Clearing Julia: Answers Over AWU Is All That Was Needed

WHILST DUBIOUS of her conduct as a lawyer, the decision by the Heydon Royal Commission to clear former Prime Minister Julia Gillard of criminal wrongdoing fails to surprise; the same can be said of its recommendation ex-boyfriend Bruce Wilson and his crony Ralph Blewitt be charged over the so-called AWU affair. Establishing who did what and who (if anyone) should be prosecuted for it satisfies public interest. Gillard’s past “answers” did not.

Labor people, union people, and Julia Gillard and her cohorts specifically will be cock-a-hoop this evening after the Royal Commission into the trade union movement announced today that it was clearing Gillard of any alleged criminal misconduct in regard to the so-called AWU slush fund affair, and whilst it added that Gillard’s professional conduct as a lawyer was “questionable,” the former PM got off far more lightly than her old flame, who — along with his sidekick and self-confessed bagman — now faces prosecution over what on any assessment was a fraud.

Depending on your preferences and journalistic prejudices (just to ensure the Labor types aren’t left out), there is coverage of these developments from Fairfax, the Murdoch press and The Guardian that readers can access from my website today.

I don’t propose to rehash all the ancient history of the AWU affair, Gillard’s role in it, or that of the two men now facing criminal charges; after all, this matter has held the country in thrall for some years now, and I see little point in pursuing a re-evaluation of these matters now when the reports I have linked (and past issues on the subject, accessible from the site archives to the right of this piece) already lay these facts and events out in great detail.

Instead, I am now going to share the opinion on these matters I have kept to myself to date; and respond to some of those, ranged against my political outlook as they are, who have had the temerity to accuse this column of engaging in an ambit witch hunt against Julia Gillard where the specific matter of the AWU scandal has been concerned.

My personal opinion of Julia Gillard, for what it is worth — and which I have never previously condensed into a single sentence — is that she is a highly intelligent but not particularly pleasant individual who has repeatedly demonstrated appalling judgement and surrounded herself with idiots, incompetents, and sycophants who have egged her on when counsel sought from them ought to have restrained her.

I would emphasise that “intelligence” and “judgement” are not the same thing, and that the description provided has been shown time and again over many years, sometimes in ways and concerning matters Gillard would have preferred not to have become public, to be very near the mark.

Whilst I could never be certain, I have always been fairly sure that where the so-called AWU slush fund was concerned, Gillard probably did nothing illegal, and in outlining my (admittedly rather jaundiced) reasoning I must stress that I am not accusing Gillard of anything other than poor judgement: and a deep-rooted self-obsession that probably always meant she was always going to stop herself crossing that line no matter whose interests might have been served had she done so, or compromised had she not.

This ex-lawyer (and “ex-lawyer” would be an appropriate description, for she will never practise in that profession again) was shrewd enough and sharp enough, I believe, to have always known precisely what she was doing and — most of all — whether or not it was legal.

I think it was inevitable, given the company she was keeping at the time, that Gillard would become entwined in the AWU fiasco; agreeing to undertake certain work for Wilson, whom she was in a relationship with, made it inescapable.

But the real misdemeanours Gillard committed were against her profession, not the law: it is the reason she was summarily dismissed from Melbourne-based Labor law behemoth Slater and Gordon, her professional reputation in ruins, and in need of a fresh career (which the Labor Party helpfully provided).

There seems to be a clear distinction between standards of professional practice (which, for example, have elicited revelations that Gillard failed to open a file at Slater and Gordon for the work she did establishing the quaintly named AWU Workplace Reform Association) and the flagrant commission of a criminal fraud, which Wilson and Blewitt now face possible charges over.

I think Gillard always knew how far she was able to go, in helping out her lover, without compromising herself legally; and whether or not she was fully aware of the activities and conduct — actual or intended — of the AWU WRA (which we will probably never know), there was always a limit to what she was prepared to do whilst ostensibly providing every possible support for her boyfriend.

In other words (and irrespective of whether it was a conscious position), Gillard’s legal career could be sacrificed for Wilson, but her criminal record was sacrosanct.

I have not spelt this out previously for the simple reason that such an opinion, with official enquiries continuing, would have been inappropriate, and in even saying what I have this evening I am not going to elaborate much further: after all, whilst charges against Wilson and Blewitt appear likely, those matters too remain on foot.

But even the highly restrained comment that this column has expressed to date has drawn accusations that I have leapt, in the spirit of a free for all, into a boots-and-all witch hunt against the former Prime Minister which I have not only repeatedly denied, but which were completely untrue and unsupported by any objective analysis.

I might not think very highly of Gillard, but I have never accused her of being a crook; and whilst I think the way she has handled herself has been tacky, intentionally misleading and fairly grimy, this in itself does not necessarily constitute a breach of the law: and I never said it did.

I concede that others who are allied to the Liberal Party, or opposed to the ALP and/or Gillard personally, may have suggested otherwise. But I am not responsible for those elements, their words or deeds; and for every cretin who has come to this site seeking to prosecute “the fight” on Gillard’s behalf, I simply say you picked the wrong target here.

And those who have stated that I “must account” for those who have made unfounded allegations of criminal misconduct against Julia Gillard, the response is equally blunt: no, I don’t.

This entire episode has been extremely distasteful, and what I will say is that by the way she handled it, Gillard herself perpetuated the speculation and rumour-mongering and (dare I say it) the witch hunt against her: holding press conferences “to answer questions” that then fail utterly to meaningfully respond to a single specific question — as Gillard did when still Prime Minister — smacks of being just too clever, contrived and conniving, and far from drawing anything to a conclusion, Gillard’s tactics merely prolonged her own discomfiture.

Issuing proceedings against anything on two legs with a job as a journalist who dared question her integrity (which Gillard also did) is the tactic of the bully, not the innocent; leaning on media outlets to silence discussion of the AWU matter merely aroused public suspicions that Gillard had something to hide.

Innocent or guilty, these further illustrations of poor judgement again underscore the point.

But in all the years I have followed (with great interest) the allegations that have swirled around Gillard over these events, I always thought she was too smart to overstep the line into the realm of breaking the law in furtherance of any scheme cooked up by Wilson and/or any of his thuggy mates.

Perhaps Gillard, and all her old buddies in the ALP and the union movement, should reflect that a lot of grief could have been avoided over this if the stonewalling tactics and other suspicious behaviour had been dispensed with, and the hard facts of events surrounding the AWU WRA been disclosed when those matters first became subject to inquiry and investigation in the public interest.

It would have necessitated abandoning the “maaates” whose hands really were dirty, to cover the arses of those whose weren’t.

But with the Heydon commission seemingly having got to the bottom of the matter once and for all, that is what has belatedly happened anyway.

Wilson and Blewitt are set to be prosecuted, and Gillard is safely out of it.

And whilst the Commission seems justified to question the way Gillard conducted herself as a lawyer, that was always likely to be the end result.

 

GST, Banks Must Feature In Tax Reform Debate

ANY DISCUSSION OF TAX REFORM in Australia must — almost by definition — include revisitation of the scope and rate of GST, and the attendant prospect of steep cuts to direct taxes; rank populism by the ALP (which modelled a GST hike in government and now claims such a change to be a “breach of faith”) should be disregarded, as long-term structural considerations are placed above ridiculously destructive partisan politics.

I have been reading a very good opinion piece in The Australian this morning, which neatly sums up both the challenges facing Prime Minister Tony Abbott in any contemplation of the GST as part of any wider attempt at tax reform, and the rank opportunism of the ALP (and some of the states) that such a discussion has already provoked.

I have to keep this circumspect today, as I am — as readers already know — quite busy at present, but there are nonetheless some key points I should simply get onto the table.

The most obvious of these is the fact that of all the taxation options available to the government (and with an eye to the escalating and recurrently growing demand for revenue by the federal government sector), the GST stands almost alone as a mechanism capable of delivering an expanding growth stream of taxation revenue.

Hot on the heels of this is the revelation, widely reported in yesterday’s press, that the ALP itself commissioned Treasury modelling in office to observe the effects of a modest GST increase of its own, raising the rate from 10% to 12.5%.

Such an increase, in my view, does not go far enough: the switch in the “tax mix” from taxes on income to taxes on expenditure is both urgent and critical, as the share of government revenue contributed by income taxes continues to fall over coming decades as the workforce ages, shrinks, and casualises.

And contrary to the deepest desires and ideological dogma of the ALP and (especially) its bed buddies at the Communist Party Greens, simply hitting “the rich” ever more heavily to try to claw back the difference is counter-productive and will also prove self-destructive in the longer run.

In his article, Paul Kelly hits the nail on the head, and his summation of Labor’s mentality on this question — that merely seeking public consent and/or seeking to engage in a comprehensive and rational debate about GST reform is a “breach of trust” — could as easily apply to the ALP approach to virtually any area of government that requires overhaul, and which Labor in power, despite the robust position it inherited, mostly squibbed.

For mine, a GST rate of 20% applying to everything aside from medical treatment — with accompanying steep cuts to income tax scales, along with boosts to pensions, and perhaps a further lifting of the tax-free threshold and/or the absorption of fuel excise collections into the GST net — makes perfect sense. This, and any options for GST reforms up to and including this position, merit consideration at the very minimum, irrespective of whether they are subsequently adopted or not.

But in the current, toxic political environment — in which even the consideration of raising one tax is used as a crude populist battering ram, irrespective of any potential offsetting measures — such a debate seems unlikely to eventuate, and it will be Australia that will be the worse off for it.

A simple measure of this contention will lie in the fact that comments to this column, if they follow past trends, will simply ignore my own advocacy of cuts to marginal tax rates and increases to social security payments, and simply pillory me for arguing that a doubling and broadening of the GST should be contemplated at all.

Some who come here looking to sink the boot into “Tories” may resist the urge to engage in such blinkered abuse. I will believe their restraint, quite literally, if I don’t see the evidence otherwise.

 

AND ANOTHER THING: readers have been surprised in the past to find this column — usually devoutly liberal in its economic views — advocating for a windfall tax to be applied to profits generated by the banking sector.

There is a difference between a free market returning healthy profits and plain, old-fashioned price gouging, and any group of four companies that cumulatively reap after-tax profits equivalent to roughly 5% of the country’s entire GDP demonstrates the shortfalls of prudential regulation that singularly ignores the difference between the two.

With Australia’s so-called “big four” banks hauling in clear profits of about $75 billion last year, the problem has gone beyond a joke; the retail banking sector uniquely defied the Global Financial Crisis to record consistent profit growth — in part, due to government intervention and monies expended by the Rudd government — and largely off the back of a fees, penalties and charges regime that is not grounded in any reflection of the true costs of providing these items.

This column repeats its assertion that a windfall tax should be applied to all profits recorded over a nominated threshold — say, $5 billion per annum per “banking group,” to remove the incentive to spread black ink through a plethora of subsidiaries — and levied at 50% of all revenues above that level.

Such a tax would raise about $40 billion based on last year’s figures, and whilst its yield would fall if met with cuts in banking charges in response, the measure would nonetheless deliver a win for consumers as it restored money pried from their pockets one way or the other.

$40 billion buys a lot of health and education funding, repays a fair whack of government debt each year, or funds quite a slather of other worthy government expenditure that currently eludes reality.

 

Missing: Palmer Should Rethink Seat In Parliament

A WOEFUL RECORD of attendance at Parliament by mining figure Clive Palmer ought to provoke outrage in his electorate of Fairfax, with the self-professed billionaire missing a third of all sitting days since his election; the embarrassing truth raises questions over his commitment to his constituents, and it raises questions over his compliance with Standing Orders. Either way, it may be best for all concerned were Palmer to simply move on.

I have a question this morning, and the only readers who will be able to answer it definitively are those working in the federal parliamentary sphere and with access to the current Standing Orders (for the uninitiated, the rules governing the operation of the Houses of Parliament): that tome uncirculated beyond the seat of governance, and whose vagaries are both unknown to — and contain oddities unknown to the general public — but which must be observed by members of Parliament at all times.

Quite simply, at what point does repeated non-attendance at Parliament by a member of the House of Representatives constitute grounds for the seat of a member to be declared vacant? Remembering the sensitivities in answering this question, I remind any parliamentary staffer or employee that they are able to post comments on this forum using a pseudonym, and that the confidentiality of the email address they provide will be rigorously respected.

Not that it comes as any kind of surprise, Melbourne’s Herald Sun reports today that since his election last year, rogue mining baron Clive Palmer has missed a third of all sitting days in Parliament and that, further, of the parliamentary committees Palmer nominally sits on, he has failed to attend any of the 10 meetings of these to date.

If I were a voter in Palmer’s Sunshine Coast electorate of Fairfax, I would feel like I had been sold a pup: and I mean that in deadly earnest, with no pun intended.

Since his nomination to stand last year, and many times since, Palmer has described himself as a “retired businessman” and, as the Hun notes, a “100% politician,” but there is a legitimate need to question the commitment of any backbench MP who simply fails to show up a third of the time.

The Hun notes that aside from Trade minister Andrew Robb (whose role mandates a heavy travel schedule abroad) and an unnamed backbencher on extended sick leave, Palmer has the worst parliamentary attendance record in the House of Representatives, and given Palmer is not sick (to public knowledge) nor encumbered with a role that legitimises traipsing all over the place on official business, there is really no excuse for him to be off doing his own thing when he ought to be in Canberra.

Whilst the Palmer United Party boasts four MPs — Palmer himself and three Senators — it still falls short of official party status, and whilst it might not suit Palmer’s penchant for wild predictions of being a Prime Minister-in-waiting and similarly ridiculous pronouncements, it debases even further any justification for simply failing to show up to his job.

In other words — and Palmer would loathe being told this — perhaps he shouldn’t get too big for his britches.

This column has been a consistent critic of Clive Palmer, his silly party, its get-square mentality where Queensland’s LNP is concerned and its wild, brainless and unthinking populist stunts, and has pointed out that as much as Palmer tries to position himself as a champion of the underprivileged, almost all of his positions on legislation can be connected with the overriding objective of causing as much trouble for — and electoral damage to — the Coalition as possible.

As I have disclosed before, a couple of years ago I made an approach to one of Palmer’s companies seeking a commercial partnership in relation to a project I was working on in my business. Yet the “discussions” (if you could call them that) went nowhere whatsoever, with the sum total of my interaction with the Palmer empire being confined to an unpleasant and highly abusive outburst from one of his staff.

I mention that again to avoid any charge of being compromised. Moreover, it is completely and utterly consistent with the kind of conduct we have witnessed from Palmer and his minions over Campbell Newman, the Coalition generally, the Chinese, and God only knows who else.

The Hun notes that some of the time Palmer has missed from Parliament was spent campaigning on the Sunshine Coast for next year’s Queensland state election — for which he may not even have a registered party, so low is the membership of the Palmer United Party in that state — and in Newcastle for last weekend’s state by-elections, at which Palmer candidates recorded humiliatingly poor results, and which, given these were state level by-elections in NSW, would appear to have absolutely nothing to do with his role as a federal backbench MP (or his home turf in Queensland, for that matter) whatsoever.

If, as Palmer claims, his “best work” is done “leveraging” the votes of his Senators rather than “working as a backbencher,” then it is clear that in terms of his obligations to his constituents, Palmer’s priorities are well out of line.

Has he — as he claims — been dealing with the Prime Minister and government ministers? Of course he has. The numbers in the Senate dictate this as a matter of course. The stated objectives of the Palmer United Party to cause as much obstruction and difficulty for the Abbott government as possible also make such activities a given.

But if Palmer believes that having “that power and influence” means he can do more than “having (his) vote in Parliament sitting down,” then I would question what the point of him remaining in Parliament as the member for Fairfax is at all.

As the puppeteer for three stuffed shirts in the Senate, he could more than amply pull their strings without drawing a taxpayer-funded salary of his own, and without any need to occupy a sinecure in the lower House.

The good burghers of the electorate of Fairfax deserve a full-time member of Parliament, not some flit-about with ideas of being better than everyone else in Canberra, and to whom established protocols and requirements are deemed not to apply, and who tours around the place to serve his own agenda rather than theirs.

In the end, perhaps Palmer should rethink his seat in Parliament. He would not be missed and, let’s be frank, it wouldn’t change all that much.

And the long-suffering residents of Fairfax could use the resulting by-election to endorse someone who would represent them — and not himself — as the position demands.

 

Federal Reform: Is Australia Overgoverned?

TONY ABBOTT’S PUSH to overhaul and modernise governance in Australia is welcome, and should be embraced by all sides of the political spectrum as well as stakeholder groups in the wider community. Abbott is right to include unpopular subjects (like taxation) as part of a broad and sweeping approach to simplifying public administration. Crucially, the question of whether there is too much government in Australia must also be confronted.

I want to talk very generally this morning, as public discussion of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s quest to “fix” arrangements of governance in Australia begins to attract widespread coverage in the mainstream press, and as the initial indications that he is serious about developing a template to present to voters in 2016 appear more promising than the most recent attempt by a Prime Minister to do the same: notably, Kevin Rudd, whose own plans do enact similar reforms amounted to nought.

In case anyone thinks I am merely taking a partisan pot shot at Rudd, I note that the concept of “fixing” Federation is a question that, to date, has bedevilled every government and leader who has considered it; even the tax reforms of the Howard government at the end of the 1990s — which handed the states a residual growth tax in the form of the GST — appear a little dated, with spending by the states having since grown far beyond the capacity of the GST to keep pace, and the grotesque spectacle of Premiers trudging to Canberra with outstretched hands, which it was meant to end once and for all, seems more entrenched than ever.

I have been “holding on” to an article in my web browser for the past couple of weeks in readiness for beginning to talk about some of the reform items that must be considered; published in The Australian, I do think some of the findings it talks through — such as support for the creation of a fourth tier of government — are a bit ridiculous. But some of the trends and figures the article notes, from the biennial Constitutional Values Survey conducted by Newspoll, are telling.

This survey notes, among other things, support for the creation of new states, and potentially for a new tier of government — regional government — that makes me wonder whether there are a couple of discrete messages here that have become a bit intertwined in each other; after all, high trust in local government combined with high support to abolish it, at the same time as support for the creation of “regional government” and more states is being registered, would seem to send a conflicted message.

And whilst support to axe the states is said to have fallen, with a quarter of Newspoll’s respondents indicating support for such an action, it remains high.

It makes me wonder whether the “trust” in local government that this survey has picked up is really transferable to the potential tier of regional government: and were the states to be abolished, it is inevitable that a beefed-up version of the local tier would emerge, as frontline delivery of government services is increasingly devolved to local administrations.

So let’s as the blunt question about whether Australia is overgoverned or not, but in the obverse: aside from facilitating provincial rivalries and preserving a tangible colonial history that the world has arguably moved on from, do the states really serve any meaningful or constructive purpose in 21st century Australia?

The survey discussed in the article I have linked already shows clear support for federal government to pick up responsibility for the health system: a reform I think is well past due, especially with Medicare cemented as the centrepiece of public healthcare in Australia.

After all, the overwhelming bulk of public health money derives from the federal government; yet there are two distinct health bureaucracies — one federal, and one operated severally by the states — and this model, as is well-known and long lamented, throws up the duplication of resources (and the attendant wastage involved in transferring money between governments) that could be eliminated by consolidating them.

It surprises people who know me that for someone of conservative leanings, I am an enthusiastic advocate for abolishing the states as sovereign entities, a position that obviously places me at odds with Abbott’s desire to ensure the states are “sovereign in their own sphere.”

But aside from giving the Queenslanders something to fight about at State of Origin time each year, I really can’t see much point in retaining this anachronistic relic of colonial settlement in modern, 21st century Australia.

Certainly, there may be some practical applications for what were state boundaries that may be retained, and as we push further into consideration of reform in Australia over coming weeks, some of the ideas I have for these will become apparent (such as using state boundaries to apportion Senate representation, both to give effect to constitutional considerations around the structure of the upper house, and to help provide form for a decentralised two-tier model of government that I think is ideal for Australia, a population still only a bit more than a third of the size of Britain’s), and that would be far more efficient than often ramshackle arrangements that exist now.

What constructive or useful purpose is served, for example, in having eight disparate criminal codes across one country of 24 million people? Similarly, what use is eight separate education curriculums, operated by eight separate education bureaucracies, with the best resources in terms of planning, resourcing and administration split eight ways and often replicated eight times over? What point is there in having eight separate regimes for management of roads, the environment, urban transport, and so on?

Some will argue that this serves to facilitate “competition” between the states but in the end, who does this serve? I would suggest not the people who live in them, but rather the army of consultants, bureaucrats, PR hacks and other gravy train surfers who make their money out of playing different states off against each other for commercial favour, federal government largesse, and pushing paper between different levels of government for no other reason than to “process” money transfers that exist solely because of an outdated multi-layered structure that exists only because it always has.

And sometimes, this is the worst reason of all to persist with something: just because it has always existed doesn’t necessarily make it right, or the best option, or the most ideal way of doing things.

But really, what actual useful purpose is imbued in the retention of the states as sovereign entities? (I’m listening…).

I have advocated previously — and will do so again, as we move further in — that abolishing the states and moving to a two-tier structure of a central Commonwealth government consolidating essential functions of the kind we’ve alluded here, with responsibility for frontline service delivery being devolved to what could in fact be a system of regional governments, as identified by this survey: and largely ending, once and for all, the blame game/duplication/Canberra vs the states farce that consumes an unhealthy stipend of activity in Australia, both at the political level and where the public service is concerned.

My piece today is really only to start to get everyone talking about these things, which is why I am not going too deep on specifics for now.

But I would note that the costs involved in duplicating federal-state bureaucracies runs into the tens of billions of dollars; I haven’t seen any quantification of just how much this runs into, and to the best of my knowledge it hasn’t been seriously quantified. But the point is that aside from anything else, there is a colossal reserve of money locked up in needless paper-pushing that, if redirected to services, could unlock a tremendous new source of funding for hospitals, roads and urban infrastructure, and so forth.

One criticism I have heard many times is that the states should not be abolished because the loss of public service jobs would be far too steep to justify the move.

To this I make two points: one, that quite some proportion of these roles would disappear along with the states, but reappear in local and federal workforces that pick up the slack as bureaucracies are consolidated and streamlined; and two, whilst nobody likes the idea of unemployment, or arbitrarily adding to it, the notion that public servants should always be entitled to public service jobs because those jobs have always existed is a copout, and should be offensive to every taxpayer who helps pick up the tab for their wages.

Yes, there will always be a public service; such a calling is a noble one. But that service shouldn’t merely be bloated for the sake of it — especially if the elimination of duplication makes some roles redundant.

And anyway, cutting jobs out of the public service often sees additional employment appear in the private sector, as efficient bureaucracies invest more in goods and services rather than in bureaucratic functions: precisely this phenomenon occurred in Victoria under the Kennett government in the 1990s.

But in the big scheme of things, what would really be lost by eliminating state governments? And to those who argue for their retention, what functions — and be very specific — are so integral to the current model of state government that could not be performed by enhanced local/regional governments on the one hand, or transferred to the federal government on the other?

To me, local interests can easily be safeguarded by the ongoing local/regional tier; at the risk of seeming trite, this is why they are designated “local” in the first place.

As I said at the outset, today’s piece is really a conversation starter, and as ever I look forward to the discussion with and between readers. And as under the pump as I am at present, we will shortly begin to discuss some of the areas for reform I spelt out last week in greater detail, and in view of the Abbott push that now appears to be gathering pace, governance generally would seem the logical place to start.

 

Malcolm Turnbull As Treasurer? Abbott Could Do Worse

WITH THE ABBOTT GOVERNMENT solidifying its position in some respects with room to improve in others, chatter that Malcolm Turnbull could be moved to Treasury is not the divisive prospect it may have once been; flaws in the 2014 budget strategy mean another tough budget in May, and this column has already advocated for Treasurer Joe Hockey to be shifted sideways. With budget preparations set to begin in earnest, the time is right to act.

It has happened again: with the best of intentions I have been a little preoccupied in the past couple of days, which means the kick-off for the series of articles canvassing various reform opportunities has been delayed; there is a certain timeliness in that regard, however, with structural reform also now finding its way more prominently into public debate, and we will move onto these subjects as soon as I can get to them (read: shortly).

But I want to talk today about an article carried in yesterday’s editions of the Fairfax mastheads, which details the suggestion — apparently gaining currency in government circles — that Communications minister (and former Liberal leader) Malcolm Turnbull should be moved into the Treasury portfolio, replacing hapless incumbent Joe Hockey.

It may surprise readers to know that I am very cautiously — but enthusiastically — interested in this idea.

This column has had ample reason to be critical of Turnbull over the years and, indeed, has at times been scathing; his performance as Liberal leader was lacklustre, gaffe-prone, and lost the Coalition an enormous tract of electoral ground relative to the then Rudd government. Any election at that time fought by the Coalition with Turnbull as its leader would have ended in tears, and I am no more convinced of his status as an election-winning leader now as I was then.

Subsequently, of course, Turnbull strayed too often from established Liberal policy for my blood, as the pursuit of various positions on policy at odds with both the official party position and the innate setting of the Coalition base sprang from the Turnbull quarter too many times.

But the article by Peter Hartcher correctly notes that Turnbull has been working as a committed, collegial part of the government, and I agree, and if the sources for Hartcher’s piece are correct in noting that Malcolm has now accepted that he is not going to be Prime Minister (and we will come back to that shortly) then it makes sense for him to be used in the most effective role into which the government can deploy him.

Not that Turnbull has been ineffective as Communications minister: far from it. In fact, his performance in that role partially justifies the call, in effect, to promote him.

Irrespective of some of the trendy ideas in social and environmental policy that form a large part of my historic opposition to Turnbull’s position as a (recycled) leadership prospect, nobody — not within nor outside the Liberal Party, Parliament, or the community generally — can dispute that when it comes to business and the making and managing of money, Turnbull has few peers in the Liberal Party.

In a more benign climate of Coalition leadership stability and in the face of real problems with the government’s programme of restoring the budget mess it inherited from the ALP to a sound footing, the sensible option is to harness those talents, not leave them languishing in a lesser (but nonetheless important) area of policy.

The problems with the government’s current budget strategy are not going to go away. Hartcher is right to highlight the fact that the various national security challenges that have been confronted by the government have enabled it to again become competitive in, but not lead, published opinion polling, and the thesis that economic management is responsible for this is completely accurate.

He is also right to note that almost three-quarters of Hockey’s budgeted spending savings are stalled in the Senate, and most of that — given the intransigence of Labor, the Greens, and often the Palmer Senators — seems destined to remain thus marooned.

With no disrespect to Hockey, the 2014 budget (warts and all) was framed with the objective of stopping the accrual of further government debt — “saving $350 billion in debt over ten years” — rather than working to eliminate the $350 billion already racked up over the last seven as a result of ALP incompetence and mismanagement; to compound the problem, many of the initiatives contained in it appear designed to wilfully target and antagonise floating voters in marginal Coalition electorates: a wanton act of political stupidity indeed.

Furthermore, Hockey has proven incapable of selling them.

With the heat now gone from the relationship between Abbott and Turnbull (who, now 60 and 62 by the time of the next election, also faces age as a barrier to any prospect of a return to the Liberal leadership*) it makes sense for the government to utilise Malcolm where he can best contribute to its fortunes: and that is as Treasurer.

Hartcher notes that Hockey elicits little sympathy from his ministerial colleagues, and that the Liberal backbench is extremely frustrated; this is perfectly understandable, given one of the primary points of difference with the ALP the Coalition has always enjoyed has been its reputation for sound, competent economic stewardship. There is no “air of Costello” about the Abbott government, or even a sense that it is heir to Costello’s unimpeachable record of economic management at all, and this is something for which Hockey bears responsibility.

There are three points Hartcher lists as reasons moving Turnbull to the Treasury is unlikely to happen.

One, that it would involve dumping Hockey, of whom Abbott is said to be protective. As we have noted in this column in the past, loyalty in politics is a noble thing, and in many respects there is far too little of it across the board. But loyalty is fine only until it begins to impede the overall performance of any party or government, and Hockey’s execution of his duties as Treasurer, in a role that is almost the flagship of any Liberal government, has hardly been convincing. His budget was and is a political disaster. And in the sense the 2015 budget will substantially need to do the same job this year’s was meant to do in slashing expenditure and waste, the current effort may as well have not occurred at all — which is an indictment.

Two, it is understandable Abbott is reticent about conducting a reshuffle of his ministry; after all, such endeavours are often painted as a sign of weakness or instability by political opponents. Yet this government boasts an obscenity of under-utilised (or yet to be promoted) talent that a compelling political narrative could easily be wound around the need to ensure the best possible people hold down every ministerial post at all times, and in this sense there would be a couple of Hockey’s colleagues also facing “movement” too. Let us not forget that Abbott himself recently conducted performance reviews on his ministers. It would be an entirely logical next step — and bolster the usefulness of such reviews — to then perform a modest rearrangement of the overall team.

And three, whether the promotion of an ostensible leadership rival would be too much of a risk for Abbott to be able to safely countenance. As we discussed not so long ago, I think Julie Bishop has earned the right to be considered the next in line if Abbott should fall under the proverbial bus; and even if Turnbull as Treasurer were to effect a turnaround in the Coalition’s fortunes on the budget that compared well with the record of Costello, his past record as leader would still count heavily against him.

And on that point, it remains the fact that any return to the leadership by Turnbull would instantly haemorrhage a big chunk of the Coalition’s support base, making it an electoral liability that, in likelihood, will never be seriously entertained by the government party room. Turnbull’s big poll numbers as the publicly preferred Liberal leader are generated overwhelmingly by respondents aligned with the ALP and the Communist Party Greens. Among Liberal voters, Turnbull still finishes second to Abbott (and is now all but outpolled by Bishop, too).

A year into the job and with the dreadful specimen that is the 2014 budget under his belt, Hockey can hardly be said not to have been given a fair shot at the job; as I have suggested many times in discussing this subject, he shouldn’t be sacked — he’s still far too good for that — but he should be moved sideways into another senior portfolio not based on frontline economic management, such as Defence.

To be sure, Hockey is a vast improvement on Wayne Swan, the Treasurer mostly responsible for the debacle of Labor’s misadventures in economic incompetence until he quit over the return of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister ten weeks out from last year’s election. But virtually every Coalition MP could realise a vast improvement on such an abominable performance as Swan’s if all given time as Treasurer, so bad is the record of the self-important member for Lilley, and is not enough to justify leaving Hockey where he is when others boast far stronger credentials for the job.

I have opined in this column previously that former WA Treasurer Christian Porter (now a federal government backbencher) would make an excellent ready-made, walk-up replacement for Hockey: he would. So, however, would Turnbull. The fact there are at least two candidates in the Liberal party room with arguably stronger claims on the Treasurer’s job than the Treasurer himself simply underlines the point.

Politics is like life; when opportunities come along, “this is it:” there’s no second chance if you bugger it up, waste it, or don’t make the most of it when it’s within your grasp.

The Abbott government’s time is now, and to ensure it is as successful and as durable as possible, having the best people in the most important roles is absolutely paramount.

To this end, the Prime Minister should rethink his aversion to a reshuffle, or to loyalty that has perhaps become less than astutely placed, and take the bold option where the utilisation of a past rival for his own job is concerned.

Many readers will find it surprising, but I agree that Malcolm Turnbull should be made Treasurer. Abbott could do much, much worse. And with the coming 2015 budget necessitating almost a completely fresh assault on the problem the 2014 effort was supposed to remedy, it would be best if someone other than Joe Hockey were to be driving it.

 

 

*I know some — Turnbull adherents in particular — will argue in response that Turnbull is not an old man, and that Howard left office at 68 and Menzies at 71. Both points are correct. But the last first-time Prime Minister aged over 60 on entering the office was Sir William McMahon at 63 in 1971; the only other Prime Minister in the category was Labor’s Ben Chifley, who was 60 in 1945 on taking over from the deceased John Curtin. No party leader in Australia over 60 has ever become Prime Minister for the first time by being elected to the role. Whilst it is not conclusive, it is clear that the Prime Ministership in this country — rightly or wrongly — is a job given to younger candidates.

Striking Out: Palmer United Party Faces Deregistration

WITH THE TRACK RECORD it “boasts,” it comes as no surprise Clive Palmer’s party is struggling to show it has the requisite 500 members to remain registered in Queensland; deregistration will derail the Palmer United Party’s campaign at the state election soon due, and damage its appeal to voters further afield. There are reports of highly questionable methods being used to meet the threshold. If proven, these should result in prosecutions.

I will confess at the outset that whilst I am across the broad requirements for the registration of political parties in Queensland, some of the finer details escape me; even so, a basic comprehension of these — combined with some plain, old-fashioned common sense — provides basis enough to comment on what appears likely to be the first wheel to break off Clive Palmer’s electoral cart, and if the reports if seriously underhand tactics to try to bolt it back on are true, then I think whomever is responsible for them should be prosecuted.

I have been reading a report in The Australian this morning — not, of course, Palmer’s favourite newspaper — and I will admit to being somewhat delighted to see that the singular lack of appeal of the Palmer United Party is about to see it scratched from contention, as a registered entity, for the state election all but due in Queensland.

According to The Australian (which describes the Palmer United Party as “desperate”), the mining baron’s political party is struggling to come up with a list of 500 bona fide members in Queensland by this coming Monday; failure to do so will see it deregistered in Queensland.

The consequences of this — for an outfit that seeks to usurp Queensland’s LNP and the Coalition parties generally — would be dire: the Palmer United Party would be unable to contest the state election as “a party,” with candidates’ party affiliations not listed on ballot papers, and severe restrictions on how it could advertise and promote itself to voters. In practice, and after a deregistration took effect, any Palmer team for the election would amount to little more than an assortment of independent candidates who would act in accordance with Palmer’s directions if any of them were elected to office.

What concerns me is the tactics apparently being used to show there are 500 members on the party’s books when, it can reasonably be inferred, there are not: The Australian details alleged attempts by Palmer’s party to claim members who have resigned from it as active, ongoing members.

It presents the case of one former member who resigned from the party, which acknowledged his resignation in writing in August; this individual has told the Oz that he had received an unsolicited email advising him that

“The party executive has reviewed the memberships for the party and have decided that any membership of a person residing in Queensland be renewed by resolution of the party executive,’’ it read. “Any outstanding membership fee is waived. We wish to advise that your name will be submitted to the Queensland Electoral Commission (sic) … Please email back, by close of business tomorrow Thursday 23rd October, if you do not wish your membership details to be submitted to the QEC.”

I should point out — at the risk of being branded a pedant — that the Electoral Commission of Queensland, or ECQ, isn’t even the statutory authority named in the email cited by The Australian‘s journalist, but where this moves from ostensible pedantry to a possible case of being too smart by half, in one fell swoop, is if this apparently innocent mistake on the part of whoever drafted the email is subsequently used as any kind of defence against charges of breaching Queensland’s Electoral Act.

And frankly — given the way his party has conducted itself ever since it managed to have four MPs elected to federal Parliament — it should surprise nobody if such a brazenly galling strategy is exactly what has been planned as a contingency.

A lot of the chickens are beginning to come home to roost where Clive Palmer’s party is concerned; for an outfit based in Queensland and orchestrated by a former National Party operative and adviser to Joh Bjelke-Petersen, I think the analogy is particularly apt.

The Palmer United Party, despite its revolutionary rhetoric and claims of “bringing Australians together,” only ever had two purposes: one, to utterly destroy Queensland’s LNP, its Premier in Campbell Newman, and to damage the Coalition in the rest of the country as extensively as it possibly could; and two, to provide a platform from which its founder could seek personal aggrandisement and a big head, whilst accruing political influence and power to further his business interests.

People, belatedly, are waking up to this, and whilst Palmer’s antics — the infamous “twerking” stunt an emblematic case in point — initially amused and piqued the interest of voters, subsequent outbursts like Palmer’s attack on Peta Credlin, his depiction of the Chinese as “mongrels and bastards,” or Jacqui Lambie’s helpful contribution to Foreign Affairs in suggesting Australia should launch a nuclear attack on China have started to send both the members of his party and potential voters alike running for the hills.

It’s no wonder Palmer is having trouble finding 500 paid-up members across the whole state of Queensland — ostensibly the bedrock of his party’s support — to keep the show going long enough to enable him to compete against the LNP at a state election, and to attempt to bloody or break the (political) nose of Campbell Newman as it was always explicitly intended to do.

If Palmer’s party is struck off Queensland’s Register of Political Parties — and I hope it is — then in addition to effectively ending its state election campaign before the date is even announced, the domino effect such a development will trigger will inflict heavy collateral damage on the Palmer United Party across the country even if it remains officially registered in other jurisdictions and federally.

Any party that cannot maintain its official registration invariably ends up extinct, and it would be a beneficial development indeed in terms of the national interest if a disqualification from registration in Queensland were to signal the beginning of the end for the Palmer United Party nationally: an odious entity whose objectives are based on wrecking and smashing and damaging as much as it can, that few people will miss when it is gone.

With the party having also missed the deadline to register itself as “a party” for the NSW state election due in March, the failure to obtain similar registration in Queensland would compound the distinctly amateurish appearance the Palmer United Party exudes.

That said, I make two further points this morning.

One, if official investigations can substantiate that resigned and/or lapsed members of the Palmer United Party are being given ultimatums to either resign a second time or accept a free arbitrary party membership for the purposes of evading the requirements of the Electoral Act in Queensland, then the person or persons responsible for these and any similar strategies being used to artificially produce 500 members to satisfy the ECQ can and should be prosecuted.

Electoral fraud, in all its insidious forms, is no trifling matter; the law is the law, and when it comes to the vagaries of functional and democratic elections, fixed requirements are not set down or legislated in jest. The inclusion of names of members who have declined to remain within the Palmer United Party — especially those who have submitted their resignations in writing, as opposed to simply allowing their memberships to lapse — is, on a common sense reading, fraudulent. It should be treated accordingly at law, and the book thrown at its perpetrators.

And two, the political environment in Queensland and its imminent state election are matters we have discussed at great length in this column, and most recently with regard to the mess the LNP seems determined to make of the (appropriate) disendorsement of Moggill MP Bruce Flegg; and whilst I have been consistently saying the LNP faces the strong possibility of squandering its record election victory three years ago and becoming the second one-term conservative government in Queensland in 20 years, one can never say “never” either, when it comes to all things political.

The deregistration of the Palmer United Party in Queensland, if it occurs, would provide Campbell Newman’s government with an unexpected circuit breaker and, potentially, an election-winning opportunity; even with recent polls showing the likely PUP vote in a Queensland state election falling, the accepted wisdom of commentators and observers broadly has to date been that it would nonetheless score at least 12-15% of the statewide vote.

Prevented from contesting the election as “a party,” that 12-15% suddenly goes up for grabs.

If the party is struck off the register by the ECQ next week, Premier Newman could do a hell of a lot worse than to get in his car, drive out to Government House in Bardon, and immediately advise a state election for Saturday 29 November: the earliest possible date an election called either this Monday or Tuesday could be held.

Such an election would force voters inclined to dalliance with Palmer (who mostly come from the LNP pile anyway) to make a hard decision: return grudgingly to the LNP and vote for Newman, or really register the protest vote against the LNP they intended to cast for Palmer candidates, and vote Labor instead.

There is no guarantee such a strategy would break the LNP’s way; after all, happy voters don’t flirt with lunatic minority parties for the hell of it. But it would put the question the LNP wants to campaign on — lingering public resentment and doubt toward the party voters threw out of office three years ago — at the centre of the state election campaign, which it has struggled, under the weight of its present troubles, to do up until now.

And it would deny the ALP any time to recalibrate its own campaign; Labor’s chances of winning the state election in Queensland, whilst a stretch, have been increasingly realistic this year. But they are almost entirely dependent on harvesting a significant flow of preferences from the Palmer United Party, and with this option denied to the ALP, a snap election would prevent it from devising any meaningful alternative strategy.

It might not save Newman in his own seat; even under these conditions I would still expect Ashgrove to fall to Labor. But an immediate election to capitalise on the disqualification of Palmer’s party, properly handled and executed like lightning, could well save his government, and many more of its MPs who would otherwise be stonily staring down defeat.

Should the LNP prevail at a state election due to the implosion of the Palmer United Party — an outfit designed to destroy it — it would be a tasty irony indeed.

And if all of this came to pass, perhaps Newman could be shoehorned into Moggill after all: the LNP would need a Moggill candidate immediately, and the luxury of persisting with Christian Rowan as a replacement for Bruce Flegg might have to be abandoned. If his transfer to Moggill were to occur, and Newman was re-elected as Premier at a second consecutive state election, then the entire purpose of Palmer’s foray into politics in the first place — and the millions of dollars he has spent on it — would have been for nothing.

And that, to be blunt, is exactly the return he deserves on his “investment.”

 

Revisionism And Whitlam, Exhibit #1: The Dismissal

IN THE AFTERMATH of the death of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, sections of the Left have wasted little time bombarding the country with inaccurate, debased versions of the “legacy” of the Whitlam government, and the alleged wrong it suffered on 11 November 1975 as the exercise of S64 of the Constitution saw it ejected from office. As conservatives pay tribute, the Left rekindles a fight it could not win in 1975 and will not win now.

Ignorance — in this case, of the law — is a potent weapon for those on the Left who would mould public opinion; hypocrisy, too, is a virtue, as too often those on the Left are either complicit in and/or openly commit the very sins they incite public outrage over when such actions are undertaken by their opponents.

I should make the clear point at the outset that my remarks today are not aimed at Gough Whitlam nor, in the main, to those Australians who hold him as an idol or a hero, despite the fact I do not share that judgement of him; rather, I want to talk about the “mythology” that has always existed in any public discussion of the former Prime Minister, and specifically, a legend that is at best highly embellished and bookended by a refutation of the Dismissal that has always been sorely wanting for any basis in fact.

It strikes me as an exquisite irony that as conservatives fete Whitlam in death with praise ranging from the moderate to the effusive — and this column quite happily did the same thing on Tuesday afternoon, as quickly as I could publish comment after learning Whitlam had died — the militant Left across Australia is railing against conservatives who might take advantage of Whitlam’s death to revel in his passing, and tear at their great leader’s legacy.

Presumably, they had in mind something resembling their own (gleeful, exultant, triumphalist) conduct last year when Margaret Thatcher died.

And just to ram their point home, countless manifestations of the Whitlam “legacy” — replete with decades-old embellishments, omissions, and outright fabrications — have leapt from the bunkers of the ABC, the Fairfax press, The Guardian, and all the other branches of the media and the commentariat given unquestioningly to the Left and the sanctity of its version of the country’s past.

It is fortuitous that some journalists, and some media outlets, remain intellectually honest enough to shoot these fictional stories down, and to call them for what they are and were; and without diverging down the tangential path of rehashing them, two excellent pieces from today’s press, by Miranda Devine at Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and Greg Sheridan at The Australian, use hard, cold facts to blow so many holes in the Whitlam “legend” constructed over four decades by his disciples that if it were the Titanic, there would be no need for any iceberg.

But I have had a first-hand taste overnight of the peculiar savagery the ceaseless rewrite of history in Whitlam’s honour is generating, thanks to a vicious exchange on social media involving acquaintances welded to the political Left and centred on that “nuclear weapon” of alleged misdeeds against Whitlam and his government: the Dismissal.

The fracas (which I am hoping will continue no further, in the interests of decency) centred on an article, penned by the outspoken left-wing journalist David Marr and published in The Guardian, which leapt adroitly at the throats of both conservatives and former Governor-General Sir John Kerr over the “ruthless clawing down of Gough Whitlam.”

Appearing less than three hours after news of Whitlam’s death broke, it seems an odd tribute, to say the least.

But — such is presentation — Marr weaves a story of lies, deceit, illegal conduct and sheer bastardry that he claims “the verdict of both the law and history has been savage” to. It is a compelling story. It is also unmitigated and misleading rubbish.

(And to be clear, that description applies to the version of these events adhered to by the Left generally, which is merely reflected in Marr’s representation of them).

As anyone with a basic knowledge of political history knows, early in 1974 — armed with a majority in the Senate — the Coalition parties under the leadership of Bill Snedden moved to block supply to the first-term Whitlam government to force an election; Whitlam capitulated, calling a double dissolution, and was re-elected: albeit still lacking a majority in the Senate, with Labor and the Coalition each winning 29 spots, with two Liberal-leaning Independents.

In October 1975, under the leadership of Malcolm Fraser — with the scandal-plagued Whitlam government limping in opinion polls, and evidence to hand that one of its ministers, Rex Connor, had continued to pursue loans negotiations with Tirath Khemlani after the revocation of his authority to do so, placing the Australian government in breach of US law over other loan-raising activities — the Coalition again moved to block the budget and force another election.

It was aided in this enterprise by two casual ALP Senate vacancies, one in Queensland and one in NSW; in Queensland, Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen appointed an obscure ALP member known to be hostile to Whitlam personally in the knowledge he would be expelled from the Labor Party for accepting the Premier’s nomination. In NSW, Premier Tom Lewis appointed an Independent. It meant that the Coalition controlled the numbers in the Senate.

As it happened, the supply bills of the budget were indeed blocked: the result was that had the government run out of money it would have ceased to be able to function, with wages, rents, and other expenses unable to be paid as the money to do so would not legally be available to the government.

Ultimately — as provided for in section 64 of the Constitution — the deadlock between the Houses was broken by the Governor-General terminating Whitlam’s commission, and appointing Fraser in a caretaker capacity until elections could be held.

(That’s the quickest version of the Dismissal I have ever seen :)  )

I understand why this event caused (and causes) so much outrage in ALP circles. After all, this government — which its supporters had waited 23 years to see arrive — was terminated after just three, and by spectacularly unorthodox means.

But there are ample precedents for the legal use of regal and vice-regal constitutional powers in Australia and elsewhere; in fact, Labor itself was a willing cheer squad to the intervention of the Queen in 1977, when Bjelke-Petersen wanted to extend the term of his favourite Governor in Queensland, Colin Hannah — and the Queen said no.

The hypocrisy — with 1975 representing an outrage, and an abuse of power by an unelected representative of a “foreign” power refusing to accept advice from her Prime Minister — is compelling. In 1977, the ALP was cheering the same “foreign” power on for refusing to accept the advice of her Premier. Revenge is not an adequate justification. It is merely naked opportunism.

Even so, much of the bile Marr spouted on Tuesday is ridiculous.

What “verdict” of law has ever condemned the Dismissal? The matter was never taken to the High Court; Labor (and Whitlam) sensibly allowed it to stand, perhaps advised privately that seeking to overturn the decision was an enterprise unlikely to succeed. The Constitution is open to interpretation. But S64 is explicit that the Prime Minister holds office “during the pleasure of the Governor-General,” and it is generally accepted on all sides that the Constitution confers upon the Governor-General the ability to sack an elected government: even if, in Labor’s case in 1975, it did not like it.

The conspiratorial bent of Marr’s story fails to stand up; even with the emergence last year of the fact former High Court Justice Anthony Mason advised Kerr — as did another judge, Justice Barwick — it has been well documented that this advice was to confirm the constitutional integrity of the course of action on which Kerr had already determined, not to influence or “plot” it.

Whitlam was outraged that Kerr sought this advice, pointing to the convention that the viceroy should only be advised by the head of his government. But Kerr — in discharging a constitutional obligation of the office — quite properly sought advice to ensure the legality of his intended actions, and was perfectly entitled to do so.

It didn’t matter whether Bob Menzies was urging the Liberal Party to back down; he no longer held a seat in Parliament. Assertions the Coalition Senators were about to “crack” were and are not worth a can of beans; they didn’t. And far from Kerr being some anti-Labor, anti-Whitlam villain whose ill intent was calculated to “claw Whitlam down,” he “struck” — to use Marr’s term — at the last possible time to do so, and after every avenue for compromise and resolution had been tried, and had failed.

Marr is right that 11 November held no particular constitutional significance; it was, however, the last day on which an election could practicably be called prior to Christmas.

The fact the government had two weeks’ worth of money left on 11 November is part of the problem that forced Kerr’s hand; elections in 1975 required almost five weeks between the announcement and polling day, and the government had insufficient funds to make it that far. Or to Christmas. Or past the “silly season.” Without decisive resolution, tens of thousands of public servants would remain unpaid, as would all other government outgoings. The country would grind to a halt.

Whitlam’s plan to call a half-Senate election, contrary to Marr’s assertion, offered virtually no prospect whatsoever of Whitlam winning enough Senate seats to control the chamber. In fact — so far behind in published polling was the government at that time — it was far likelier the government would go backwards. Such judgements are, of course, subjective. But a deadlocked Senate after a half-Senate poll would have triggered utter chaos.

Whitlam’s other plan (which Marr conveniently fails to mention at all) was to get the country’s big banks to advance credit to the government indefinitely to fund its activities, thus circumventing the Senate and allowing it to stay in office despite its inability to pass its budget. The legality of this plan remains unclear to this day. It may have been legal, as Whitlam maintained; it may not. But it was certainly undemocratic, and a contempt of Parliament to boot.

The spectre of Kerr’s refusal to receive the Speaker of the House of Representatives is a red herring; the advice to dissolve the Houses of Parliament had been offered by Fraser and the proclamation to do so posted. Yes, the House of Representatives refused to adjourn for some time. But ultimately, the action that dissolved it usurped this last-ditch stand.

Most of the remainder of Marr’s article is melodramatic, biased twaddle designed to appeal to people’s hearts rather than their brains. It does not matter, incidentally, what Malcolm Turnbull told Marr. Turnbull, like so many of the other irrelevant bystanders Marr tries to drag into his argument, quite literally has nothing to do with it.

And his attempt to link any defence of the events of 1975 to “this ugly coup” remaining alive — and blaming conservatives for this fact — is simply an exercise in the provocative semantics of a partisan hack who seeks to continue to flog a dead horse decades after it died. It isn’t the Right that keeps dredging the Dismissal up, or disputing the facts surrounding it.

For all the high-minded piety of Marr’s piece, it fails to mention that the following Labor government of Bob Hawke fiddled the Senate by enlarging it, in a blatant attempt to ensure the Coalition could never again control the upper house (which it did — for one term — at the 2004 election). It never ceases to amaze me that the “anti-democratic” Dismissal = bad for the Left, whilst the anti-democratic structural distortion of a house of Parliament itself = good, sound, appropriate policy. Again, the hypocrisy of the Left fails to surprise in its consistency.

If Marr wanted to crucify the real villains of the piece, he would take aim at Bjelke-Petersen and Lewis, whose interventions undoubtedly made the difference between Fraser being able to block supply or not. But this features in Marr’s article as a virtual afterthought.

But whilst the Constitution has since been amended to dictate future Senate vacancies be filled by a member of the same party, what the two conservative Premiers did — whether you like it or not, and whether it seems decent or not — was completely legal and constitutional, if not perhaps done in good faith.

In the end, the Dismissal (as I have said in this column in the past) and ongoing debate on it are matters of constitutional law, not partisan politics, although it goes without saying that their ramifications were entirely political.

And Kerr, despite his (many) faults, took the only appropriate course open to him, and after exhaustive efforts to find an alternative resolution that was legal, functional, and — unlike Whitlam’s half-Senate election — likely to be workable.

Marr’s arguments (and countless others like them) pander to “the man on the street” who has scant interest in the constitutional and legal niceties of such matters, let alone any knowledge of them, and that makes this kind of hypocritical partisan rant all the more telling for its intellectual dishonesty.

On one level, the fact Whitlam’s government was annihilated at the 1975 election is irrelevant to this discussion, although it provides a clear indication of the mood of the public, and had there been outrage against the act of the Dismissal that Marr insinuates, Whitlam might have been re-elected or, at the very least, defeated far less heavily.

Of course, none of this is convenient for the Left.

And it sits perversely with the demands for respect that Whitlam acolytes who claim to be “grieving” and “in mourning” make that the vocal elements within their own ranks now seek to rekindle — and stoke — divisive matters such as this at the time of Whitlam’s death, supposedly in his defence, yet with a complete disregard for both the full facts of the event and its constitutional integrity.

This has been merely one look at the debased version of the history and legend of Gough Whitlam, as represented by his ageing surviving warriors. As night follows day, there will be plenty of others.