Victoria: Baillieu Resignation No Pretext For Kennett’s Return

THE ANNOUNCEMENT by former Premier Ted Baillieu yesterday that he will not recontest his seat of Hawthorn at the imminent election in Victoria has ignited a frenzy over who will be anointed in this bluest of blue-ribbon Liberal electorates in Melbourne’s east; one name that has been bandied about is that of another former Liberal Premier, Jeff Kennett, with a return to office also on the storyboard. The idea is a headache Victoria’s Liberals do not need.

It’s a pity that Ted Baillieu, who shouldered a disproportionate burden of arguably the worst aspects of the Liberal Party’s 11-year stint in opposition — and who, depending on who you listen to, had neither the appetite nor the stomach for the job of Premier in the first place — has announced he is leaving state Parliament for good; despite being a far more moderate Liberal than I am he could potentially have been one of the great Liberal Premiers of Victoria.

I was a little disappointed to hear yesterday that Baillieu has decided to vacate his ultra-safe seat of Hawthorn (reversing a commitment made some months ago to recontest it, and serve another full four-year term); he leaves with the very best wishes of this column for his next adventure in life, whatever that may be.

But I am also pleased because — without putting too fine a point on it — Baillieu has been, since his replacement as Premier by Denis Napthine 18 months ago, Yesterday’s Man, and the occupants of safe seats held by margins of close to 17% should either be serving in Cabinet or boast the high probability of doing so within the medium term.

Clearly Baillieu no longer fits these criteria. His departure is thus helpful for the Liberal Party to renew its ranks in the Victorian lower house.

Plenty of names are being bandied around less than 24 hours after his announcement; most are unsurprising, with some talk the resignation was an attempt by Baillieu to shoehorn Health minister Mary Wooldridge — trounced at preselection early this year in the neighbouring safe seat of Kew after her own electorate was abolished in a redistribution — into Hawthorn.

But Wooldridge has been preselected to an upper house seat to keep her in Parliament; that berth — vacated to enable her to run, and over which the Liberal Party attracted more political odium from the ALP than the exercise justified — should now be contested by Wooldridge, lest any move to shift her to Hawthorn reignites either the factional brawl that saw her shafted in Kew, the throwing of sticky muck by the ALP, or both.

It is, after all, 13 weeks from polling day: the Liberals can scarcely afford the indulgence of another vicious preselection fiasco.

I do not intend to offer any commentary on who should be preselected in Hawthorn, save to say that it shouldn’t be Wooldridge given she will remain in Spring Street anyway as a member of the Legislative Council.

The Hawthorn preselection is a matter for local branches in the area and the party’s administrative committee, and as I am based in a different part of Melbourne on the former count and have nothing to do with the latter, I am disinclined to endorse any of the putative candidates: some of whom I know personally, and others I don’t.

But I am certain that Jeff Kennett should not be a candidate, either for preselection, at the polls on 29 November, or as a prospective Premier after that election.

An article by Terry McCrann appeared late last night on the website of Melbourne’s Herald Sun advocating that Kennett not only be endorsed by the Liberals in Hawthorn, but that he lead the Coalition into the election campaign from outside Parliament — a la Campbell Newman in Queensland in 2012 — to resume his place as Premier of Victoria after a 15-year hiatus.

First things first: I was an unabashed advocate of Jeff Kennett, both during the lean years in opposition and after he won office; as a teenager growing up in Brisbane and watching from afar, I found the brash, blunt Kennett very likeable, very credible, and a bit of a character.

Nobody can credibly suggest the train wreck that had to be cleaned up at the time of the 1992 state election — engineered by perhaps the most inept Labor administration to hold office anywhere in Australia during the 20th century — could ever have been fixed without a change of government.

I first started coming to Melbourne as a tourist in 1990, visiting with reasonable frequency until finally moving here for good eight years later; I saw the decay and the desolation and the failure of Cain and Kirner and the misery and gloom this majestic city had been plunged into, and I saw — after 1992 — Melbourne progressively roar back to life under the stewardship of the Kennett government to stake its (rightful) claim to be the best city in the world.

I knew Kennett was in deep strife in mid-1999, when he inadvisedly described Melbourne as Victoria’s “beating heart” and its regional centres as its “toenails;” even so, the anticipated loss of seats went well beyond what any observer either expected or at the time believed. The rest is history.

Having fallen from office, Kennett swiftly resigned both the Liberal leadership and his seat of Burwood, which was won in a by-election by Labor.

And of course, Kennett had a flirtation with returning (and leading from outside Parliament) in 2006 that was countenanced and swiftly abandoned in favour of Baillieu’s ascension to the Liberal leadership in his stead.

Now, let’s be blunt about a few things.

At 66 years of age (and 67 next March) Kennett is no longer the youthful, bounding mass of energy he was as Premier in the 1990s; whilst he would hardly require any time to come to grips with the job of Premier — after all, he held it for seven years — there is no reason to believe incumbent Denis Napthine would make way for him.

Like Kennett, Napthine aspired to the role for years, and after just 18 months (and remaining popular with voters) would seem loath to forego the opportunity to govern in majority — and without the albatross of the insidious Frankston MP Geoff Shaw around his neck or the consequent razor-thin numbers in Parliament to have to contend with.

It is inconceivable Kennett would stand in Hawthorn to serve as a mere cabinet minister, let alone as a backbencher. Enough said.

Even if he were to stand, win, and resume the Premiership, how long would it last? Kennett will be over 70 by the time of the 2018 election. Bob Menzies quit the Prime Ministership at 71. John Howard was beaten at 68. Kennett’s hero, Sir Henry Bolte, quit as Premier of Victoria in 1972 at 64. Joh Bjelke-Petersen in Queensland, 77 when forced from office in 1987, was widely regarded as senile by that time.

And if he stood at the election as Premier-in-waiting and the Coalition lost, what then? The idea Kennett wouldn’t quit Parliament again — forcing a by-election again — beggars belief.

One of the big “unknowns” here is how voters would respond; I think it’s fair to say Melbourne would respond very favourably to a Kennett return. After all, the city stuck to him like glue in 1999, with only a couple of metropolitan electorates falling to the ALP.

But the regions, so affronted by the words and deeds of Kennett and his government to swing to Labor in 1999, for the first time ever in some areas, is a different equation altogether.

Perhaps the conciliatory words Kennett has uttered in their direction ever since would cut the ice; or speaking of ice, perhaps (as one Independent MP said at the time) it would remain the case that hell would have to freeze first before some of those towns and communities ever cast a vote for Jeff Kennett again.

There’s one other aspect of all of this that I find deeply troubling, and it’s this: for Kennett — who first became Liberal leader in 1982 — to resume the role now and fly the flag as the party’s leader would be tantamount to an admission that for more than 30 years, the Victorian Liberals have been unable to produce any other viable leader than Jeffrey Gibb Kennett.

It’s true that there are two outstanding candidates, as McCrann notes — Planning minister Matthew Guy and Treasurer Michael O’Brien — either or both of whom will probably end up in Kennett’s old office in Treasury Place in the fullness of time.

But for Kennett to come back now (and especially if he were to be restored to the Premiership by voters), one or both of those glittering, embryonic careers might very well be cut short or left unfulfilled.

As much as I love Jeffrey — and I do — I think it would send a dreadful signal to the electorate, to the rank and file of the Liberal Party, and not least to the ALP, that the best the Liberal Party can do is return to the leader it had 32 years ago when it lost an election after almost three decades in government.

Frankly, McCrann is right: Victoria is in sore need of a dose of Kennett-style government.

But the best thing Victorian voters can do, as they enter polling booths on 29 November, is to vote for their local Liberal and National Party candidates to secure four more years of Coalition government under Denis Napthine.

Freed of the ridiculous constraints of tight numbers and virtual minority status, and freed of the contemptible presence of Shaw, I believe Napthine will deliver precisely the brand of energetic, get-Victoria-moving government that McCrann, and other Kennett-era nostalgics, clearly yearn for. The hunger to succeed is writ large on his face. The only thing holding him back from getting on with it is the impossibly compromised state of the numbers in Parliament.

McCrann is right about one thing though: the alternative is a union-infested, CFMEU-controlled Labor government led by the immature, puerile, imbecilic dickhead Daniel Andrews, and any government led by him could confidently be expected to make the hopeless Bracks-Brumby years and the ruinous Cain-Kirner years look like a veritable golden age by comparison.

I really want to know what readers* think today; it’s my head refusing to endorse a Kennett return — in my heart, I’d love to watch him tear Andrews to bits and reclaim the job I never thought he should have lost.

 

*Any rank and file Liberal members reading can post here using a pseudonym. Email addresses will remain confidential.

Honourable Course: Shorten, Exonerated, Should Still Quit

AN ANNOUNCEMENT this morning that Victoria Police have concluded investigations into historic rape allegations involving “a senior ALP figure” and that no charges will be laid is, to be sure, welcome. The development removes a major political headache for Labor: there are plenty of others. Our view that for the good of the Labor Party Bill Shorten must resign remains unchanged; perversely, this development merely strengthens that view.

This column is not given to engaging in witch hunts, nor interested in running half-cocked after rumours and scuttlebutt.

Some have chosen to name Bill Shorten in relation to the Victoria Police investigation that has now finished, and others haven’t; I made the decision to do so — once — because I formed a view that the matter was already reasonably able to be regarded as being common knowledge, and because there was no legal impediment to doing so: there was no suppression order or other bar to disclosing the existence of the inquiry, its subject, or its chief respondent.

And I do think there is a public interest threshold that was served in talking about the matter: after all, Shorten isn’t the first senior ALP figure to find himself at the centre of a Police investigation in recent times, and — regrettably — seems unlikely to be the last.

I have defended the human interest (for want of a better term) of ALP identities who might have done the wrong thing and/or find themselves in politically untenable positions plenty of times in the past, and their right to be treated with dignity; all political figures are people first and foremost.

The decision to name Shorten was reached only after a great amount of careful consideration. If there was a “deciding factor” at all, it lay in the fact that the ALP in recent times has gone to inordinate lengths to hide or deny the fact any of its people might be held to account for any alleged misdeeds; it even continued to profess to be scandalised, for example, over suggestions former MP Craig Thomson was even facing investigation at all after he had been charged with fraud-related offences.

This ingrained culture of secrecy at the ALP, and the consequent and apparent determination to avoid the consequences of any wrongdoing by its servants, is grotesque.

The news (broken in Melbourne by Neil Mitchell on 3AW this morning) that Police will lay no charges over allegations against “a senior ALP figure” is a welcome development; it provides clarity on all sides, and it concludes at least one investigation among seemingly hundreds that are presently on foot against members of Parliament, senior organisational identities within the major political parties, and other prominent public identities connected directly or indirectly to politics and government at federal and state levels.

As noted by Mitchell, Victoria Police stated there was “absolutely no prospect” of achieving a conviction over any of the allegations that it had examined.

But in many respects (and without intending to sound cavalier or callous about it, especially where the complainant is concerned), this matter was the least of Bill Shorten’s concerns.

His exoneration over these allegations, in my view, does little or nothing to ameliorate what has to date been a very solid case for him to resign from the Labor leadership.

In fact, I stand resolutely by my call for him to do so.

Seven weeks ago, I published an article that set out the case for calling for Shorten’s resignation; it has received a considerable amount of traffic in recent days, no doubt on account of public interest in the allegations against him.

I want to go through the points made in that article this afternoon — as I said, I don’t think this morning’s news changes very much where questions of whether Shorten’s position is tenable is concerned.

But I would make the point that the issue of the now-finalised rape allegations was deliberately placed toward the end of that article because I never thought they were pivotal in assessing whether, after seven months in the Labor leadership, Shorten’s ongoing position was either viable or in the ALP’s interests.

In that context, the announcement Shorten will be required to make no further response to those allegations doesn’t change the fact that he has a reputation among his peers as a show pony content to steal the limelight made available by others who undertake the heavy lifting and donkey work on any given issue.

It doesn’t change the fact that a union stitch-up of MPs’ votes subverted a vote of tens of thousands of grassroots Labor members to elect Anthony Albanese to the party’s leadership; the instructions of union thugs to vote a particular way in a ballot does not constitute an exercise in democracy, and the impact of Labor MPs following these instructions — overturning a 60% vote against Bill Shorten in so doing — means there is no democratic underpinning of his leadership in any sense.

It doesn’t change the fact that Shorten’s campaign for the Labor leadership was predicated on a continuation of what was arguably one of the reasons Labor lost its connection with Middle Australia in the first place: namely, a pandering to minorities to the near-total exclusion of the mainstream, which displayed a distinct lack of political maturity or any ability to read the mood of the voters on whom, as leader, he would depend to win the Prime Ministership.

It doesn’t change the fact that Shorten was hopeless as a government minister, arguably compounding rather than ameliorating the political woes of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government.

It doesn’t change the fact that as a government MP Shorten exhibited a total dearth of any sense of loyalty, participating actively as he did in the execution of consecutive Labor Prime Ministers: the consequent reputation for treachery and untrustworthiness he acquired in the eyes of the voting public was well earned.

It doesn’t change the fact that on objective criteria Shorten has been an unmitigated failure as a political leader; gifted near-perfect political conditions in which to operate, the Labor vote across reputable instruments of opinion polling has averaged, at most, about 38%: just three points better than the level it recorded as it suffered a landslide defeat last September. For a party aspiring to government, such a support level is dangerously reliant on the preferences of others to underpin any future election win. And that 38% average, as we have intermittently noted, has already begun to slip.

It doesn’t change the fact that even that 38% average support level was largely achieved off the back of a campaign of breathtaking dishonesty and deceit of the public over the state of the federal budget, the culpability in office of the Labor Party for it, and on a complete misrepresentation of the measures the Abbott government has sought to legislate to deal with them. Shorten can’t (or won’t) even satisfactorily explain why his party refuses to implement even those budget savings measures it took to last year’s election. These are the actions of wreckers, not leaders. As its figurehead, the responsibility for those actions lie with Shorten.

It doesn’t change the fact that the filthy laundry of the union movement is now being aired at a Royal Commission, or that the consequences of criminal charges that seem inevitable as a result will rebound savagely on Labor. Bill Shorten is the most recognisable symbol of Labor’s intimate link to the union movement, and whilst he may escape unscathed personally from the Commission’s inquiries, he will remain a potent talisman of his party’s relationship with a movement that is rotten to the core, and whose influence over the ALP is viewed largely with disgust by most ordinary Australians.

And it doesn’t change the fact — to put it delicately — that a raft of resignations and stand-downs in Coalition ranks (especially, but not exclusively, in its NSW division in response to the inquiries of ICAC) shows a higher emphasis on considerations of probity, propriety and public perception in the Liberal Party than exists nowadays over at Labor, where the typical response to even the hint of criminal adversity within its ranks is to batten down the hatches, deny everything, and ride out the storm.

It is true Shorten has no case to answer in response to the allegations dating back to the 1980s for which he has faced investigation for much of the past year: my congratulations to him. He is entitled to feel pleased.

But in the bigger scheme of things, the development matters nought. Nothing else has changed. The problem — Shorten’s leadership — remains intact for now, and the realities of that unfortunate fact remain clear for all to see.

I therefore finish with the same words with which I concluded my previous article on this subject: if he is genuine in his commitment to the best interests of his party, and serious about upholding the rigorous standards he claims should be met by its elected representatives, Shorten is cornered. He has nowhere to go. He must resign.

 

 

Yellow Peril: Palmer Sideshow A National Menace

HOT ON THE HEELS of his reprehensible anti-China rant on the ABC’s #QandA programme on Monday night, others in Clive Palmer’s vicious, resentment-fuelled party have taken up where he left off, with hothead Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie declaring China is poised to invade Australia and that we should “aim missiles at them.” There is a “Yellow Peril” at hand. It is not China. The Palmer United Party, bluntly stated, is a national menace.

Yellow — ties for the men and a scarf for Jacqui Lambie — is the colour of choice for the Palmer United Party; in fact, yellow seems to be the colour of choice for Clive Palmer full stop, with his corporate collateral at Mineralogy, the Palmer United Party website and his resort in Coolum (littered with yellow and black signage) all disproportionately shaded in this ubiquitous hue.

Mark Knight cartoon, Herald Sun, 20 August 2014

I think we’ve arrived at the point at which it is safe to declare that a Yellow Peril threatens Australia, and despite the ranting and the tirades this country has witnessed in the past 36 hours or so, that threat does not emanate from China.

The fallout from Clive Palmer’s idiotic and ill-advised outburst against the Chinese on #QandA reverberated across Australia yesterday, as disgusted government figures and industry leaders worked to mitigate any lasting damage the incident might inflict on Australia’s national interests.

Those responses would appear to have been wise; a strongly worded rebuke from the Chinese embassy branded Palmer’s remarks as “full of ignorance and prejudice” and “absurd and irresponsible,” and anyone who might seek to explain away Palmer’s behaviour as letting off some steam under pressure would do well to consider the very real damage this one individual has the ability to inflict on Australia’s most important trade relationship.

From Prime Minister Tony Abbott to WA Premier Colin Barnett and Foreign minister Julie Bishop, the message has been united: nothing in Palmer’s remarks is in any way representative of Australia’s attitude toward China, and in hanging the fat billionaire out to twist in the wind, none of them have minced their words. Even Bill Shorten (for once) made the appropriate noises instead of trying to score puerile and petty points from the fracas.

Yet just as those actually charged with governing were working to neutralise and disown Palmer and his intemperate utterances, a fresh hand grenade was lobbed from the Palmer camp by its “deputy leader” Jacqui Lambie, who stated that Australia faced “the threat of a Chinese communist invasion,” asserting that “we need to look into missiles” — presumably of the multi-megaton nuclear variety — and aim them at China to form the spearhead of our defence against this “threat.”

The efforts of the Palmer duo were the subject of an excellent piece on the ABC’s 7.30 programme last night — and you can access that segment here. And even the Fairfax press has belatedly jumped into the anti-Palmer fray, with a brutal piece seemingly designed to explode some of the myths about Palmer that have been allowed to fester publicly for perhaps too long.

In some respects, even dignifying such rubbish with comment is an indecent act; for allegedly responsible individuals elected to significant positions of governance (and expected to behave in Australia’s national interest), the conduct of the Palmer United Party in the past couple of days is contemptible.

It is true that some — including myself in this column — have openly speculated that the day might come when some future military confrontation between the USA and China would force Australia to choose sides or risk isolation; such a question of policy encompassing trade, defence and national security will, God willing, never amount to more than the hypothetical it presently poses.

But the words of Palmer and Lambie do not represent rational discussion and debate of such matters; they are a flagrant and savage attack on China, and as such deserving of the multilateral rebuke they have elicited.

In fact, their outbursts are rich with ironies.

Foremost among these is the fact that not so long ago, Palmer was arguably the most trenchant advocate of China and its interests in the country (to the point of accusing Australians of rank racism), notwithstanding the fact his sentiments might have coincided with his own business interests: a subject that forms the basis of an excellent piece in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph today.

I think that in attacking China as he has, Palmer is simply using the same approach he has been deploying against Coalition figures out of spite: that is, they wouldn’t give him what he wanted when he was bankrolling them, so f*ck them. Excuse the expression, but it succinctly encapsulates the entire approach of his party and the objectives he has himself articulated to remove conservative governments wherever they hold office. (I am also reliably told it is consistent with sentiments he has expressed privately toward the Liberals).

Whether one finds this approach to the Liberal Party acceptable or not, I don’t think anyone can justify or excuse it when directed at China. If Palmer has wandered into trouble with his Chinese business partners, then in the big scheme of things he is too insignificant a pissant to warrant jeopardising this country’s whole relationship with China just so he can tell people what he thinks of them.

The full reality of the Palmer United Party has sprung sharply into focus as a result of this week’s events.

We know it is a movement not simply created by Clive Palmer, but one which acts purely in his own image; it should surprise nobody who watches the political goings-on of this country at all, but the “obsession of self” that this party — with its control over the final say in whatever is legislated — is extreme, total, and exceedingly dangerous.

There is scant evidence, despite rhetoric about “standing up for the little guy” and similarly melodramatic rubbish designed to hoodwink the votes of the gullible, that Palmer is remotely interested in the advancement of anyone’s welfare — or agenda — other than his own, and as we’ve discussed countless times now, that agenda seems driven by little more than business greed, spite, and a desire for revenge against the Liberal Party for not asking “how high” when instructed to jump.

The behaviour of the Palmer United Party Senators over the budget — voting and manoeuvring to inflict as much recurrent damage as possible on the bottom line, whilst reciting talking points about protecting the vulnerable — clearly mark Palmer’s party out as no agent of responsible or astute economic stewardship.

And in launching an assault unprecedented for its bile and vitriol by a pivotal member of Federal Parliament on Australia’s largest trading partner, Palmer has demonstrated that there is literally nothing and nobody who is immune from his petty, self-obsessed hatreds: irrespective of the cost, and irrespective of the damage it inflicts on the country he professes to love, and is elected and sworn to serve.

As for Lambie, the suggestion that Australia should arm itself with nuclear weapons and launch them at China can be treated with the contempt it deserves.

Taken in sum, there is nothing to recommend either Palmer or his party.

Outside the narrow band of family members, former employees, sporting heroes, treacherous turncoat conservative MPs and the handful of Australians who seem to think he makes good sense — in short, everyone beholden to Palmer anyway — it is difficult to see how Clive Palmer can retain any electoral support whatsoever; time will tell on that count.

But the past few days have made one thing abundantly clear.

There is indeed a “Yellow Peril” that threatens Australia. It is not China. With their yellow ties and yellow scarves and yellow bunting, the Palmer United Party has the capacity to inflict enormous damage upon this country, and the longer the Palmer saga continues to unfold, the more determined it seems to do so.

In short, the Palmer United Party is a national menace.

The sooner it is disowned by all comers and voted out of existence, the better.

 

Lots of links today. And credit, as it is due, to the ABC and Fairfax. It seems the only people who don’t get it are Clive Palmer and his band of idiot sycophants.

 

Mongrels And Bastards: Palmer Takes Aim At His Own Credibility

CLIVE PALMER put in a cringeworthy performance last night on the ABC’s #QandA programme that will hardly aid the national interest; questioned over allegations at the centre of pending court action — that he siphoned $12 million from a Chinese state-owned company to fund his federal election campaign — Palmer declined to respond, engaging instead in a rant against China and its government. His credibility, such as it is, looks a little tarnished.

I want to begin my remarks this morning by pointing out that the Fairfax press — which Clive Palmer explicitly nominated yesterday as the only unbiased commercial media company in Australia — has failed, at time of writing (5am Melbourne time), to cover his intemperate outburst on #QandA; far from a lack of bias, as Palmer suggests, I think (as I have opined previously) that a likelier explanation lies in the disproportionate reticence of the Fairfax tomes to criticise anyone they recognise as a fellow traveller on their mindless, senseless (and mostly baseless) personal crusade against Tony Abbott.

Certainly, Palmer has been forthright in articulating his view that Tony Abbott is a terrible human being who needs to be removed from office in the most ignominious fashion possible.

He is entitled to his views, and we will come back to those a little later; the issue of biased media and agenda-peddling is also worth touching on this morning, and Clive Palmer features in that little gem as well.

I think regular readers know that #QandA is not a programme I hold in particularly high regard, and certainly struggles to fulfil any meaningful brief for providing a quality offering on politics and associated events in Australia.

Its chief value, in my view, is as a vehicle to monitor the things the Left is talking about: after all, nobody with the slightest grip on reality would describe host Tony Jones as being in any way to the right of centre, and his panel of five guests each week splits, without fail, at least 3-2 in favour of the Left — and more often than not, by a 4-1 margin.

Clive Palmer’s “concerns” about biased commercial media outlets certainly don’t extend so far as to preclude him from featuring in their productions: free publicity that you don’t have to pay for (which Palmer has indicated in the past is the best kind in politics) would seem to render such considerations obsolete.

And in apparently declining to cover Palmer’s outburst last night, Fairfax has prevented me from offering readers — in the interests of catering to their preference — a choice of mainstream media coverage for further reading. Consequently, The Australian‘s article is accessible here, and the one from Sydney’s Daily Telegraph (and carried by the other metropolitan Murdoch mastheads) may be viewed here.

I’m not going to cover off on everything featured on #QandA last night, as jaundiced and as intellectually dishonest as so much of it invariably is, but for those with an hour to kill and the urge to satisfy, the episode can be seen through this link (in the interests of facilitating access to the ABC’s biased excuse for a “quality” production on Australian politics).

Suffice to say, #QandA progressed last night as #QandA invariably does, with plenty on offer for those to the Left of the spectrum and plenty for those to the Right to be considerably irked by; yet near the end of the programme the conversation turned to the lawsuits Palmer is defending over allegations he used Chinese money held in trust to bankroll his campaign at last year’s federal election. Unexpectedly, he exploded.

His former business partners at state-owned Chinese company CITIC Pacific were “Chinese mongrels” who “shoot their own people;” China was engaged in an endeavour “to take over this country.” By way of elaboration, Palmer added that “I’m only saying that because they are Communists,” going on to suggest that he would “stand up to China,” which was “taking over Australia’s ports” and “stripping the country of its resources for free.”

“I don’t mind standing up to the Chinese bastards to stop them from doing it,” the Murdoch press recorded him as saying.

I don’t have a problem with Palmer’s refusal to answer questions about litigation that is on foot, and in fact I think it entirely proper that he declined to do so.

But the tirade against China is worrying, and should give any Australian inclined to support Palmer politically pause for thought.

Clive Palmer isn’t simply any common-or-garden federal MP; he’s a billionaire businessman with significant mining interests that intersect with Australia’s trade in minerals with China and, as such, an individual of considerable relevance to China in its dealings in Australia.

Whilst Palmer’s business interests are wide, diverse and vast, in doing business with CITIC he has essentially done business with the Chinese government directly: such is the nature of a state-owned enterprise such as CITIC Pacific.

And as a federal MP — and one controlling a significant portion of the upper house balance of power in Australia — his context where the Chinese are concerned (and their perceptions of it) becomes exponentially more integral to its evaluation of its business in Australia and its value as a (big cheque-writing) minerals and energy customer to boot.

When someone as uniquely placed across both government and international business as Palmer is chooses to “let it rip” in the fashion he did last night, people listen, as they should; in this regard, no defence can be attempted on the part of the Fairfax press for failing to cover the Palmer remarks on the basis they were incendiary and counter to Australia’s national interest.

Those remarks are the kind of thing seemingly calibrated to send the kind of xenophobic message associated with Pauline Hanson in the late 1990s, when planes full of Asian tourists en route to Australia were shown news bulletins in flight that gave Hanson coverage, and arrived in Australia literally wondering what kind of reception they were facing.

At the very least, Palmer has told his former partners at CITIC — and the Chinese government itself — exactly what he thinks of them: an indulgence unlikely to be tolerated in any Australian court.

The only thing missing was some of the really foul-mouthed abuse in which Palmer is said to be prolific; unlike former Prime Minster Kevin Rudd he declined to call the Chinese “rat fuckers,” but in view of the sentiments expressed he might as well have done so. At least Rudd’s version was more concise.

I fail to see what credibility — in the context of Australian politics, governance, and the facilitation of public policy outcomes in the national interest — Clive Palmer retains.

That he is a megalomaniac obsessed with amassing and exercising power (and attempting to feed a weird “cult of self”) is beyond doubt; one only needs to look at the assortment of “Palmer this, Palmer that” entities — including a political party masquerading as a mass movement of national unity — to see the proof of this.

He appears determined to destroy conservative governments on as widespread a basis as possible for the simple reason he couldn’t get what he wanted out of them when he remained within the Coalition tent; his unprecedented personal crusade against Queensland Premier Campbell Newman is a case in point. His bent on destroying the Prime Ministership of Tony Abbott (for what seems little more than a view that Abbott is a bad person for refusing to fawn all over him, and that he isn’t Malcolm Turnbull) is another.

The very act of ratting on a lifelong allegiance to the conservative parties should be regarded with deep suspicion by any individual countenancing a vote for him, committed as it was to enable the establishment of an outfit that can hardly be said to be remotely conservative in its conduct; and despite his tirade against “Communists,” Palmer has proven more than willing to vote with the Communists Greens in the Senate when it has suited his agenda. I don’t say that in jest, either.

Now, Palmer has ripped into Australia’s biggest trading partner — a country that buys over $150bn each year from us in goods and services — in terms that will hardly facilitate the smooth, deep and growing trade relations that increasingly underpin Australia’s economic welfare, and he has done so using the imprimatur of a federal lawmaker and key figure of government.

Dumb stunts, double-speak and wobbling that fat arse of his on camera are no substitutes for offering something substantial, and using what influence he has accumulated in the national interest rather than petty agendas and get-square vendettas.

If Palmer had a scintilla of political credibility before last night, he has none now. It is about time the likes of the ABC and the “unbiased” Fairfax press stopped fawning over and feting him, and started to call his insidious presence in Canberra out as the sledgehammer impacting the national interest that it really is.

 

AND ANOTHER THING: One thing the Fairfax press is prepared to cover this morning is the plan by Palmer to establish his own national news publication; pitched as a “newspaper competitor” to Rupert Murdoch, Palmer has registered (or is in the process of doing so) the names The Australasian Times, The Australian Times, and Australian News.

There always seems to be a high-profile target wherever these “initiatives” by Palmer is concerned; not merely content to attempt to destroy a Prime Minister and a Premier, it now appears Palmer fancies himself to knock the most powerful media proprietor in the Western world down a few pegs as well.

Given the way he has conducted his political activities to date and what seems to be his conviction that the rest of us share his obsession with himself, it will be fascinating to see what passes as Palmer’s version of “unbiased news” — if this latest hare-brained scheme ever amounts to anything.

My guess is that even if it gets off the ground, it will find very limited favour with the news-consuming public; having spent 20 years in and around media companies and having acquired a firm grasp of what is involved in running them, my guess is that such an enterprise will haemorrhage money from Palmer’s fortune for as long as he is silly enough to persist with it.

Should it ever come to pass, Murdoch will be laughing — literally — all the way to the bank.

 

If It Hits The Fan, Labor Is Set To Be Bollocked

A TIMELY REMINDER that not every incendiary device in federal politics sits in Treasurer Joe Hockey’s lap emerged on Saturday, with an update of sorts on a gathering storm set to hit Labor appearing in The Weekend Australian; like any hunted beast, the ALP has operated on the principle that attack is the best form of defence since its humiliating election loss, but with the chickens set to come home to roost, it may instead end up being slaughtered.

With the past couple of weeks having been disproportionately taken up by the federal budget, Clive Palmer, and his disproportionate role in trying to obliterate it, I wanted to talk this morning about the Labor Party; it’s important to keep an eye on what is going on there, and as fate would have it, the past handiwork of some of its key people continues to bubble along in the ether — and seems set to hit the party where it hurts.

Its “leader,” Bill Shorten, has kept an unusually low profile in recent weeks (the winter parliamentary recess notwithstanding) and when he has bobbed up, it has been to merely parrot his lines about “cruel cuts” and to make outlandish accusations of unfairness and evil intent on the government’s part that mostly fail to withstand any scrutiny whatsoever.

Nothing surprises me when it comes to the lows to which Labor is prepared to stoop, or the abysmally amoral depths it is prepared to plumb in the execution of its “whatever it takes” approach to the political fray. Yet without recanting everything Labor has said, or done, or hasn’t done that collectively marks it out as deserving of several additional terms in opposition, you have to wonder whether part of the reason for the “deny all liability” and “attack and destroy at all costs” mentality in its current form is to build itself a buffer, which it believes might insulate it when the weather turns sour.

And the weather — as neatly predicted on Saturday — is looking ominous, certainly where the fortunes of the ALP are concerned.

Grace Collier, writing in The Weekend Australian, has provided a timely memory jolt as to exactly where Labor really sits in the big scheme of things; readers can access her article here, and I do offer apologies for not finding the time to cover off on this during the weekend as I’d hoped to.

But just as I’m not going to particularise the miscreant misdeeds of the ALP since the September election today (and they have been many, to be sure), I also acknowledge — without listing them — the problems the government has faced, sometimes of its own making, particularly over Hockey’s budget, and unquestionably to its sharp cost in terms of the levels of support it has recorded in reputable opinion polling over the three months since.

In such circumstances, and with a focus skewed to this one aspect of the political landscape, it can be easy to lose sight of what else is going on, which is why I want to share and discuss Collier’s article this morning; she speaks of three potential atomic warheads — the seemingly endless AWU fraud investigation that may or may not see former Prime Minister Julia Gillard charged; the Police investigation into historic rape allegations made against Shorten; and the Heydon Royal Commission into alleged corruption and misconduct in the trade union movement — that are primed to detonate in the Labor Party’s collective face.

We have spoken only recently of Gillard and the AWU matter, which Collier also references in her piece.

I also want to take the opportunity to share again with readers an article I published back in June that called on opposition “leader” Bill Shorten to resign; perhaps unsurprisingly, given Collier’s article has been circulating, this piece has attracted a fair amount of traffic of its own in the last few days, and alludes to all of the matters (and then some) that Collier has again covered off on this weekend.

And I restate the central tenet of that article: Bill Shorten is finished.

It seems inevitable that on the balance of probabilities, the Heydon commission will result in charges being laid against some in the union movement, and whilst I don’t want to comment on specific allegations that have surfaced to date or to prejudge the matters that apply to individuals being investigated by it, it beggars belief to expect that nothing will come of the matters Heydon is investigating.

Contrary to official Labor propaganda, the Royal Commission is not a Tory witch hunt: it was constituted as a response to growing revelations and allegations of systemic misconduct, made by whistleblowers and uncovered in other investigations that have already concluded (the Health Services Union fiasco a case in point), and on account of the fact that the clear imputation of widespread wrongdoing across the bulk of the trade union movement warranted such an investigation to root out criminal behaviour once and for all.

On one level, I don’t think it matters what comes of the other investigations Collier has discussed; I expect the Heydon commission to indeed reveal endemic corruption and criminal activity in the unions it is investigating. If and when it does, this alone will be enough to send the ALP into a virtual death spiral, so infested and cross-contaminated with the union disease as it is. And Bill Shorten — a prominent and central union figure for many years before his entry to Parliament — will be fatally wounded by implication, even if the charges that flow from the inquiry’s findings do not apply to him personally.

In politics, perception is everything, and in this case, the collateral damage could well prove to be as lethal as the disease itself. Shorten continues to be the most senior former union figure in Labor’s parliamentary ranks. If the whole thing goes pear-shaped, the stench of corruption emanating from the crooked fiefdoms of his former buddies would render, by association, his own position untenable.

As for the other matters, what happens in the investigation into Shorten dating back to the 1980s remains to be seen; it is an ongoing matter, and as such I have no comment on it other than to reiterate that the proper course of action — in the face of such serious allegations — would be for Shorten to step aside from his “leadership” until or unless he is eventually cleared. Yes, he might be innocent until proven guilty, but as long as he stays where he is, Shorten is doing nothing to enhance the standards people are entitled to expect of their MPs, to say nothing of his beloved ALP.

The AWU saga, however, is another matter altogether; like Collier, I too have heard rumours that Police are set to charge several of the key players in the episode as a result of their fraud investigations. This is a festering and running sore that has not only been going on for decades, but has been the target of considerable efforts — from Julia Gillard as Prime Minister down — to cover up, silence, deny, intimidate, bully, frustrate or otherwise prevent even the very existence of the allegations from ever becoming public.

When those efforts failed, stout declarations of innocence and a determination to stand firm and ride out the storm were backed by yet more reluctance to either proactively co-operate with the investigation or to level with the Australian public, which by this time had a clear and vested interest in the matter. With one of the central figures under this particular cloud also the occupant of the Prime Minister’s office, any expectation of an entitlement to operate in this fashion is grotesque. But that is precisely what Gillard, and those associated with her at the time, have continued to do.

The point in all of this is that Labor — on the cusp of a return to office, if the polls are to be believed — is sailing into what appears to be a perfect storm.

The likelihood that a multitude of Labor buddies in the union movement will end up being charged could be enough to do it, and any charges that hit Gillard will ricochet viciously onto the continuing ALP: the public, far from being hoodwinked into a belief nothing was amiss by Gillard’s efforts to sweep the matter under the carpet, is captivated.

The AWU scandal has leached into the public psyche in what should serve as a textbook warning to politicians of all colours of the power of digital media; they might be able to heavy mainstream newspaper editors and traditional media outlets into silence, but the digital world means doing so can never be absolute, or total. If heads roll over the AWU matter, new media will have played a big part in bringing those held responsible to account.

And given Labor protected Gillard, harboured her when the allegations resurfaced three years ago, and defended her to the end with accusations of everything from defamation to “misogyny” thrown at its opponents, Labor is in line for the bullet on this one too.

It probably doesn’t help Shorten’s case, or his position, that he was one of the knife wielding union hacks responsible for installing Gillard in the Prime Ministership: culpability on this score, too, rests at his feet.

And it goes without saying what the consequences for Shorten might be if eventually charged in relation to the other matter.

The Abbott government might have its problems, and Labor (in its “axis” with Clive Palmer and the Communist Party Greens) might very well have scored some cheap points from them.

But when it comes to the crunch, the voting public is likely to be far more forgiving of a government that has made a few stumbles in the face of a savagely obstructive Senate: even if, as Labor claims, some of its budget measures are “cruel,” or not “fair.”

Voters are far less likely to forgive rampant, endemic criminal misconduct and, if Labor’s worst case scenario materialises in the next few months and all three of the primed nuclear devices explode in quick succession, are unlikely to restore an ALP that is rotten to its fibre to the government benches.

As ever, we’ll continue to keep an eye on these matters; in this sense Collier’s article has been most timely.

But the political winds, however ill they blow, are prone to change at a moment’s notice; and the triumphalism and smug complacency with which Labor is presently operating may, and probably will, be blown away — and in such spectacular fashion as to keep it from office for quite some time.

 

 

Fixing The Budget Requires Recalibration, Not Panic

THIS WEEK has seen an explosion of justified criticism of Treasurer Joe Hockey, his budget, and the Abbott government’s strategy for selling it. Reasonable comment and kneejerk reaction are not the same thing; a properly calibrated change of course would hardly constitute “panic.” Even a change of Treasurer, adroitly handled, could be a plus for both Hockey and the government. But fresh ideas, advice and tactics are urgently required.

At the end of a long week in which Joe Hockey has done himself very few favours, first with his infamous assertion that poor people don’t have cars and/or don’t drive far, then two days of digging in and defiant stonewalling, and finally with a snivelling, grovelling public apology after a public slapping down from Prime Minister Tony Abbott that arguably went too far in the opposite direction, we don’t need to dwell any longer on the Treasurer’s worst week in his 18-year political career. There’s no need to crucify the guy.

Yet what remains now are the same issues that existed before Hockey said the wrong thing: and I refer those readers who didn’t see it to my article from Thursday. I can only speak for myself — the plethora of other commentators are neither my responsibility nor my problem — but given my remarks today will naturally follow the Thursday piece, I wanted to ensure those who haven’t read it can easily do so.

One point I want to make in relation to some of what has been written elsewhere is that much of it seems designed to goad and cajole Abbott, Hockey, Finance minister Mathias Cormann and their colleagues into blundering further along the fraught path down which they have already travelled too far; talk of “panic” and “kneejerk responses” — which is why I have mentioned them — can be construed as a ploy to wrongfoot the ministers and those around them into continuing to make the same mistakes under the guise of “continuity” and “standing firm.”

Reasonable and rational assessment of the problems this government faces selling its budget (or, indeed, whether there is actually any point in bothering to do so) are not reactive provided there is some method to them.

As I said on Thursday, it is now a matter of indisputable fact that there has been a fundamental (if understandable) misreading of the pliability of the new Senate, and in acknowledgement of this, a change of strategy could very well prove prudent and pragmatic for the government to entertain: and properly executed, need hardly bear any semblance of a panicked response.

One of the better comment pieces I have seen in the past couple of days comes from Paul Kelly in the Weekend Australian; Kelly at least acknowledges, as all too few of his colleagues in the Fourth Estate are prepared to do, the real scope and potential impact of the structural chasm that exists in the federal budget.

Kelly makes the uncomfortable point that Australia is living on borrowed time; that repair of the budget — like it or not — will, by necessity, be painful; and that the alternative of doing nothing and pretending there is no problem (as Labor, the Greens and the Palmer forces shamefully pretend for petty partisan purposes) is to invite the inevitable and inescapable reality of falling real living standards and, as Kelly puts it, “significant public hardship.”

But even Kelly sings from the same song sheet in another respect: with phraseology clearly designed to discourage a fresh budget, some kind of reshuffle involving the replacement of Hockey as Treasurer, or paying any notice whatsoever to the “political commentary industry,” even this normally astute observer of Australian politics advocates a paradigm so narrow as to box the government into continuing to work with what it already has on the table — and to the exclusion of other options.

Literally as I write this, a news article has been posted on the Daily Telegraph website: referencing the imminent intervention of the Prime Minister in the budget sales process, it claims Hockey will negotiate and offer compromises on a raft of the initiatives contained in the budget, from the $7 Medicare GP co-payment to the so-called “Schoolkids’ Bonus” and the reforms to higher education. Apparently, federal Cabinet is set to have “sensible discussions” over these and other contentious budget measures, and this renewed apparent push to pass the same package merely underlines my point — and compounds some of the issues at play.

Samantha Maiden is a very good journalist, and there is no reason to question the veracity of her material. But for every bauble the government throws at Clive Palmer to try to garner the votes of his Senators, it adds billions of dollars to the structural deficit that remains to be closed; for every deal that is struck in the name of saving face and preserving the “integrity” of what was tabled in the House of Representatives by Hockey in May, some new budget saving or increase to revenue needs to be found. If Sam Maiden’s information is correct, then the government is about to embark on a “sales” effort that could end up doing both the budget, and its own political fortunes, no end of additional damage.

In my piece a few days ago, I advocated unilaterally withdrawing the budget bills from the Senate and replacing them — in the interim — with legislation for whatever appropriations are required to keep the government running for the balance of the 2014-15 financial year, and I stand by that position.

Far from panicking, such a move would come at the end of three fruitless months of trying to legislate the budget, with no real prospect of success insofar as delivering on the budget’s fundamental objectives are concerned. Indeed, as we noted here on Thursday, the nett result to date is to blow an additional $10 billion hole in annual budget deficits stretching well out across future financial years: a damnation of the pursuit of “fairness” with which ALP “leader” Shorten, in particular, claims an obsession with.

(“We might examine what is “fair” and what isn’t in greater detail in the context of Shorten, and where Labor’s antics generally are concerned, during the week. But I digress).

Such a tactical withdrawal would buy the government breathing space: something it has had during the winter recess, but which — if Sam Maiden’s article in the Tele today is right — appears to have been misspent.

If the government is determined to persist with the existing suite of budget measures, the toxic political environment and fraught opinion poll numbers it has endured for three months will drag on.

And there is an additional probable consequence, too; even if Hockey “succeeds” in negotiating an emasculated, bloated and — let’s be frank — fiscally reckless version of his well-intentioned original budget through the Senate, then come May, the Abbott government will face an unpalatable obligation: a second consecutive “horror” budget, and one which by necessity would need to cut harder into expenditure than the first sought to do.

A calibrated retreat now would buy the government time to devise and finesse a new suite of measures aimed at enacting the same budget fix the current package aimed to do. With a much clearer appreciation of exactly what obstacles the new Senate poses, this would also afford time and opportunity to develop the comprehensive, hard-hitting and more effective integrated approach to selling it that has so clearly been lacking this time.

There are two additional points I would make at this juncture.

One, that my call for Hockey to be moved on should in no way be construed as either a kneejerk response to his unfortunate comments on the fuel excise or as a lack of confidence in him as a minister; on the contrary, I simply think moving the Treasurer on (irrespective of who held the portfolio) would help make the appearance of a clean break with the present budget more complete in light of the problems that have been encountered selling it.

Hockey still has an awful lot to offer the Liberal Party, the government and the country; a suitable, senior post — such as Defence — is far preferable to moving him to the backbench. And far from any lack of confidence in Hockey, the bad weather he has encountered with the budget could be turned to the government’s advantage by using it to enable a small reshuffle that does allow the removal of the odd non-performer or two in other areas of the government, and the promotion of some fresh faces onto the frontbench such as impressive up-and-comer Kelly O’Dwyer.

(It might also help Hockey’s career development in the longer run, too, to give him experience in one of the key portfolios not confined to core economic policy, and a stint as Defence minister would do that).

And two, my call during the week for a cull of government advisors who have either added nothing to the government’s standing during the budget process and/or who are directly or indirectly responsible for the debacle is something I am deadly serious about.

Yes, some will accuse me of sour grapes, not least the existing advisors themselves; after all, the central vetting panel run by Peta Credlin and Tony Nutt saw to it that I was welcome nowhere within cooee of the Abbott government.

But irrespective of whether the decision to exclude me was right or not, it is incontestable that the wrong people are running at least some aspects of the government behind the scenes. Were it otherwise, the government would not find itself in the mess it does over the budget (or in a few other areas too, if we’re honest about it). My door remains open, but whether I ever receive a knock on it or not, this point in the cycle should be regarded as an opportunity to jettison some of the deadwood that should never have been added to the pile in the first place, and actioned accordingly.

The bottom line is that far from some impromptu, panicked, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants exercise in winging it, what I have advocate through this column is a complete, carefully considered recalibration.

It is now clear that the budget will never pass the Senate as it was written; it is fast becoming equally clear that any bastardised version of it that does so will hurt the budget bottom line more than it helps it. For a party that (rightly) trades on its reputation for astute economic management, the latter outcome should simply never be countenanced.

A new hand on the tiller, with some new initiatives and a proper strategy to sell them all add up to the circuit breaker the government needs.

As for new and/or different ideas, we’ve canvassed some of them here: look at the GST; get rid of the NDIS (a $22bn annual extravagance delivering little value for money), possibly using a deal involving Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme as the bait to get the measure through a hostile Senate; and look again at all the spending measures legislated by Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan that even Hockey’s budget purported to allow to remain on the statute books untouched.

For a more radical idea — if not one conservatives would ordinarily consider — the windfall profits tax on the banking sector we’ve talked about once or twice over the past few years may offer one way to break the deadlock with the Senate over how to close the budget hole; a 50% windfall tax on profits above, say, $4 billion per annum, per banking group, would enable the banks to continue to return strong dividends to their shareholders whilst also coughing up well over $10bn per year to the revenue side of the budget ledger.

It might even help drive down fees and costs for retail banking customers in the process, if the banks are of a mind to try to avoid paying the tax: after all, Australia’s big banks are getting fat on the fees, charges and retained interest rate cuts that are really the money of their customers.

But even if such a tax were to be examined and deemed inappropriate, it’s an example of the kind of thing Abbott and his colleagues ought to be considering and workshopping — and pursuing, if they offer a more straightforward route to fixing the budget than the current quagmire has yielded to date.

But most of all, panicking — just like making stupid and counter-productive deals at the eleventh hour to save “face” — will achieve nothing worthwhile.

 

 

Politics’n’Babes: The Putin Titillation Continues

IT IS HARD to believe three years have passed since Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev hit the presidential campaign trail in Russia, each boasting his own army of scantily clad young women to solidify wavering voter support; now — at the centre of an international trouble spot and an icy impasse with the West following the MH17 disaster — Putin has renewed the enterprise. The “Putinkini” is now a bona fide symbol of Russian nationalism.

It’s a funny old world, as Margaret used to say. But the more things change, the more they stay the same.

And if you’re Vladimir Putin, you need all the pleasant publicity you can get.

Readers know it’s been a fairly torrid week in politics, and there is still a great deal to discuss; indeed, I will be posting again this afternoon or early this evening on more serious matters.

But just as I did three years ago — when Putin and his seat-warming stooge, Dmitri Medvedev, faced off in a presidential election campaign with armies of pretty, scantily clad girls hitting the hustings on their behalf — I wanted to post something a little more light-hearted to kick the weekend conversation off with.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that something like this should emerge from the personality cult that Russian politics consists of nowadays; but I think it’s important that we keep…er, abreast…of what passes for debate in Russia.

Certainly a great deal of space has been occupied in this column where the serious side of the tragedy of the Malaysia Airlines disaster is concerned, replete as it is with the sinister undercurrent of growing, freezing tension between the West and Russia over Ukraine and the so-called “separatists” threatening to ignite a war there.

But if you’re an authoritarian tyrant, armed to the hilt with nuclear weapons and determined to reclaim superpower status for your country, you first need to win the hearts and minds of the folks at home — especially when, as a result of carefully crafted tactical moves and rhetoric that have sent relations with the West to Antarctic temperatures, you might find yourself at the epicentre of a war that could spiral dangerously out of control.

In this sense, there is nothing lighthearted about the latest incarnation of “Putin’s Army.”

Readers should check out this article from the British edition of the Daily Mail. Unlike the first appearance of “Putin’s Army” and the “Medvedev Girls” in 2011, there are no videos to accompany the hype this time.

I think it’s creepy (to say nothing of rather sinister) that social and political norms in Russia would dictate it as acceptable for young, attractive women to get around with pictures of Vladimir Putin printed on their bikini tops, not coincidentally I would suggest precisely where their breasts are.

Yet there you go: apparently this ensemble is called the “Putinkini,” and is the latest and most potent symbol of Russian nationalism a woman can don.

Apparently these women have resolved to “show a photograph of V.V. Putin as one of their attributes — on their breasts” in order to “not hide their patriotism,” and aim “to say with their swimwear” that they “fully support the political course of head of the state (sic) Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.”

“Volodya (Putin), we are with you,” a statement for the “Putinkinis” says on the website of the event at which the bikinis were recently launched.

The obvious point to make — and yes, those in Australia who derive their satisfaction from arbitrarily banging on about misogyny will love this — is that the exploitation of reasonably pretty young girls in this manner, in the name of personality politics, is grotesque; to do so in favour of an ominously bellicose and increasingly belligerent dictatorial figure is particularly disturbing.

But the use of propaganda of this kind, whether officially commissioned and/or sanctioned or not, is especially sinister, given what could potentially be at stake in any conflagration between Russia and the West.

It conjures up the old wartime concept of keeping up morale on the home front as a distraction from the atrocities that take place (or may do so) in the theatres of any conflict that erupts; and the use of sex — something the Russians seem to be unperturbed by — could provide a pointer to the old Soviet strategy of dumbing down the population with material that appeals to it at its basest level.

Still, we can be thankful: just like the theme adopted by Diana of “Putin’s Army” three years ago to “whip ‘em out” for Vladimir, this latest girl-based publicity stunt in Putin’s name (or, more correctly, in his image) doesn’t go as far as actually doing so despite the very clear allusion that attractive women, breasts, and (presumably) having sex with them are all pillars of the benevolent society Putin’s regime is working to create in Russia.

Unlike last time, there’s no free iPad to be won by ordinary girls seeking to emulate the “Putinkinis” by sending in pictures of themselves in the “branded” apparel being promoted.

Oh, those Russians…

Back to Australian Politics — and, again, to reality — a bit later in the day.