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.

 

It’s Time: Gough Whitlam Dead At 98

AUSTRALIA HAS LOST a political colossus, with the death this morning of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam at the age of 98; one of the most deeply divisive, controversial and reviled figures in the country’s history, he will be remembered for the dysfunctional and ramshackle government he presided over that was terminated by the events of 11 November 1975. Whitlam leaves a legacy whose worth will continue to be debated for many years.

It is a quick post from me this afternoon, as I am on the run today; but I wanted to note the passing of Australia’s 21st Prime Minister this morning, and recognise that whatever people think — or thought — of him, an extraordinary Australian who inspired and divided in equal measure has gone.

Contrary to ALP legend, Gough Whitlam was not a god, or in fact the God; and despite the mythology that has sprung up around him since the dismissal of his government in 1975, his reputation for reform was neither as far-reaching as credit often insinuates, nor his government as visionary as is often boldly proclaimed.

There can, however, be little doubt that Whitlam was an agent of change at a time of great upheaval in Australia and, indeed, across the world; his ascension to office came as the baby boomer generation became eligible to vote for the first time, and was framed against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the free love movements of the 1960s, and the age of Watergate and investigative journalism.

Yet Whitlam’s government — framed in hindsight as revolutionary by his adherents, and destructive verging on ruinous by his detractors — is as notable for the mythology it has generated as it is for any legacy of reform it left behind.

Certainly, the notion of socialised medicine and healthcare, manifested first as Medibank (now a health insurance fund) and later as Medicare is arguably the Whitlam government’s most enduring legacy, with the concept only becoming truly uncontested in the past 20 years, and forming a government service that is accepted as the norm today.

But other Whitlam reforms — such as free universities that had largely been implemented by the government he followed, ending Australia’s commitments in Vietnam, which has all but been discontinued when he reached office, or ending the White Australia Policy, which in 1972 continued to exist in name only — are more mixed, and in the case of the universities in particular had already begun to be unpicked by the Hawke government by the 1980s.

The platform provided to minorities, the arts, and the cultural elites by the Whitlam government persist to this day; in some cases to the country’s betterment, and in some cases otherwise.

Yet the notion Whitlam’s government was an inclusive one, or that it governed for all Australians, has provoked passion and debate since it ended almost 40 years ago, and probably always will.

The Whitlam government — often held out by conservatives as the worst in Australia’s history, a mantle I contend was usurped by the Gillard regime — was a mediocre and incompetent administration, often mired in scandal and riven with dissent, and which sought to excuse illegal actions in the name of its “mandate” with the Australian public.

It will be remembered for the Khemlani affair, which sought to plunge the country recklessly into debt on the word of an obscure Middle Eastern loan shark whose bona fides were later proven to ring hollow.

It will be remembered for incompetent ministers who sought to circumvent established convention and the law, such as Rex Connor and Jim Cairns, and whose activities tarnished the image of Whitlam’s government as the damage to Australia’s reputation grew.

But it will forever be remembered for the events of Remembrance Day in 1975, when constitutional power vested in the Governor-General were used to break a deadlock between the Houses of Parliament, with Whitlam’s commission withdrawn and a double dissolution election called by caretaker Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.

Conspiracy theorists of the left will forever argue these events were a violence against Australian democracy; opponents rightly argue the Dismissal to not only have been legal (which it was) but a proper course of action that rescued Australia from the social damage that would follow the attempt to evade the constitution Whitlam had sought to realise with his proposal that commercial banks fund government in order to circumvent the Senate’s attempts to block his budget and force an election.

The public verdict, of course, was the overwhelming repudiation of Whitlam Labor in what still stands today as the ALP’s greatest-ever electoral defeat: a judgement repeated two years later, when Whitlam was again beaten by Fraser in a similar result to the first.

There can be little doubt that Whitlam and his acolytes were genuinely committed to what they saw as the best interests of this country, although that vision was widely disputed in its day and remains hotly contested now.

And his drastic expansion of the role of government in most areas, but notably in spheres such as the scale and breadth of the welfare state, underpin political debates that persist today: and in the case of the welfare industry, Whitlam’s legacy — however well-intentioned — has arguably bequeathed lasting damage and endless division where, if taken at face value, it sought to heal.

In retirement Whitlam found rapprochement with many of his former adversaries, most notably Malcolm Fraser; yet the “rage” he promised to maintain (and which persists with a flicker rather than a fire) was maintained in his own mind to the day he died in terms of the events of 1975 and toward the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, who will forever be viewed as a “Labor bastard” for his actions.

Whitlam, whose wife Margaret died two years ago, is survived by three sons and a daughter.

I extend my condolences to his family and those around them at this difficult time, and note that the great anger and hostility that followed Whitlam from Parliament 37 years ago has, in true Australian fashion, largely dissipated over time.

And whilst I feel no fondness at all for the memory of his government or most of what it did or purported to do, Whitlam himself was a likeable enough figure whose wit and intellect tower over Australia’s polity: so it was in life, and so it will continue to be in his death.

It’s time: Whitlam has now passed, and it would befit his wry humour to ponder whether that passage has been upstairs or downstairs.

Much debate and discussion of Whitlam and his legacy to Australia will now ensue, and to this end — with more time to hand in the next few days — we will likely add to its stocks in this column.

VALE, Edward Gough Whitlam AC QC (1916-2014), 21st Prime Minister of Australia, 1972-1975.

Moggill Debacle May Seal State Election Defeat For LNP

THE ESCALATING FRACAS between backers of dumped Moggill MP Bruce Flegg and the executive of Queensland’s Liberal National Party tested dangerous new political ground last night, with local branch members vetoing the LNP’s preferred new candidate; the increasingly bitter feud threatens to bleed LNP support well beyond Moggill, and could end — literally — anywhere between the Supreme Court and the state’s opposition benches.

Rise and shine campers, it’s Groundhog Day…

Forgive the invocation of that infectiously addictive 1990-something US rom-com, but it feels that way at times when it comes to Queensland’s LNP, the problem of Bruce Flegg, the virtually unloseable Brisbane electorate of Moggill (we’ll come back to that) and how Queensland’s conservatives proceed to and beyond a state election that already looms as a hurdle without their own antics raising the bar any further.

So far this month, we’ve looked at these matters twice already; once on 3 October, when the LNP state executive effectively disendorsed Flegg as its candidate in Moggill, and again last week, when this column made the call that with the scramble for the likely leadership vacancy after the election becoming public and an array of similarly ugly and damaging behaviour exploding into the waiting pages of the Brisbane press, the LNP — very simply — had to get its shit together.

Less than a week later, the portents are not good, and whilst I agree with some of what Flegg’s supporters have had to say in this latest round of embarrassing self-immolation by the LNP, I stand by my call that the decision to dump Flegg — on purely political grounds — was essentially correct.

But the vote of local branch members in the Moggill electorate last night (by the reported margin of 56 votes to 48) to veto the LNP’s preferred replacement candidate, former AMA Queensland president Dr Christian Rowan, is a stunt that threatens to backfire badly on the LNP well beyond the boundaries of the Moggill electorate, and could even trigger events that seal an unbelievable election defeat just three years after the party recorded the biggest state election win in Queensland’s political history.

First things first: depending on your preference, here are the Murdoch story today and the Fairfax offering a fortnight ago, which adequately background readers for the comments I intend to make this morning.

I have never met Bruce Flegg, although I know many of the people around him; the so-called “Western Suburbs Group” to which he belongs was centred on the same part of Brisbane in which I was a member of the Queensland Liberals in the 1990s, and whilst that group and I sometimes locked horns in the past I supported them as often as I opposed them.

Factionally unaligned by choice and by instinct, this group always “suspected” I was an agent of “the forces of dark and evil” as they described the rival bloc within the party centred around controversial former MP Santo Santoro, and whilst I was friendly with Santo, and supported his group from time to time as well, I was never an adherent of it, nor subjected to the belligerent abuse periodically meted out by some within the Western suburbs lot if I couldn’t support Santoro.

I begin thus because that 56-48 margin, ostensibly in Flegg’s favour, represents the current state of play between the two blocs locally in Moggill; the little slice of personal history I have just recounted also provides some clues as to what is driving the players on either side of this self-destructive political bullfight.

Much has been made by the Flegg forces, since his disendorsement by the LNP executive, of the emotive and populist spectre of head office stripping branch members of the right to determine who their candidate would be (with Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney stating memorably that he “strong disagreed” with it) and whilst I agree to a point with their sentiment, the fact is that in joining the LNP when it was created and accepting the terms of the LNP constitution that was adopted at that time, the LNP executive was perfectly within its rights to exclude Flegg from recontesting the seat as an endorsed candidate.

It’s disingenuous to proclaim adherence to “the rules” when things go the way you want them to, but raise merry hell — publicly — when they don’t.

But with a majority of those present at a preselection council in Moggill last night voting “no” to the sole candidate — Dr Rowan — nominations for the seat will now reopen, with both Flegg and Rowan putting their names forward: with the obvious attendant prospect of Flegg being excluded from eligibility a second time, which the LNP’s constitution permits its executive to do.

The scope for this to spiral into disaster is plain to see, but it gets worse.

One of the (many, many) reasons I was completely and resolutely opposed to a merger between the Liberal and National parties in Queensland was that I viewed it as being motivated as an attempt by the Nationals (who were disproportionately driving it under their leader, Lawrence Springborg) to slither back into Brisbane electorates by stealth under the “one party” mantra, as well as providing a mechanism for ex-Nationals to continue to represent seats in south-east Queensland and up the coastline where demographic change — and the absence of Joh Bjelke-Petersen and the notorious Queensland gerrymander — meant those state electorates were never going to vote for candidates from a party purporting to be based primarily on rural issues.

To this end, I actually echo the sentiments of Flegg — recorded here in the Fairfax article I’ve linked — that the LNP Executive, stacked with ex-Nationals, has attempted to parachute an ex-National into what should only ever be regarded in its current configuration as an outer suburban Liberal seat: Nationals overwhelming Liberals with their historically greater numbers, which is exactly the danger I warned of in the opinion piece I wrote for the Courier Mail at the time of the merger (and I apologise for including it once again today).

Yet this in no way invalidates LNP procedures; and it in no way provides recourse for Flegg and his mates, with their memberships of the LNP subject to those procedures as I noted earlier.

And whilst I agree that local members should ideally be given a vote, I am also steadfast in my belief Flegg needed to be moved on, one way or another: and with the Western Suburbs Group firmly in control of the branches in Moggill as it has been for decades, the only way to get rid of Flegg was to blast him out — which the LNP quite properly did in accordance with its constitution.

It is at this point that the whole thing threatens to turn into a complete mess; just how much damage it does to the party’s election campaign on a wider basis rests heavily with the Western Suburbs Group and how it decides to proceed.

Already — with statewide (and national) media increasingly focused on Moggill — some of what Flegg has had to say is hardly helpful for a party pilloried relentlessly by Labor as representing “out of touch Tories;” his depiction of Moggill as an area where 1% of the population are medical practitioners, with “senior legal people including Supreme Court judges, senior barristers, lawyers and QCs” also disproportionately represented simply provides subliminal support for the ALP’s message, and invites voters who are less well-to-do in other parts of the state to question why they would vote for the LNP at all when its operatives are so determined to fight over a piece of electoral real estate so clearly more valuable than their own.

The word that has been allowed to filter out by Flegg acolytes — that his margin has increased from 0.9% when he took over from the previous Liberal member in 2004 to 23.9% today — is based on the false premise that Flegg is personally responsible for this increase in Liberal support; the simple (and uncomfortable) fact is that the 50.9% after preferences recorded by David Watson in 2001 came at one of the lowest ebbs of conservative support in Queensland’s history, and this electorate (historically held on margins greater than Flegg’s now) was always going to return to its status as the safest Liberal seat in Brisbane, and by some distance.

It is also virtually unloseable, so strongly ingrained in its DNA is conservative political support; there were those who decried Watson as a terrible local MP (I never thought that) but irrespective of whether such assessments were right or wrong, the fact Moggill withstood the Labor onslaught in 2001 is akin to proof that barring the endorsement of a rapist or a paedophile or a murderer, this is one electorate that is not going to disappear from the Liberal fold.

So let’s hear no more of the indispensability of Flegg as the local MP, or to ridiculous suggestions that Moggill might be lost to the LNP because Flegg has been disendorsed. It won’t be. Not even if Flegg ends up running as an Independent (which I doubt).

None of this changes my view that politically Flegg is finished, yesterday’s man, and whilst he might be a good local MP, he offers nothing in terms of the LNP’s future in the broader electoral sense — for all the reasons I outlined ad nauseum in the 3 October article linked at the top of this one — and on several other occasions previously.

If the Western Suburbs Group were smart, they would find a new candidate to back from within their ranks who might offer 10, 15, 20 years’ service, and who holds out promise of being a potential future Premier: last night’s vote shows, if nothing else, that it retains the numbers to prevail if it can produce a candidate who matches the selling points of Rowan as perceived by the LNP executive.

But clinging to Flegg now, at any cost — when he has already had his “fuck you” moment of triumph over the LNP executive, surviving an alleged and less procedural move to dispense with him three years ago — is likely to get very bloody very quickly if his supporters seek to repeat that feat now.

The LNP is already facing a colossal swing against it at next year’s election; its leader is almost certain to lose his seat; candidates are already jostling to succeed him as Premier (assuming the party survives the election); the threat posed by Clive Palmer, whilst perhaps diminishing if recent polls are any guide, will still nonetheless drain votes from the LNP and complicate its struggle to hold critical seats; and it is obvious to Blind Fred that all is not well in a party racked with disarray, factionalism, a few less-than-loyal MPs, and a penchant for displaying dirty linen in public.

At some point — and it will be imperceptible when it arrives, but the eventual damage won’t be — the blood feud in Moggill, if it continues to escalate and become increasingly bitter and vicious, is going to become a microcosm to the voters of Queensland of everything wrong with their LNP government. When that occurs, the cynical campaign of trite noise being run by the ALP is going to resonate strongly with voters in marginal seats.

This could end up in the Supreme Court, if Flegg’s backers are so inclined; they would probably lose, of course, provided the LNP executive can show it has acted within the authority the party constitution confers on it (which, I’m informally told, it can).

Whether it does or doesn’t, at the very minimum Flegg will now be forever marked as the man his party threw out. If he somehow manages to survive the current round of machinations, he is going to be made the whipping boy for the campaigns of opposing parties across Queensland whether his own constituents are inclined to vote for him or not.

And aside from anything else, the whole Moggill fiasco is just another bloody mess at a time the LNP already has too many of those to be able to afford another.

I don’t know Flegg but I am assured by many people who do that he’s a good, decent bloke, and I’m sure he is; I’m not without sympathy, and my own stance that he should be moved on is certainly not personal in any sense.

It would be prudent of Flegg and those around him to identify someone else to stand in his place, and with their blessing, now they have had the Pyrrhic victory of forcing the reopening of nominations in Moggill.

But a localised meltdown of the LNP infrastructure in Moggill will reverberate across the state, and if the LNP’s task in winning the imminent election is already fraught, such a development might just make the difference between “difficult” and “impossible.”

Then again, perhaps Flegg is the unlikely agent of the disaster I always thought a merged Liberal and National Party would be, and if that’s the case then this was always going to happen somewhere — and sooner rather than later.

Rise and shine, campers.

 

Discussion Forums On Reform In Australia

BETWEEN NOW AND CHRISTMAS, The Red And The Blue will be looking at reform in Australia in a series of articles designed to consider what steps this country might take under a re-elected Abbott government, and what models of reform might best befit a conservative administration seeking to safeguard our prosperity, productivity, institutional rigour and social obligations in the longer term. We will be blunt, and advocate daring.

I know I am probably teasing a little this morning, although that’s not necessarily such a bad thing; having indicated a week or two ago that I wanted to introduce a dedicated focus on reform into the column over the next little while, my post today is really aimed at tilling the turf in preparation, and to gather some feedback (either through the site or, for the very small handful of readers I know personally, on a more direct basis) as to the areas people believe are the most important — or urgent — aspects of governance that are in need of an overhaul, along with some ideas to get us started.

I read an article in The Australian last week by its regular columnist Peter van Onselen, which was timely in the context of mooted discussion, broadly, of reform agendas here; I wanted to share it this morning because PVO makes two excellent core points: one, that the onslaught of a trivial, inconsequential and completely obstructive brand of retail politics in recent years has all but derailed serious attempts at reform in Australia; and two, that the “ideological breakdown” of the major parties has sapped them of the vigour and drive to pursue meaningful change, and to ensure this country’s institutional framework continues to evolve in lockstep with both the people who live in it and the rest of the world.

It’s a good read, and the reason I want to start here where any consideration of reform is concerned is very simply because the task of prosecuting fundamental change — always a difficult pursuit at the best of times — is growing ever harder, and the evolution of political parties into risk-averse, professional outfits that eschew decisions which might cost votes is compounding Australia’s inability to continue to engage in and enact meaningful reforms that will help perpetuate our way of life for generations to come.

I fear, some days, that politics is becoming a zero-sum game: you’re not allowed to produce losers. Nobody can be worse off. Everyone has to be given something. Everything can be spun or explained away, and people can be hoodwinked and justifiably deceived. But whilst this process continues, less and less of any consequence actually gets done or resolved.

Yet vested interests and  gravy train passengers in the system are accorded the right to hoard their haul within closed citadels; there are many institutional cabals whose comfort and relative decrepitude sit undisturbed whilst the great silent majority of Australians is ignored, ripped off or otherwise sold down the river when in reality these sinecures are ripe for overhaul, modernisation, or outright abolition.

Readers know I publish this column with a lifetime of loyalty to the Liberal Party under my belt; it doesn’t stop me being critical of the party from time to time when I think it appropriate, and it doesn’t preclude me from looking outside the paradigm of published Liberal policy for ideas that might work, and which in the contemporary sense might make a government that’s off to a reasonable start so much better.

And of course, it goes without saying that for there to be good ideas, there must be bad ideas as well; if these forums go as I think they should, I’m sure there will be a few howlers that materialise (and on that score, when the time comes, if anyone thinks “2% EzyTax” is a good idea, then please go and advocate it somewhere else: it’s been kicking around for decades, it stinks, and it’s just a recipe for economic anarchy).

But as a conservative of some drive, even the presence of a government in Canberra toward which I am favourably disposed can be frustrating as even moderately sensible ideas are shelved, brutalised or discarded altogether by the bear pit that masquerades as a “modern” Senate; and with the clear two-term strategy with which Tony Abbott was elected — to formulate reform proposals during a first term, and seek a mandate for their implementation during a second — I have little confidence any productive fruits of this process would be harvested at all, so one-dimensional has the culture of bloody-minded oppositionism and Senate savagery become.

Still, I think it’s timely to now spend a little more time considering such concepts.

What I am looking to develop during this process is a debate around sensible ideas and models of reform, dealing with specific areas on a discrete basis, and around which a case can be made for their adoption and implementation by whomever is in power in Canberra.

Whilst all views are welcome in the conversations that develop around my articles, it goes without saying that I am most interested in ideas that fit the model of small-state, economically liberal, modern conservative governance, where an emphasis on efficiency and probity in process is mirrored by an emphasis on incentive and reward to the individual, and with core constituencies of family, business, the aged and the defence services occupying prominence of focus.

Left-inclined readers who I have just outraged by omitting health and education, never fear: we will get to these, although when it comes to enforcing outcome standards on teachers, for example, and outlawing the collective agreements in this sensitive area that galvanise and nourish militant unions whilst entrenching mediocrity, some will wish we didn’t.

And I must emphasise that I think there needs to be an element of risk — political risk — injected into any discussion of national reform; if the idea is sound and the sales and marketing resources adequate, tough reforms can be sold, even if it’s a close-run thing.

One criticism I have long made of “government by advisers” (aimed mainly at the Left but, as van Onselen notes, the affliction has crept into the Liberal Party too) is that the imperative of pleasing everyone and offending no-one is just as destructive as the collective refusal of the Senate to allow a government to get on with governing. Either way, very little ends up getting done.

Margaret Thatcher once said in an interview (ridiculing, as she did, the consensus culture of socialised postwar Britain before 1979) that had key figures in history — arguably, the architects of what we now know as modern civilised society — set forth and proclaimed “brothers, I believe in consensus,” the world would have nothing great; nothing of substance; nothing of value.

She was right, of course. The same sentiment is more simply expressed in the notion that in order to make an omelette, one must break a few eggs.

There are plenty of targets; the areas I particularly intend to focus on (in no pre-determined or particular order) are a reform of the Federation, electoral reform, labour market reform, welfare reform and taxation reform.

Yes, taxation reform: it’s a bit surreal to think that 17 years have now passed since John Howard first announced the renunciation of his “never, ever” GST pledge and his consequent determination to fight for such a measure as part of a broader overhaul of the nation’s taxation arrangements; tax reform is one of those moving targets that by its nature is never going to be completely nailed, and you could hardly describe anything that occurred on the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd watch, or the incompetent antics of the Labor regime’s allegedly world-beating Treasurer, as anything akin to continued reform in this area.

I think there’s now a lot more work to be done on tax reform, and it’s becoming urgent, as population changes and the evolution of the broader economy conspire to render existing arrangements increasingly inadequate.

I know many readers have been waiting for the whole reform thing to spring up in this column; some of what I cover and propose has been talked about here before, and some of it will be new.

But I do very much hope to see more comment and discussion in going down this path; after all, I know that on raw numbers less than 5% of all visits result in a comment being left (which is actually bang on the average response rate for this kind of media) and that of that 5%, comment is overwhelmingly made by about 15 or 20 readers when hundreds of people come here each day, read what is posted, and don’t contribute at all.

But in closing what is obviously an article to till the ground for some more substantial pieces — perhaps beginning next weekend, perhaps midweek, depending on how my week develops — I should just say that with public confidence in politics, politicians, government and the country’s institutions seemingly at historic lows, there are things that can and should be done to help remedy this.

With serious, meaningful debate seemingly sidelined in favour of idiot-simple answers and all-in parliamentary brawling, especially in the Senate, some way needs to be found to fix what appears to be approaching an unworkable system of governance.

And with the inherit reluctance of people to embrace change compounded by mindless political cultures predicated on slapping down anything produced by opponents on sight (the merits or otherwise not in question at this juncture), real damage is being inflicted on Australia’s short-term and long-term economic welfare, which in turn can only jeopardise and impede the country’s living standards, communities, and long-term prosperity.

Bold new conservative ideas for bold solutions to growing changes: please feel free to let me know which subjects, in addition to my own “first targets” you would like us to cover, as well as any ideas you are happy to put on the table before we get things under way.

 

WA: Nationals Almost Win Chair Sniffer’s Seat In By-Election

A BY-ELECTION YESTERDAY in the seat vacated by former Western Australian Treasurer and “chair sniffer” Troy Buswell has seen the Liberal Party run very close by its National Party partners in the ultra-conservative electorate of Vasse; despite the absence of a Labor candidate, the result underlines the fall from public favour of Colin Barnett’s government, and serves as a warning to the WA Liberals near the halfway point of its second term.

A seat like Vasse is the kind of electorate that is unlikely to ever fall to Labor, which is part of the reason the ALP did not stand; even so, the Coalition government of Colin Barnett — re-elected 18 months ago in a landslide — will take much from the by-election in Troy Buswell’s seat, with the Liberals suffering a huge swing to the National Party that almost saw the seat change hands.

The foibles and misadventures of the outgoing member for Vasse are well known, with Buswell making international headlines some years ago after it emerged that as Liberal leader he had sniffed the chair of female colleague; since that time, Western Australians also learned that he had had an affair with another colleague, yet the Liberal Party won office in 2008 (in minority under Barnett) and a second term last year. On both occasions, Buswell increased his majority in his own seat.

Whatever else might be said about his antics, Buswell’s enduring popularity seems beyond question.

Yet a boozy drive home in his government car from a wedding in February, during which he badly damaged several cars in a number of incidents, and his subsequent resignation from Cabinet may have changed that; then again, the revelation he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder may have ameliorated this.

But one way or another, his departure from Parliament has almost cost the Liberals his seat, in a result that underlines the dissatisfaction with Barnett’s government that has taken root so quickly after its thumping election win last March.

Readers can access the statistical analysis from ABC election guru Antony Green here.

Barnett’s Liberals will be relieved to have held the seat; trailing in opinion polls for much of the year that show the Premier to be little more popular than former Prime Minister Julia Gillard at her nadir, there was a very real risk this seat would fall to the National Party’s Peter Gordon.

It is difficult to conclude the by-election confirms the apparent spike in Communist Greens support in WA, with their candidate taking 18% of the vote; whilst the Greens polled strongly at the repeated Senate poll and record similar figures in most published polling of late, the fact Labor did not contest Vasse is hardly conclusive when it comes to claims of the “rise” of the Greens in the West.

At the risk of being flippant, the idea of the Greens winning responsibility for a seat that contains my beloved Margaret River, its pristine surf beaches and splendid wineries, sends a shudder down my spine. At the minimum, this result shows they remain a long, long way short of such a breakthrough.

Yet in a contemporary atmosphere of conservative state governments being subjected to absolute shellackings at by-elections over the past couple of years, this result in Vasse continues the trend; and it serves as a warning to Barnett, who must find some way to restore his government’s appeal ahead of a state election that — unbelievably — is just two years away.

In other electoral news yesterday, a vacant Labor seat in the Northern Territory legislature was retained by the opposition Labor Party, albeit with a swing against Labor of more than 4%: perhaps an indication that the tide has turned, and that the troubled CLP government is faring a little better than generally thought.

 

WHO Botches Ebola, Debunks Ridiculous ALP Posture

HOT ON THE HEELS of yesterday’s provocative discussion on the Ebola crisis — and the disgusting apparent strategising over it by the ALP — the key health body charged with frontline response to global health threats has candidly admitted it botched the job. It debunks the “compassionate” story of the Left that Ebola has ballooned because it didn’t emerge in an affluent country, and smashes key pillars of Labor’s latest despicable intrigue.

It really is a short post from me this morning, and even then just to follow up on yesterday’s poke-the-bear article on the ALP’s truly obscene war-gaming around using Ebola, public panic and deaths from the virus as political tools; very late yesterday it emerged that mine will be a busy weekend indeed — obligations deriving from my “real world” life away from this column — and whilst I will aim to post again later today, it could be overnight. Stay tuned.

The key reason for my post this morning is that an article from AAP and appearing in The Australian today reveals that by its own admission the World Health Organisation, the UN health agency responsible for initiating the response to global health threats, botched the response to the current Ebola outbreak, with its African regional office — in the words of the doctor who helped discover the virus — doing “nothing.”

I leave it to my readers to go through the article attached, and to draw their own conclusions. Where is becomes relevant to our discussion lies in the material we covered yesterday — which showed either an orchestrated campaign to exploit the issue by the ALP for the grubbiest of political expediencies, or a series of stunts that collectively amount to the same thing — and how the admission already puts holes into the “moral” case on which the entire Labor scheme rests.

There has been enormous chatter in the past 24 hours — characterised by opinion writers, international figures and political identities hailing from or friendly to the Left — which has suggested that had the Ebola outbreak occurred outside Africa, the wealthy nations of the West would have rushed headlong to deal with it.

In fact, as we now know, the outbreak was allowed to initially run out of control due to the inactivity and incompetence of the local branch of the WHO itself.

It doesn’t change the fact that there are huge questions over the effectiveness of infection control protocols and even the protective equipment and clothing available to frontline response teams when it comes to this particular virus, and those questions remain unanswered.

But this fact, combined with the revelation that a failure to act allowed the outbreak to escalate beyond control and not the comparatively poor economic standing of the countries in which it originated, destroys arguments fashioned around the “obligation” of the West to respond in the way it might have had the crisis materialised in one of its own countries — which, as we now know, it wouldn’t have.

In fact, had WHO in Africa done the job mandated of it, this Ebola outbreak would probably have fizzled out with relatively few deaths just like every other outbreak of the virus has to date.

I also note that over the past day, whilst there has been little comment around the apparent political strategy Labor is trying to pursue over Ebola, sudden and sharp condemnation of its proposals to swamp West Africa with aid workers and resources to “stop the outbreak at its source” — with all of those questions earlier unresolved — has been widespread.

The “compassion” argument of the Left — a patrician condescension of “poor little Africa” made from an arrogated position of self-superiority — is thus exploded: the West is not responsible for the ravages of the Ebola menace that is wreaking havoc on Africa at a rapidly quickening pace.

That is not to say the Africans should be left to deal with their own misfortune: far from it.

But whilst I’m the first person to agree that dealing with the problem is extremely urgent, we now have hard evidence that not only did the Ebola virus get the jump on global authorities, it was given a head start: and that lead, whilst placing attempts to contain it under great compromise, only heightens the need for any co-ordinated response to nail the problem on the first attempt.

Perversely, it may well be that the best approach is to wait before deploying a co-ordinated counterpunch: with infection rates spiralling exponentially now, it is absolutely critical that all of the question marks and uncertainties around how to deal with this problem are resolved before attempting to do so in any systemic fashion.

In turn, it just highlights how dangerous what Labor is proposing really is — not that it makes any difference to the charade, the disgraceful quest for votes by the implicit personalisation of a global health threat and lobbing it at the Prime Minister’s feet, that Labor is really seeking to engage in.

The “urgency” of sending large numbers of unprepared and vulnerable Australians into the epicentre of it as quickly as possible, as Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek now enthusiastically advocate, is a dangerously irresponsible indulgence that should be ignored.

 

With a little more time later in the weekend, I will be back.

 

Ebola Shows Nothing Is Too Low For ALP To Stoop To

IT TAKES SOME NERVE — in its hatred-driven quest for “points of difference” with Prime Minister Tony Abbott — for Labor to use the horror of the Ebola outbreak in the grimiest of political stunts, but it has done it; disinclined to behave responsibly in the face of growing human disaster, Labor has formulated a stance which, if adopted, could exponentially worsen the problem: just to chase votes. It shows nothing is too low for the ALP to stoop to.

Readers will know, I think — from the time my articles have been posted of late — that I have been working through the small hours; the flipside of talking to people in other time zones means that there is a lot of time between calls to trawl the morning’s news portals, and today I have pieced together something so far beneath contempt that the only word that could spring to my (arch-conservative) mind is “Labor.”

The ALP appears to have constructed a frightful new position from which to attack the government that is predicated on drawing moral links between Australia’s commitment to confront the scourge if Islamic State in the Middle East and the exploding catastrophe of the Ebola virus in West Africa that now threatens to leap into dense population centres in Western countries.

Underpinning this crass, imbecilic attempt to play gutter politics over matters that are quite literally deadly serious — and which both pose risks to Australia — is a cake-and-eat-it-too approach to tackling the Ebola crisis, camouflaged in compassion and a perverted story about noblesse oblige that ignores emerging signs that Western countries are far less equipped to handle the virus than first thought if it takes root outside Africa.

If pursued, Labor’s opportunistic and cynical new tack could exponentially worsen the very problem it purports to be designed to confront, and far from saving any lives it could contribute to countless additional deaths.

Yet when you’re the Australian Labor Party, and you are blinded by an obsession with a political opponent that is driven by seething and unreasoning hatred, people’s lives are the last thing that are likely to bother you.

First up is an article being carried by Fairfax mastheads today, which sympathetically emphasises Labor’s new demands for Australia (and by extension, Tony Abbott’s government) to send teams of medical practitioners to West Africa under the auspices of “contributing to the international fight against Ebola.”

The piece is at least balanced enough to note real logistical problems in either repatriating Australian aid workers who contract the disease or sending them to Europe or the US (which are closer) for treatment, but the line it most potently disseminates is the demand by deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek and Labor’s Health spokesperson Catherine King for the government to “help do more to fight the Ebola outbreak.”

It is written in such a fashion that any reader inclined to take it at face value is left in no doubt that with all the good intentions and self-sacrifice on offer, it’s just the neanderthals in the Abbott government who stand between Australia sending teams of experts and equipment which could make all the difference in halting the spread of the disease. At a stroke. Nothing simpler.

Never mind the fact (as Fairfax correctly notes) that repatriating sick doctors and nurses would probably mean they would die in transit, so far from West Africa would any Australian Ebola treatment facility lie.

This particular complication of any mass relief effort — and with the absence to date of agreements from EU nations or the US to treat Australian nationals contracting Ebola — is compounded by the fact that a lapse in disease control protocols in the US and the second case of transmission of the virus within the United States has triggered alarm over whether US hospitals and the American health system are properly equipped to deal with cases at all, and whether infection control protocols are even strict enough.

Remembering that the procedures being adopted and used for dealing with the virus in Western countries all derive from the World Health Organisation, these lapses and deficiencies are likely to be common to facilities in the US, the EU, and any established in Australia. There are questions emerging about whether protective HAZMAT suits are completely effective as a barrier to contaminated body fluids encountered by medics dealing with Ebola cases. Reports of breakdowns in protocols are emerging with increasing frequency.

And in further reading for anyone who thinks current “best practice” is efficacious in halting the spread of Ebola, this article from Sydney’s Daily Telegraph this morning could well prove prescient as a step-by-step explanation of how Ebola took root in he United States and began to spread like wildfire.

Remember, this virus is far more contagious than a lot of public health agencies are trying to suggest — efforts no doubt aimed at stopping people worrying. The disease itself might not be overly contagious compared to influenza, for example, but where there is close proximity, Ebola is extremely contagious.

The problems highlighted in all of these articles this morning simply underline that point, and add to the difficulty in responding to it.

Yet with all of those problems unresolved, Labor now wants Australian medical crews sent to West Africa “to help,” and in vastly greater numbers than has been the case to date.

It’s not difficult to see why.

Just a week ago, we discussed in this column the need for Western governments to “get real” about the threat Ebola poses on a global scale; the reticence noted on the part of the government, in the Fairfax article I have included, to jump indiscriminately into the kneejerk despatch of a throng of medical personnel to West Africa suggests that Abbott and his colleagues are at least exercising some well-indicated caution in this regard.

But the centrepiece of that discussion was the contention of Independent MP Bob Katter Jr that returning aid workers pose a risk to the civilian population; stripped of the characteristically provocative Katter rhetoric, his argument was essentially sound — and is now being borne out by exactly the kinds of obstacles that are restraining the government from acting.

In fact, and I agreed at the time, I don’t think Katter went far enough: and the problems with the potential spread of Ebola in the US at least now appear to bear this fear out.

Labor — under its so-called “leader,” Bill Shorten — all but called for Katter to be strung up in response.

Yet a bit more snooping around the news wires brings a piece in The Australian from Dennis Shanahan — a journalist whose carefully researched articles are built upon impeccably verified sources — into the mix; it is this one that is most revealing where Labor’s collective mindset, and the likely motivation behind its most recent posturing, are concerned.

Shanahan writes of the ALP’s desire to harness compassion over Ebola deaths in Africa, the fear of the virus arriving in Australia, to develop a “moral equivalence” between the Middle East conflict (which, at heart, Labor resolutely opposes despite its bipartisan rhetoric) and the Ebola crisis, in which it sees fertile political opportunity.

There is no “moral equivalence” between Islamic State and Ebola; any Labor Party notion to that effect is built on a false premise. But such a link is exactly the kind of thing the Left generally is able to draw — if only through the fool’s prism of self-delusion — to justify the cynicism of its subsequent intended course.

I’m not going to diverge into a discussion of Islamic State, save to say that both of these things represent serious challenges. But the fact even the hint that a fight against terror is somehow a moral abrogation in the face of a virulent disease the world doesn’t even know how safe it is to confront head on, within the confines of current medical protocols, is grotesque to the point of obscenity.

As Shanahan notes, Labor is keen to appeal to “growing domestic fears” about Ebola — read, keen to exploit those fears — for purely political reasons emanating from internal ructions over the party’s (correct) decision to support military deployments to the Middle East.

But the most telling sentence in Shanahan’s article is the penultimate one: “Ebola provides Labor with a chance to criticise the government for not doing enough to help West Africans and to accuse Abbott of not being prepared to handle an emergency in Australia.”

As he notes, Labor’s attack on Katter — and its assurances that Australians shouldn’t be “unduly worried” — have been abandoned.

Why? Because voices of reason, like Katter’s last week, do not fit the new ALP Ebola posture. And it goes without saying that when trying to harness people’s fears, the last thing you want to do is to stop them from panicking.

Boiled down, Labor’s position is this.

Using a false “moral” premise to draw public sympathy away from the fight against Islamic State and onto the Ebola crisis in Africa, Labor wants large numbers of Australian medical personnel deployed to West Africa quickly to help fight that instead.

It has been adequately appraised of the risks to these personnel — and that the best available protective measures may not in fact shield them from the virus at all, and that adequate medical treatment may not be readily available to them if they succumb to it — but it wants to send them anyway.

Concurrently, there is growing evidence that returning aid workers (at the very minimum, indirectly) do in fact pose precisely the kind of risk to populations in Western countries Katter alluded to, as has now been documented in detail in the United States — which has itself followed the WHO guidelines laid down by the best medical authorities in the field of infectious diseases.

Labor has now declined to continue to criticise those who warn of the consequences of Ebola arriving in Australia, and it is operating with a vested interest in the ongoing concern (or even the emergence of panic) about the potential arrival of the virus in Australia.

And all of this is framed from the perspective of ripping into Tony Abbott for not sending doctors and nurses into the Ebola zone — with the live and intended option of ripping into him again if there is an outbreak of Ebola in this country, for whatever reason, and presumably including as a result of the very deployment it now insists must be made.

If Australian medical personnel sent to Africa fall ill and die, that will be Tony Abbott’s fault.

If they return to Australia and the Ebola virus breaks out, that will be Tony Abbott’s fault.

If no-one is sent and Africans continue to die, that will be Tony Abbott’s fault.

People shouldn’t panic now, because the political value to Labor of public panic will be maximised by deferring it until Ebola breaks out on Australian soil.

It is oxymoronic that an outfit that has spent much of the year rattling on vacuously about “fairness” and “cruelty” and “inhumanity” has now apparently chosen to actively champion a course of action in which people who get sick and die as a consequence are viewed as political ammunition with which to target swinging Liberal voters in marginal seats.

It might play well with the chardonnay drunks and the compassion babbling bullshit lobby and it might take some internal heat off the ALP leadership, providing as it does a multilateral new strategy of ensnaring the detested Tony Abbott.

But ordinary Australians are entitled to be disgusted.

This filthy little agenda — carefully enough briefed out to the press not to be readily apparent at first blush — shows just how morally bankrupt the Australian Labor Party has become. It is so far beneath contempt as to confound belief. And it seems that there is nothing it will not do in its quest to destroy Abbott at literally any cost, and nothing that is too low for it to be prepared to stoop to.