avoid the potential embarrassment of losing a vote of local members, I fully intend to hold good to my threat to stand against her as an Independent Conservative from outside the Liberal Party: and as much of a joke some in the cabal around Credlin might perceive that threat to constitute, even in a “safe” seat like Goldstein there are limits to what local voters are prepared to stomach — or have foisted upon them.

Credlin’s candidacy, to be brutal, would compare unfavourably with the anecdote I recounted at the outset of this article from 20 years ago: and one piece of realism that must also seep through to those looking to boost the ranks of female MPs is the fact that just because an elected representative is a woman doesn’t mean they have achieved their objective — it has to be the right kind of candidate, just like it ought to be with the blokes, otherwise the entire enterprise is pointless.

A Credlin candidacy might be useful to those who seek to wield power, or who can benefit from knowledge of the locations of buried skeletons, but to the wider public would offer very little.

By all means, the idea Credlin might want to see more women in safe seats is worthy, and at face value, noble; but if her own name appears on any list of intended possible contenders, then any merit in her advocacy can be dismissed as the self-interested pap it probably is.

The same can be said of the 30% quota target, which in any case is an insult to women generally: and if those who care about the welfare of the Liberal Party — men and women alike — wish to boost its levels of female representation, they should help work to encourage good female candidates past the barriers to standing for office, and leave divisive hacks like Credlin on the sidelines where they belong.

 

*National Party seats excluded today. How the Nationals run their party is a matter for them.

Bravado Aside, ALP Conference A Disaster For Shorten

DESPITE THE SEMANTICS, the spin and the tepid claims to Labor Party unity, the weekend’s ALP conference was an unmitigated disaster for Bill Shorten; effectively rolled by his deputy on key agenda items and abandoned by his leadership group over the issue he arrogated to himself to “lead” over — asylum boat turnbacks — it is now impossible to see how Shorten can remain “leader,” let alone stake any serious claim to the Prime Ministership.

…and to put not too fine a point on it, this has been a conference that damages Labor irrespective of who leads it.

Let’s start with what the ALP national conference didn’t feature (and/or was so unimportant to Labor as to evade public notice).

Nothing on the economy, economic management, balancing the federal budget, or reducing the $350 billion national debt pile the ALP is directly responsible for, courtesy of its most recent masquerade as a federal government.

Nothing on reform, or at least not in the orthodox sense: no tax reform, no labour market reform, no public debate over the relationship between Canberra and the states, nothing on fixing the Commonwealth electoral system, and nothing on reforming its own lethal association with the union movement.

Nothing more than a bit of lip service to those issues Labor arrogantly and misguidedly thinks underpins its “competence” — Health and Education — when the party’s idea of health reform is abolishing the private health insurance rebate, and its idea of education funding takes the shape of unlegislated 2013 election bribes whose currency expired the day Labor was hurled from government in an avalanche.

And nothing — speaking of the unions — of the indecent, improper and/or downright criminal misconduct the Heydon Royal Commission has been oxygenating for most of the past year.

Yet whereas this Labor conference lacked any cogent agenda that might have set out the ALP’s credentials to seek an election win and form a sober, moderate, rational government of the Centre, it made up for this deficiency in spades with a stunning indulgence of the party’s hard Left that all but destroys Bill Shorten’s case to remain Labor’s “leader” — if there ever was one, that is.

Coming on top of the ridiculous triple-whammy carbon tax announced by Shorten last week and the facile, fatuous commitment to increasing the Renewable Energy Target to 50% (and the accompanying, wholly unsubstantiated assertion this would drive down power prices), the only thing that can now prevent Labor from suffering a second consecutive landslide election defeat is the missteps of the Abbott government (whose capacity to deliver in this regard should not be underestimated).

But really, anyone who believes this conference is a political positive for the ALP is delusional.

To be sure, the ALP conference has sent Shorten out with something that on the surface he can claim provides him with a “win,” but that victory — buried as it is somewhere within the length, depth and breadth of the shaft into which his “leadership” has been cast — is an illusory triumph indeed.

Emerging with the ability to exercise “an option” in government to turn back asylum seeker boats, Shorten’s adventure in back-me-or-sack-me brinkmanship has elicited for him the worst possible outcome, with conference tepidly endorsing the stance, and with the three most senior figures on the party’s Left directly and indirectly defying their “leader.”

Former leadership aspirant Anthony Albanese had the decency to vote against the measure outright, so deeply held is his belief (with which I vehemently disagree) that the measure is wrong; this in itself is a bad enough look for the embattled Shorten as he tries valiantly and pointlessly to hold onto his position.

But worse materialised from the conduct of Penny Wong and probable leader-in-waiting, Tanya Plibersek, who breathtakingly handed their votes to proxies — who in turn duly opposed the measure — whilst claiming, po-faced, not to have opposed their “leader.” The chutzpah is astonishing.

The other big issue confronted by the ALP conference was gay marriage, with forces allied to Plibersek lining up to ram through a resolution making a vote in favour of the measure binding on Labor MPs, and the “compromise” — that MPs will instead have a conscience vote on any bill that appears before 2019, after which support for it will become compulsory, presumably after Labor thinks it will return to government — is ridiculous.

Other “initiatives” resolved by conference included the censure of party stalwart Martin Ferguson — one of the few sane voices left in its ranks — over his remarks earlier in the year favouring privatisation in some circumstances as part of a wider overall agenda for reform.

The conference resolved that in the fullness of time, 50% of its MPs will be women, which invites the rather obvious charge that it will now preselect women just for the hell of it, rather than on merit and because female candidates are the best on offer. It is a dreadful, tokenistic, patronising look.

And just for good measure — and in a sop to the ultra-hard Left within and without — conference agreed to a unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state in a move that will all but destroy Labor’s relationship with Australia’s sizeable Jewish community, and leaves it a footstep away from joining the disgusting so-called BDS campaign against Israel — Boycott, Divest, Sanctions — so bloody-mindedly pursued by the hardest of hardcore left-wing elements at the Communist Party Greens, and by other lunatic left-wing fringe groups across the world.

Readers can access some excellent additional coverage of the fallout from the ALP national conference herehere, and here.

Just what planet the Fairfax press is on, however, is unknown, with usually reasonable columnist Mark Kenny asserting Shorten “rises” and “shines” in the conference’s aftermath as Albanese and the Left “wane,” but it does seem Fairfax is doing its best to put a brave face on things on Shorten’s behalf.

Anyone who thinks the weekend’s events represent a point in time at which the “leader” hit his straps, or came into his own, or any other euphemism for fulfilling a “leadership” potential that never existed in the first place is kidding themselves.

The simple fact is that the overwhelming preference of the Labor rank-and-file for a left-wing leader — as indisputably evidenced in the silly leadership ballot farce the ALP engaged in late in 2013 — has now been reflected by a conference that was not empowered to remove Shorten from the leadership but has nonetheless seen to it that the gaping wounds from the thousand sabre cuts it inflicted are visible wherever Shorten now goes, and irrespective of what he says.

At the bottom line, his own senior colleagues — on whom he depends for whatever infinitesimal sliver of authority he may once have enjoyed — have deserted him.

On the positions Shorten wanted to carry, he has failed to score an outright win — see the “option” to turn back boats, which you can bet would never be used — or simply made to fritter his time away ahead of the Left’s position (and the opposite to Shorten’s) becoming binding on the Labor Party, as has been the case with gay marriage.

When you combine the flagrant and wilful defiance of Shorten on these and other measures with the issues the conference failed to consider at all, and add in the fancies like the censure of Ferguson and the foolish gender quota, it’s clear that far from providing a springboard from which to launch its attack on the coming election campaign, Labor has instead manoeuvred its way to the equivalent of the lifeboat dock on the Titanic: after the last boat on board had put to sea.

There is no compelling narrative for a Labor government to be elected after the weekend’s events, that much is obvious.

And Shorten — doltish and mindlessly vacuous as his “leadership” has been — is as good as finished, and finished at the hands of his own people, no less.

The final takeout for the voting public is that irrespective of what might coax a Labor vote from those in marginal Coalition seats, there is now no substantive issue at all on which the ALP has a position that is clear, unequivocal, credible, or even believable.

And the end result for the party itself has been that thanks to the manoeuvres of its leaders on the Labor Left, the party has taken a giant step toward the hard Left — and away from the ground on which elections in this country are always won or lost.

Tanya Plibersek will probably become Labor leader as soon as the 48 votes required to overturn Shorten’s “leadership” in the 80-strong caucus can be assembled: an enterprise that may or may not precede the looming election that could come as soon as October or November.

But lest anyone on the lunatic Left get too excited by the prospect, the damage inflicted upon the ALP at the weekend is such that its electoral prospects have been compromised — perhaps fatally so — irrespective of who might take on the role of its leader.

Labor has spent three days making itself an unelectable force of the hard socialist Left. No similar entity offering a similar agenda has ever been elected to government in Australian history.

That record is likely to be repeated unless an outbreak of common sense and sanity occurs somewhere influential in the ALP, and quickly.

But if it doesn’t — and you’d have to bet it won’t — then Labor will only have itself to blame, and if the consequences are that both Shorten and Plibersek are killed off politically, then neither will be able to proclaim themselves to be faultless.

 

Stop The Votes: Shorten Stance Anchors Labor To Opposition

THE CRITICISM frequently made by this column — that Labor cares about power, not people — has found plenty of validating evidence this week; now, “leader” Bill Shorten heads to his first ALP national conference armed with a bag of conflicting promises aimed solely at election victory, but which — aside from provoking bitter fighting within his own party — would be disastrous if implemented. If, that is, anyone is silly enough to believe them.

First things first: I have been distracted this week once again, and have a partly written article from Wednesday about the GST (and so-called “alternatives” to reforming it put by two Labor Premiers) that I have held over and will complete and publish tomorrow; the GST conversation isn’t going to go away at any time soon, and I think it important to blow the attempt to hoodwink people that Daniel Andrews and Annastacia Palaszczuk are trying to make to bits: it’s just more vapid ALP spin that would do more harm than good if implemented.

And certainly, vapid political spin is the flavour of the week where the ALP is concerned.

I’ve been watching Labor this week, as it adds ridiculous new “policy” positions to an already dubious-looking platform under “leader” Bill Shorten, and I can only say that if the ALP is looking to provide reasons for people not to vote for it then the week’s handiwork should be regarded as a stunning success.

Shorten — who the temptation to permanently caricaturise as “Billy Bullshit” is becoming irresistible, so devoid of credibility have his utterances grown — has now taken his penchant for saying and doing literally anything to become Prime Minister so far that he heads into his first ALP national conference as “leader” armed with a bunch of conflicted “policies” that can only set various groups within the ALP at each other’s throats, and if voters assess the Labor offering purely in terms of its believability and its capacity to improve Australia, then Shorten has probably doomed his party to another hefty election loss.

Stop The Votes: it might as well be the theme for the ALP national conference.

Prior to his appearance at the Royal Commission into the unions, Shorten Labor made a huge splash with fatuous declarations that “It’s Time” on gay marriage to divert attention from the terrible press that duly materialised, as expected, in the wake of Shorten’s disastrous stint in the witness box.

With deputy and leadership aspirant Tanya Plibersek running hard on the issue and trying to bind Labor MPs to voting for the measure in Parliament, it probably seemed to Shorten that he was killing two birds with one stone, but — in a sop to the party’s Right — it quickly became evident that it would only be time if a conscience vote deemed it so.

And right now, that prospect, based on the current complexion of the Parliament, remains unlikely.

Having appeased the Right on gay marriage, the Left was thrown two massive bones on climate change: not only would there be a new, triple-whammy carbon tax under a Shorten government (that would make anything attempted or introduced by Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard and their masters at the Communist Party Greens look mild by comparison) but the renewable energy target — the source of so much consternation where energy costs are concerned, to say nothing of the actual efficacy of efforts to undo climate change in Australia — would be more than doubled under Labor in office to 50%.

As if this weren’t bad enough, Shorten had the bald nerve to claim publicly that this would drive power costs for consumers and businesses down; no research to back the contention was offered, and in fact with all anecdotal evidence suggesting the RET has been a prominent culprit in driving energy costs through the roof over the past decade, the Shorten pronouncement is — and deserves to be seen as — ludicrous.

But in case the Right got its collective nose out of joint over the Left being given such a sop, Shorten overturned more than a decade of obstinate Labor posturing to announce the party would now back the turnback of asylum seeker vessels at sea; and whilst it is unclear whether this extends to the full suite of Abbott government measures including the continuation of mandatory detention for new arrivals and temporary protection visas, the turnback backflip alone is enough to ignite a virtual civil war in Labor ranks.

Invisible for the moment is Shorten’s promise, announced last year and hurriedly stepped on to hide it, to abolish the private health insurance rebate: such a doctrinaire left-wing measure is music to the Medicare-obsessed Left but anathema to the cost-aware Right, which is all too mindful of the apocalyptic impact it would have on both public health budgets and the capacity of an instantly besieged state hospital system to deliver services at all, let alone cope.

Crackdowns on “the rich” through ending tax concessions for self-funded retirees and “taxing multinationals” might sound nice to Labor types, and certainly those on the Left of the party, but ignore the reality that forcing some at the lower end of the self-funded retirement community onto part-pensions will cost money overall rather than save it. The mad plot to force multinationals to “pay their share,” meanwhile, is a potent recipe for driving large numbers of Australian jobs offshore.

But then again, given the jobs in question are mostly not unionised, Labor’s slave masters at Trades Hall get a win there too.

In fact, the unions — which every objective criterion suggests the ALP would be best served abandoning its links to — get a little more from Shorten as well; as journalist and blogger Michael Smith put it yesterday, Shorten unequivocally supports the Abbott government’s free trade agreement with China whilst unequivocally opposing it. The pithy catchphrase neatly sums up the utter contradiction in what is being kicked around by Shorten as the official ALP position on the issue.

Yet as Andrew Bolt detailed in the Murdoch press yesterday, this kind of posturing is nothing new to Shorten, who a decade ago expressed support publicly for a similar arrangement with the US, but solemnly assured Labor and union types privately that he was opposed to it, tooth and nail, in the interests of protecting jobs.

On and on it goes, with Shorten saying literally anything to whatever group of people is immediately within earshot, apparently oblivious to (or not giving a shit about) the irreconcilable contradictions he is articulating, just obsessed with being all things to all people, and desperate to become Prime Minister at any cost.

The list of issues is endless; the contortions to present opposing and incompatible positions to placate competing interest groups are impossible; and whilst a Labor government would have to do something in office — something, anything — the probability is high that a Shorten government would end up alienating every conceivable section of Australian society.

Except, perhaps, the unions: the one group to which it should give the metaphorical middle finger.

It is true the Abbott government continues to do all it can to stoke the fires of Labor’s electoral fortunes; the refusal and/or inability to make an example out of Bronwyn Bishop is merely the latest in a long series of own goals booted by the Coalition that is probably fuelling Labor’s continued lead in opinion polls even if, unsurprisingly, Shorten himself is growing daily more unpopular personally.

But even with this underserved free advantage from his opponents, Shorten remains apparently determined to serve up a garbled mishmash of half-baked commitments whose currency depends on where he is, who he is with, and what he is trying to promise or buy his way past to secure a pile of votes.

In the meantime, the natives are restless: Anthony Albanese is said to have “no further interest” in the ALP leadership, and that he had “one shot and he fired it;” Tanya Plibersek, the ever-loyal deputy, maintains she is not manoeuvring to displace Shorten. Both formulations are time-honoured euphemisms for scheming treachery under a cloak of open secrecy masquerading as disinterest.

Meanwhile, it is openly known in political circles that Plibersek and/or people close to her are canvassing Labor MPs to find the 48 votes to trigger a leadership spill in the 80-strong caucus. Neither Albanese nor Plibersek — both from the Labor Left — can be taken particularly seriously as candidates for the Prime Ministership.

The poster boy for the Right, shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen, is no more credible than a cardboard cut-out. Tainted by his association with Kevin Rudd and damned by his complicity in the economic dishonesty propounded by Labor for years, there are real questions about his viability as an alternative leader in the eyes of the public.

Whether the ALP likes it or not, it is probably saddled with Shorten until or unless he resigns or is slaughtered at an election.

In other words, little Billy Bullshit will keep on keeping on, making promises of anything and everything to anyone who will listen; with polls showing his personal popularity disintegrating to the point even Tony Abbott, faced with the viciously dishonest onslaught he copped from Julia Gillard and her handbag hit squad, look positively exalted by comparison, it is only a matter of time before Labor’s primary vote — and its two-party lead — follows suit.

There may be an argument that a significant portion of the electorate would like a return to Labor government; I don’t believe it, although redress of my criticisms of the Abbott government needs to go a lot further before I’m confident the government has fully recovered its position. Either way, it’s clear nobody expects Shorten to deliver what he says, and it’s fast becoming obvious that people are awake to the fact that nobody can believe a syllable he utters.

All of these competing policy positions, far from cancelling each other out, would add up to an absolute disaster if any attempt were made to legislate them but happily, the best efforts of Billy Bullshit should ensure that that insidious prospect never eventuates.

As Labor goes to its national conference this weekend, it will do so against a backdrop of an increasing number of floating voters abandoning their inclination to restore the party to office after a single term.

Such is the price of matey union loyalties and a refusal to say anything meaningful when responsible, sober and centrist ideas — entirely innocent of the union-obsessed, envious, class driven hatred that has lately characterised the ALP — are the key to Labor winning government in Australia.

It all makes for a fascinating weekend at the ALP conference. Stay tuned.

 

GST: Labor Should Grow Up And Join Reform Debate

THE SURPRISE of the GST on the reform agenda, partly due to an idea of NSW Premier Mike Baird that admittedly falls short, is encouraging: with rising public spending and an income tax base set to shrink for decades as the population ages, a rebuilt GST is key in fixing structural revenue issues. Labor must abandon its obstruction and empty rhetoric about “cruelty” and “fairness,” grow up, and help find the best outcome in the national interest.

First things first: until or unless his willingness to engage in meaningful discussion turns out to be a stunt or worse still, a subterranean strategy to scuttle meaningful change, South Australian Labor Premier Jay Weatherill deserves acknowledgement for apparently breaking ranks with the other Labor Premiers in being prepared to countenance changes to the GST; the push from some state Premiers to overhaul and bolster the GST may come to naught in the end, but it is refreshing — and surprising — to see a prominent identity from the “modern” ALP perhaps being prepared to actually set partisan politics aside in the interests of constructive policy rather than merely spruik an objective to do so as a way to harvest votes without ever delivering on it.

In fact, the fact a seemingly serious push for GST reform has emerged at all is surprising, for the combination of flat denials of willingness from almost every section of the ALP to even consider overhauling the tax and the reluctance of some Liberals to be the ones to raise the prospect of reform has to date killed any chance to even have a serious discussion around doing so.

The unprincipled charlatan that is ALP of the 21st century has seen to it that an increasing number of policy areas in urgent need of reform — taxation, welfare, labour market regulation and structural electoral reform, to name a few — are politically untouchable, and the GST fits within that subset; so concerned with winning elections at any cost is the Labor Party that it would rather see serious damage inflicted on this country than to permit its growing list of “sacred cows” to even be discussed, let alone reformed in any way.

But as ever, the ALP cares about power, not people.

The unlikely inclusion of the GST on the agenda for state Premiers to consider has come, in part, from an idea proposed by NSW’s Mike Baird that — to be blunt — fails to cut much ice when examined in even cursory detail, but Baird nonetheless deserves credit for getting the matter onto the table at all.

His idea for a straight lift in the GST rate from 10% to 15% without broadening the base (currently just 48% of all goods and services), with half the proceeds going to tax relief for low-income earners and welfare recipients to offset the impact and the remainder being carved up between the states, is at least a start.

But it fails to address the fact that the unhealthy reliance on PAYE tax is unsustainable, with an ageing population that sees that revenue base shrinking, which it will continue to do for decades; and as well intentioned as the Baird proposal undoubtedly is, it apparently places no emphasis on the need to match taxation reform with a program for winding back profligate, wasteful, recurrent government expenditure by past Labor governments — state and federal — that might have been well enough intentioned, but mostly is and was unaffordable.

It’s an unpleasant reality few in the ALP care to publicly admit, but every dollar of electoral bribery spent by a government is paid by a taxpayer — whether in business or a wage or salary earner — and for all the aversion to”cruelty” and infatuation with “fairness” Labor professes, there is little evidence it gives a stuff about the people who actually generate the tax dollars it so lovingly, and carelessly, doles out.

To say this largesse is out of control is an understatement; the line propounded by Liberal politicians (as well as a number of Treasury bureaucrats and economists) that the country has a spending problem rather than a revenue problem is true, and I saw at the weekend an article (a link to which I forgot to save — sorry!) that whilst headline revenues account for 27.3% of GDP, once the Medicare levy, superannuation contribution costs and other ancillary imposts are taken into account, the actual tax take is 33.2% of GDP — and bang on the OECD average, neatly exposing the myth that taxation in Australia is low by international standards.

Yet unless a switch in the focus of taxation is made from taxes on income to taxes on expenditure, that spending problem — if unaddressed, as Labor has gone to inordinate lengths to ensure it is — will soon enough be matched by a revenue problem as well, and it is only an irresponsible politician who can suggest there is no need to cut recurrent outlays or to take steps now to urgently fix the tax base.

I don’t propose to talk about cutting spending today, and in fact, this morning’s article is really only a curtain raiser to an enterprise in GST reform that I’m sure we will be talking about a lot more over coming weeks and months.

Aside from Baird putting the issue on the table — and Weatherill saying he is open to raising the GST and prepared to engage in rational and constructive conversation — Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein has said that whilst his state is disinclined to support changing the GST rate, he is prepared to listen to the arguments for change and reserve his government’s position on any reform proposals, whilst Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett (also nominally opposed to raising the GST rate) wants to examine the prospect of broadening the tax’s scope to apply to a far wider range of goods and services, including fresh food, the impact such changes would have, and the need for compensation for low-income earners and those on welfare and pensions.

I emphasise that any change to raise and/or broaden the GST comes with an obligation to do just that: it is the better-off who will contribute the bulk of the extra consumption tax dollars through higher spending, and those at the lower end of the social ecosystem would need to be compensated — just as they were when the tax was first introduced 15 years ago.

But broadly, there is considerable willingness among heads of government to contemplate tax reform. It is to be hoped some kind of consensus emerges.

Personally, I would like to see the GST doubled to 20% — in line with similar taxes in most comparable countries — with the income tax threshold lifted to, say, $25,000 per annum, marginal tax rates above that level flattened and reduced, and the GST base expanded to cover everything except healthcare, residential rents, education expenses and some financial transactions, with other government imposts like stamp duty and fuel excise abolished.

After increasing pensions and benefits to ensure welfare recipients are unaffected, some of the extra revenue could be ploughed into the states, with the remainder used to help fill the black hole left in the commonwealth budget by the Rudd-Gillard government that has been further exacerbated by the slowdown in Australia’s mining sector.

As a GST is a growth tax, these changes would set the country on a far more sustainable financial footing.

But as ever, the recalcitrant economic flat-earth types at the ALP refuse to have a bar of it.

So-called federal “leader” Bill Shorten refuses to discuss the GST at all, whilst he and others in the party claim their “policies” of cracking down on tax “evasion” by multinationals (read: punishing tax imposts on non-union businesses) and superannuation “reform” (read: punishing those who fund their own retirement without recourse to government benefits) would do the job instead.

But hitting big, offshore-based businesses is more of a pie chart concept than a practical, quantifiable, workable measure that could well do more harm than good if the usual hamfisted Labor way were to drive these companies — and Australian jobs — offshore.

And whilst Labor is obsessed with and racked by class envy and greed where self-funded retirees are concerned, I make the point that whilst Labor complains they don’t pay enough tax (not that there is an amount it would ever be satisfied with) but that these people save the government many billions of dollars annually by not claiming pensions.

You can’t have it both ways.

And as for Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ characteristically dumb-arsed call to lift the Medicare levy, all I will say is that this is an income tax rise that would have to be so large to make a meaningful difference to government budgets as to destroy the incentive to work. But Andrews — like so many of his Labor counterparts — is more interested in catchy sound bites than he is in serious, workable policy ideas.

It’s about time the GST occupied centre stage in any serious discussion about revenue and spending in this country, for it is the one measure that can be adapted to provide a fix to what, if left unaddressed, will become a permanent sea of red ink on state and federal budgets — and not all that far into the future.

Australia is not economically unassailable. Its prosperity cannot be taken for granted. Those leaders on both sides who have shown the courage and the stomach to start this debate deserve to be praised.

But as for the rest of the ALP which — as usual — would prefer to sit on the sidelines throwing populist stones in the hope it can be elected with as small a mandate for tough decisions as possible, it should grow up and take its responsibilities as a party to governance in Australia seriously, and stop trying to maintain a policy firewall contrived in its own petty electoral interests rather than focusing on the long-term good of the country.