“Don’t Mess With Us:” Putin Threatens Nuclear War

AS WESTERN CONSENSUS concludes that Russia has now invaded Ukraine — with 1,000 of its troops crossing the border into the neighbouring, disputed region of that country — its President has for the first time made an explicit threat of nuclear retaliation against Western governments who intervene and engage Russia militarily in response. This ominous rhetoric, in likelihood, is posturing, but the possibility that it isn’t cannot be ignored.

I’m going to keep this brief as I have been up all night (it’s 6am in Melbourne as I start writing this) attending to my 18 month old son; the things you keep abreast of when the day is unfolding on the other side of the world can be remarkable, and so is this: for all the wrong reasons.

The incursion of about 1,000 Russian troops into the disputed part of Ukraine that has seen insurgent activity now for months — Russia calls them “separatists” — has been the subject of much discussion internationally, and it seems that the product of that process has been to conclude that after seemingly threatening to do so for months, the troop movement does in fact constitute “an invasion.”

In addition to the thousand or so troops that have already entered Ukraine, there are reports of tens of thousands more that are massed along the border between the two countries, and who could join the conflict at virtually a moment’s notice.

The issue of what to do about Russia and Putin — not least in the aftermath of the atrocity of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, blasted out of the sky by insurgents armed with Russian-supplied weaponry, for which Putin denies all responsibility — has proven fraught, with sanctions brought against Russia by various Western governments having no apparent effect other than to embolden the Russians to continue along the provocative course they seem to have embarked upon.

Indeed, our own Prime Minister Tony Abbott is weighing whether to bar Putin from entering Australia later this year to attend the G20 conference; my sense is that whilst it would send the right message to the international community, whether or not Putin attends a talkfest is largely immaterial in the bigger scheme of things.

Already, Putin is threatening to cut gas supplies to an EU that is surprisingly gung-ho in its intent to retaliate against Russia; this was blamed in advance on Ukraine siphoning supplies destined for the EU as a way of circumventing restrictions placed on its own supplies. And just last night, it was announced that Germany would weigh an even tougher sanctions regime against the Russians.

But perhaps mindful of the fact Western leaders (despite the distraction of ISIS in the Middle East) give every appearance of turning their collective minds to dealing with Russia punitively for its part in fomenting the destructive events and loss of life on its doorstep, Putin has sounded another — and far more ominous — warning.

Speaking yesterday to a pro-Kremlin youth camp, Putin raised the spectre of retaliating with nuclear weapons against any powers who chose to engage in “large-scale conflicts” with Russia: “it’s best not to mess with us,” he rather euphemistically told his audience.

It is highly likely that in raising the prospect of nuclear conflict, Putin is merely posturing, playing as much to domestic audiences at whom his strongman image is directed as to the US, the UK, and leading European countries like Germany.

Yet as the article from Britain’s Telegraph newspaper that I have linked this morning notes, even during the Cold War it was rare for Soviet leaders to openly reference the country’s nuclear arsenal, let alone rattle the nuclear sabre.

The comments echo a far more oblique threat of Russian nuclear retaliation a couple of years ago, when Putin’s Prime Minister, Dimitry Medvedev, suggested a nuclear conflict was not out of the question if the US attacked Iran, or later remarks by a Russian emissary who suggested a similar escalation could result from American attacks on insurgent positions in Syria.

Iran and Syria, of course, have long been Russian protectorates: as recent events in Syria at least have shown with the emergence of the ISIS menace, perhaps the Russian bluff ought to have been called on that occasion.

Putin’s remarks yesterday, however, make those earlier instances of nuclear posturing seem trivial.

Putin is no fool and no madman; he is fully aware that remarks of the kind he made yesterday will only be interpreted in Western circles as a clear and direct threat of a nuclear response.

The message is, very simply, that America and its allies should butt out of what is occurring in what Russia regards as its sphere of influence.

The great risk, of course, is that Russia uses the cover of what amounts to nuclear blackmail — on a calculation that the West, fearful of the consequences, will not intervene — to engage in a brutal slaughter designed to achieve its ambitions in Ukraine, in total disregard and contempt of any outcry or objection its actions provoke further afield.

And it goes without saying that even if Russia is permitted by an uneasy Western alliance to do what it pleases in Ukraine, the obvious question is who comes next: Putin is committed to his grand objective of reviving the Soviet Union, and like the advancing German menace in the late 1930s, appeasing Russia now — under the threat of existential consequences — will only encourage and embolden Putin to engage in more of the same behaviour as his expansionist agenda is pursued.

There is also the prospect that at some stage the Putin Soviet restoration project will advance into NATO territory; if and when it does, then all bets are off — threats of Russian nuclear strikes or not.

Whichever way you cut it, Putin has drastically escalated both the explosive situation in the disputed Ukraine region and the icy relations between Russia and the West it has created.

He has made it far more difficult for Western and NATO leaders to respond, and elevated the stakes insofar as a misstep by either side might trigger a wider conflict.

I’ll keep an eye on this and I encourage readers to do so as well. But just as Putin may be grandstanding, there is also the prospect that he isn’t.

And that — however probable or otherwise — means the situation on Europe’s eastern flank has just entered an apocalyptically dangerous new phase.

 

Tired Excuses Ring Hollow As Qantas Loses Billions

ONE OF THE WORST corporate results in Australian history — a full-year statutory loss of $2.8 billion — caps three years of uninterrupted “restructuring” at Qantas that has spectacularly failed to deliver any benefits; it must also sound the death knell for the tenure of CEO Alan Joyce, whose story is as consistent as the atrocious outcomes recorded on his watch. This much-loved, iconic business deserves better than tired excuses and recurrent spin.

It’s something of an irony that the single largest component driving such a horrendous end of year result — the decision to book $2.6 billion in write downs on aircraft — is one of the few praiseworthy aspects of the announcement made yesterday by Qantas CEO Alan Joyce; if the airline isn’t going to cut its losses on the great (red and) white A380 elephants and onsell or lease them to another airline that might be able to fill them and/or run them at a profit, the next best thing is to accelerate the process of absorbing the capital costs associated with them and get it over and done with.

But for the most part, yesterday’s announcement was like Groundhog Day, and I want to begin my remarks by reacquainting readers with what I had to say on 1 March, when Joyce fronted the media to announce what was a record (but comparatively piddling) half-year loss of $252 million.

Joyce and his method of announcing bad news and/or the imminent birth of “the new Qantas” (or something similarly phrased), with ongoing restructuring and “stripping costs” from Qantas, have become a familiar — and tired — formula; for three years now Joyce has been holding out bad news sweetened with the prospect of a land of milk and honey within sight, and if readers look at the March article and go back through the link in it to something I published the day he grounded the Qantas fleet in October 2011, it will become readily apparent that the story and its tantalisingly close happy ending have remained virtually identical throughout.

But yesterday’s result — even focused purely on the underlying pre-tax loss of $646 million — is unacceptable on any criteria, the depressed state of the global aviation industry notwithstanding, and is inexcusable in the context of a CEO who has now had almost seven years at the helm of Qantas.

In that time, the Flying Kangaroo has gone from posting annual profits of close to a billion dollars to now losing money hand over fist; if we again focus only on the underlying figure it is clear that Qantas’ losses are accelerating once the abnormals and one-offs are discounted, and that the airline in fact lost close to twice as much money in the second half of the financial year as it did in the first. That alone was widely regarded as scandalous at the time.

For all of the cuts that have been made to its cost base on Joyce’s watch — firing staff, terminating parts of its route network, abandoning its “line in the sand” capacity war with rival Virgin, and finally (and belatedly) retiring some of its most antiquated aircraft — Qantas has still proven unable to turn a profit, and despite the little Irishman’s latest solemn assurances that a return to profitability is near, such promises are impossible to take seriously: they have been offered too many times, and for too long.

Almost every division in the Qantas Group went backwards and/or posted hefty losses in the year to June: even supposed low-cost cash cow Jetstar, which lost $116 million, and even the traditional profit machine that is Qantas Domestic, which went backwards by $335 million to post a pre-tax profit of just $30 million.

Qantas International — which the travelling public has been conditioned by Joyce and his spin team to regard as its only seriously weak link — doubled its losses to half a billion dollars in spite of the tough medicine it has already been forced to ingest.

The only exception of consequence was the frequent flyer program (or “Qantas Loyalty,” as the division is now somewhat euphemistically known); this is hardly surprising given Qantas points can be earned on just about anything if you plan what you buy with a bit of forethought, and can be redeemed on just about anything too (my wife and I converted a stack of them to David Jones vouchers and went berserk in the Food Hall in Melbourne earlier this year, stocking the freezers with more than a thousand dollars’ worth of premium, dinner party quality items that kept us supplied for months for absolutely nothing).

Whilst I digress a little in retelling the anecdote, it’s instructive: Qantas makes money from all of those transactions that are embedded in the true value of the points, and “Qantas Loyalty” made a $286 million profit, up 10% from the previous year. Most telling, however, is the fact that once you’re a member of the program, you don’t even have to set foot on a Qantas aircraft at all, if disinclined to do so, in order to play it for everything you can get.

As has become par for the course, Joyce blamed everything for the abysmal result he delivered yesterday: the Australian dollar, the price of oil, the global financial crisis, old aircraft, competition, you name it.

What was glaringly absent, however — despite the ongoing references to job cuts arising from his years-old restructuring effort — was any meaningful attempt to address the fact, as one comment piece observed, that 39% of Qantas’ outgoings are taken up by labour costs: even accounting for the rigidity of the labour market in Australia (for which the ALP should hang its head in shame) and the excessively unionised culture of enterprise bargaining with which the airline continues to saddle itself, that figure is an obscenity.

But nobody should be too perturbed by the horror story announced yesterday; according to Joyce, the airline is “heading in the right direction” and all the benefits from its restructuring activities — that have been repackaged, re-announced, and have been going on for years — will shortly become evident as Qantas emerges from this most difficult period as a “leaner, more focused and sustainable” company.

Joyce’s story, like his excuses for failure, have been wheeled out so many times that no-one ought to believe a word of them. Actions and results are what matter, not artful spin and PR babble.

The one heartening aspect of yesterday’s announcement is that in writing down the value of much of its fleet, Qantas should be in a position (I emphasise, should) to more or less replicate the structural model utilised by Virgin to circumvent foreign ownership restrictions, and should this actually happen it will fortify Qantas far beyond the same set of meaningless promises Joyce has been peddling for at least three years now, and for longer than that if we’re going to dig further back in time than the grounding of the fleet three years ago.

Readers know I love Qantas dearly and I’m very loyal to it, but no friendship is all that authentic if predicated solely on the positive virtues of the friend; the poorer aspects of the relationship can’t be ignored, and in the case of Qantas (and of Alan Joyce and the board he reports to in particular), it has been excruciating to watch what has been done to a once-great airline on their watch in the name of “improving” Qantas.

I reiterate the call I made in March: should he be available and willing to serve, Sir Rod Eddington — a hardened and proven fixer in the global airline community — ought to be offered Joyce’s job, provided with a clean sheet of paper and a big new broom, and given the brief to do whatever he has to do to fix Qantas, and possibly under a new board if shareholders are so inclined.

Joyce and his guarantees, whilst apparently receiving some favourable press and coinciding with a mild improvement yesterday in the Qantas share price, are devoid of any credibility; that assessment is solidly based on the complete emptiness of similar utterances in the past, and the inability or refusal of the Joyce management team to deliver on any of them.

Significantly, a number of timelines nominated by Joyce over the past three years — three years from October 2011 being one of them, which means now — have come and gone with none of the promised outcomes having materialised.

Further reading from the day’s press can be accessed for those who wish to do so here, here, here and here.

I think independent South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon has it about right; his quip that “Alan Joyce is to Qantas what Caligula was to the Roman Empire” pretty much sums it up.

I think the quirky little Irishman should go to Sydney Airport, hop on one of his A380s to London whilst the route still appears on the Qantas network (via Dubai, of course; who’d want to fly through Hong Kong or Singapore?) and catch a connecting flight back to Ireland from Heathrow on Aer Lingus, the airline he began his career at.

Qantas, for so many reasons — logistical necessity, history, brand loyalty — is too important to be weakened to a point of unviability, and arguably already too badly damaged to continue to be the subject of oft-touted schemes that repeatedly promise the world, but invariably leave the airline in progressively worse shape.

Perhaps this time, the Joyce regime really does stand on the cusp of turning a profit at Qantas; or perhaps, as has been the case too many times in the past few years, the imminent sunny future he forecasts will prove to be yet another false dawn.

Simply stated, Joyce has had his go. His stories and excuses and spin no longer cut ice. He has presided over a debacle. And he must be replaced.

The alternative, to the extent it should even be contemplated, would be too expensive to entertain in the name of one more chance to prove himself right: the costs to this country of Qantas collapsing would make yesterday’s numbers look like small change. The risks of Qantas persisting with Alan Joyce are now too substantial to justify.

 

AND ANOTHER THING: With the horrific Qantas result posted yesterday — and with Labor “leader” Bill Shorten throwing accusations around earlier in the week that Prime Minister Tony Abbott is not fit to govern — it’s timely to provide the Shortens of the world with a mirror; to this end, I post here and here articles published in the wake of the March half-year result at Qantas.

There is an almost inexhaustible catalogue of reasons Bill Shorten is unfit to serve as Prime Minister.

Today, they derive from aviation policy; his union-obsessed, anti-business, xenophobic diatribes six months ago and the power-at-all-costs mentality of modern Labor they were infused with neatly illustrate the point.

Tomorrow, it will likely be a different area of focus. As sure as night follows day, Shorten — and his fitness to serve in office — will be found wanting there, too.

As opposition “leader,” Bill Shorten sits in a glass house. It would not be inadvisable for him to refrain from throwing stones.

 

Lambie Cuddles An Unconvincing Show Of PUP Loyalty

IT COULD BE the storyline of a B-grade movie; these people — charged with the pivot of governance — are instead squabbling over the trivialities of minor success. The news Jacqui Lambie is considering leaving Clive Palmer’s party is no surprise; the fact it’s over not being the leader (of three Senators) even less so. This is further evidence, if it were required, that a vote for Clive Palmer is a vote for self-obsessed chaos: to hell with the repercussions.

This column has long been of the view that it’s only a matter of time before the fractious, unruly band of miscreant no-hopers, gravy train surfers, sycophants and other political irrelevances that constitute the Palmer United Party begin to fall apart under the combined weight of egos and petty agendas.

Today, we’ve seen the appearance of the first hints that my prediction could come true, and sooner than anyone thought.

To Palmer’s chagrin, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph published an article today that outlined a serious (and escalating) rift between two of his Senators, footballer Glenn Lazarus and brainless, self-designated military expert Jacqui Lambie, that claimed Lambie was on the brink of walking away from Palmer’s silly party.

The reason? As the story goes, Lazarus — “a recluse” — appointed himself as leader of the party in the Senate, a position to which Lambie felt entitled to on account of her “higher public profile.”

The talk around the traps is that Lambie (who confirmed she was fielding approaches from other quarters) is considering joining a new voting bloc of Independents that includes Family First Senator Bob Day, Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm, and Ricky Muir of the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party, who is currently loosely allied with Palmer himself.

Everyone is covering it, with another of Rupert’s publications running this, and dear old Uncle Fairfax chiming in with this account.

Palmer United Party

Anything for the camera. (Picture: The Australian)

And of course, there have been predictable attempts to laugh the rumblings off; Lazarus’ rather pithy claim that anyone seeking to poach Lambie would have to go “through him” because he and Lambie were “tighter than ever” reeks of an exercise in going through the motions — as do the multitude of kissy-cuddly pictures of the pair that have found their way into today’s newspapers.

I wanted to comment on this briefly: there are weightier matters at hand, some of which I will cover off on overnight (ready for readers when they arise) but in the meantime, there are a few quick points I would make.

One, that Lazarus, Lambie, their Palmer cohort Dio Wang and the rather mobile Ricky Muir all have one thing to offer: a vote in the Senate. Beyond that, it is highly dubious as to whether any of them have so much as a syllable to contribute to sound governance in Australia in any meaningful or constructive sense. Wang is reportedly extremely intelligent, but publicly at least says nothing. Perhaps — if he’s such an astute individual — he should exercise some of that fine acumen and get out of Palmer’s party himself, where he might be allowed to have his own opinion instead of speaking with his master’s voice (or at the very least, complying with its edicts).

Two — and that said — Lambie in particular is of absolutely no value to the process of government at all. I was prepared to support her in this column on the basis of some early hints she gave off that she might represent the kind of grassroots conservatism that can never have too many voices. Alas, Lambie is preoccupied with the overgrown state of her pubic mane, the size of the penises of prospective male suitors, and how best to enact a nuclear strike on China. It also seems she has an entitlement mentality where the leadership of two other people is concerned. This is hardly an agenda conducive to resolving the real problems Australia faces.

Three, if Lambie (or any of the others, for that matter) go ahead and flee the Palmer coop — unshackling themselves from his vindictive and petty obsessions with revenge against the Coalition at all cost — it can only be a good thing; I don’t care where she goes and I really don’t mind if she finds her way into either of the Coalition parties, provided she toes the line and supports government policy. To the extent she has any value at all in Australian politics, helping to smash the Palmer citadel apart would constitute doing the country a favour. I cannot emphasise the importance of ridding Canberra of the insidious Palmer and his presence in the Senate strongly enough.

But finally…isn’t this about as amateurish as it gets?

We’ve had the silly stunts; the eccentric persona Palmer hides his true colours behind; we’ve had the obstruction he causes the government without exception and we’ve had the growing number of “brain fades” when the facade falls down and the true colours of the Palmer agenda becomes painfully clear.

In this context, Lambie being pulled this way and that — and apparently enjoying and entertaining the attention, to boot — merely reflects the sheer vacuity of this self-proclaimed party of national unity. Everything’s for sale and everyone has a stake to defend, it seems. Given the position of “leader” of the Palmer United Party doesn’t even come with an allocated salary, let alone an official title, it emphasises just how puerile today’s spat actually is.

Never mind that these people were elected to govern, and that Palmer’s people — as insidious as it is to admit it — hold a portion of the balance of power in the Senate, which accords them a pivotal position they neither merit nor deserve, but are nonetheless obliged to discharge.

I still think Palmer’s party will break up, if for no other reason than at some stage his stooges simply won’t be able to stand him — or each other — any longer.

In the meantime, however, two words spring to mind: grow up. Australia has seen more than its fair share of embarrassments elected to various houses of Parliament across the country in recent times. These latest antics, centred on the Palmer United Party, are yet more evidence that it is another of them.

 

 

Slapdown: Palmer’s Snivelling Apology Falls On Deaf Ears

PERHAPS BECAUSE it took eight days to offer, or because it didn’t cover the “threat” of a nuclear strike made by one of his brainless Senators, but a fawning apology from Clive Palmer to the Chinese ambassador to Australia over his reprehensible outburst on #QandA last week has elicited a rebuke. Bellicose eccentricity might seem like fun, but saying whatever pops into one’s head is a dangerous game. Whether Palmer comprehends this is unknown.

Clive Palmer had a big week last week, and for all the wrong reasons; he kicked off with his now-notorious outburst on the ABC’s #QandA programme on Monday night, which was followed two days later by the unbelievably idiotic suggestion from Palmer Senator Jacqui Lambie that Australia should acquire — and use — nuclear missiles against China in a pre-emptive act of “defence.”

Readers who missed my articles on those events can access them — with some good additional material available through links — here and here.

Eight days after his initial outpouring of bile on #QandA (and after a veritable Who’s Who of Australia’s parliamentary and media cliques scrambled to try to limit the damage), Palmer saw fit on Monday to send an apology to the Chinese ambassador to Australia, Ma Zhaoxu. Readers can access this missive here, and all I can say is that the humble pie devoured in crafting it must have been a bitter meal indeed.

I don’t think there are very many grounds on which Palmer can be afforded forgiveness for his remarks.

His rantings on #QandA were, despite subsequent protestations to the contrary, very clearly aimed at China and its government; Palmer’s characterisation of Chinese “mongrels” and “bastards” were always going to deeply offend and perhaps provoke China’s leadership — crafted, as they were, by a prominent Australian MP with extensive business interests and dealings with China in his own right.

The fact they were made by an individual facing allegations of ripping them off and legal proceedings to pursue these would have exacerbated the slight.

From an Australian perspective, this episode has risked inflicting enormous (and potentially irreparable) damage to bilateral relations with China: not least of which has been to place the conclusion of a historic free trade deal with the Chinese at risk. It is fortunate, and to the credit of Abbott government figures such as Trade minister Andrew Robb and Foreign minister Julie Bishop, that all of these potential ramifications of national effect appear to have been averted.

The Chinese — to be sure — have drawn the distinction; the intemperate words of the one has not affected the interests of the many.

But ordinary Australians are entitled to remain exceedingly angry with Clive Palmer; not only has he severely jeopardised the national interest for the apparent pursuit of his own objectives, but he has finally shown — once and for all — that the careful construct of a rich eccentric who might be your cuddly old uncle, behind which he loves to hide, is nothing more than an illusion.

It remains to be seen whether this new reality, laid bare by his antics, is fully appreciated by those Australians inclined to continue to vote for him.

Maybe Palmer added insult to injury by seeking to downplay his remarks; his assertions (in the wake of being absolutely slammed across the country last Tuesday) that they applied only to one company with which he was mired in an acrimonious commercial dispute are disingenuous when reviewed against what he actually said on television the previous night (and for those who didn’t see it, the first of the links with this article contains a link to the episode of #QandA in question).

Maybe and perhaps entirely predictably, the brainless Lambie inflamed what was already a white-hot situation with her apparent advocacy of a nuclear strike against the “Communist Chinese” (as opposed to some other unknown variety of Chinese people) who, if not thus restrained, were certain to invade Australia at some unspecified future juncture.

Maybe the delay of more than a week in seeking to make amends for his contemptible proclamations irritated the Chinese.

And maybe — just maybe — the letter of apology itself inflamed things even further, switching seamlessly as it did from grovelling contrition to apparently jocular rapport building of the type that is hardly warranted in the circumstances.

For any or all of these reasons, it is unsurprising that Palmer’s apology was not expressly accepted; rather, it elicited a rant of its own, with the response of the ambassador making statements that can only be interpreted as a thinly veiled rebuke of Palmer for his utterances.

Obviously, I’m not going to pull His Excellency’s remarks apart line by line.

But the lofty assertions that “the Chinese people are never to be insulted” and that “slandering China will not gain support” should leave nobody in any doubt that no matter what Palmer might otherwise protest, his incendiary remarks were interpreted as an attack on China, its government, and its people — and not on a single company as he had sought to suggest.

Australia has been lucky this time; as noted earlier, it appears that the repercussions from this distasteful episode — if there are any — will be confined to Palmer himself. It has been a salutary illustration of the honour and “face” with which Asian countries conduct their business and political relations with others. As a high-profile Australian politician and businessman, Palmer’s antics in the matter serve as a warning to others, especially within the ranks of his own party — not an example.

Palmer’s penchant for saying whatever he likes — with nary a concern for the consequences — was also the subject of yesterday’s Editorial in Melbourne’s Herald Sun, which readers can peruse here.

Australian electors are entitled to certain standards of conduct from their elected representatives, and whether Clive Palmer and his band of miscreant Senators uphold those standards is a matter for each voter, on their own terms and in their own time, to resolve.

But in the final analysis, this grimy and aberrant episode appears to have done nothing to alter Palmer’s standard approach to his political dealings; yesterday he chose to announce to the media, rather than first inform the government, that his party was terminating negotiations over the $7 Medicare GP co-payment — and that under no circumstances would they revisit the issue.

For a man who insists on being taken at face value, it isn’t suggestive of an outfit operating in good faith.

This column believes that Australia will be well-served by the eventual defeat of Palmer and his minions; already, private LNP polling in his Queensland seat of Fairfax is said to show Palmer’s primary vote halving — and falling too far for him to be re-elected, even with the overwhelming preference flows he achieved from minor parties last year.

That defeat is to be eagerly anticipated and welcomed with relish when it eventuates.

But even if Palmer (and his minions) achieve no further electoral success, the country is stuck with three of his Senators with close to six remaining years on their terms in office, which means that even if Palmer himself is thrown out of Parliament by voters, others will continue to do his bidding for a long, long time to come.

The China debacle last week was a potent illustration of just how destructive Palmer has the potential to be. Regrettably, others may well follow.

 

 

Polls, A Pox On Everyone’s House, And The Devil You Know

WITH A SLEW of state elections now imminent — and the perennial issue of federal voting intentions percolating away on simmer — opinion poll findings over the past week fail to paint any kind of picture of the faith and trust in governments, oppositions, or in politics in general. It’s the classic case of “a pox on both your houses,” although there are more than two houses in the street these days. Even “the devil you know” is mostly despised.

I must apologise to readers for my silence over the past few days; I have been a bit distracted on several fronts, and when there has been time in which to post I’ve had things to do. I even missed the weekly opportunity last night for baiting the Left during #QandA which kind of says it all, really.

But I have been keeping an eye on things, and with a barrage of polling data over the past week — some of it federal, some of it pertaining to the eastern states — I honestly can’t remember the last time the polls painted such a universal, across-the-board picture of apathy, disillusion, and downright contempt for the political process.

For once, I’m not going to go through the drudge of listing out who’s up a point, down a point, scored a point or missed a point, and what brilliant conclusion can be drawn from all of this: quite frankly, it doesn’t matter where you sit — there are few winners (in the true sense) kicking around the political circuit, and very few players who can claim any kind of vindication from the kind of numbers that are being recorded.

Who would be a politician nowadays?

I think readers know that in the course of the past year, I have grown increasingly critical of the quality of advice elected representatives appear to be acting upon, but the problem is bigger than that; the entire game of risk-averse, stage-managed rubbish designed to offend as few as possible whilst scoring free hits where possible is moving us to the point where the political process is delivering nothing that anyone wants — or can even accept as good governance, if not necessarily popular.

In the tradition of that grand old truism of politics that is ignored at the peril of those who do so, trying to please everyone — and being all things to all people — ends up pleasing no-one.

Don’t misunderstand me — I’m not having some fortysomething moment of indulgent introspection. But there’s not much in any of the latest batch of numbers to make anyone smile, and for once I’m not going to pretend otherwise.

The 51-49 Labor lead Newspoll finds today for The Australian is an indictment; stripped of the rather optimistic preference flows that enable this ostensibly Earth-shattering result for the ALP, Bill “Big Boy” Shorten has, according to its findings, lifted Labor support by the dazzling degree of just 0.6% since the election last September, an occasion that saw Labor record its worst-ever vote in the modern era.

To do this — at a time Labor is gifted with an abominable federal budget that will achieve none of its stated aims of fiscal rectitude, but inflict all of the political pain associated with them on the Abbott government anyway — is an “achievement” of sorts; when it is also considered that the Coalition has stumbled a bit (as new governments of all persuasions are wont to do) and is faced with a greater assortment of parliamentary enemies than would ordinarily be the case, Labor’s inability to directly harvest the support being chiselled away from the Coalition is unprecedented.

The popular commentary this morning seems to be that Prime Minister Tony Abbott is hanging onto the ground the government has clawed back in the wake of the MH17 disaster and a mooted package of national security measures; I would simply say that in view of such things, the Coalition should be in front again by now.

The fact it isn’t keeps going back to that budget of tax rises, spending cuts that deliberately target middle Australia and the Coalition’s own electoral core, and the worst-sold budget delivered by any government in at least 20 years: there’s a rod on the government’s back that is entirely self-inflicted.

In a sense, it doesn’t matter what else Abbott announces; every time he and his ministers reiterate their determination to force the budget through the Senate, they reinforce the voter recoil the package sparked in the first place.

As we have discussed aplenty, even if the less palatable measures in the budget pass, they are likely to do so in a form so badly emasculated and distorted as to render them next to useless in redressing the budget bottom line. In other words, another “horror” budget will be required to finish the job that was spectacularly botched the first time. Good luck with that.

And as usual, neither of the leaders are popular; Bill Shorten — experiencing something of a resurgence in his appeal this week — musters just a 39% approval rating; little better than the 36% carded by the perennially unpopular Abbott, a man Labor has misspent five years telling anyone who will listen is too hated by the public to be entitled to be elected to anything. Which is ironic, considering 36% was all Shorten himself could manage in Newspoll’s last survey a fortnight ago.

And as negative as Tony Abbott might have been as opposition leader, he also presented on polling day with the framework for an agenda of sorts; Labor under Shorten doesn’t even have that much, with its only new policy (aside from reinstituting the carbon tax) being the abolition of the private health insurance rebate: a measure almost guaranteed to destroy the healthcare sector in Australia.

The only surprise in the Newspoll numbers is that the vote for “Others” — which includes Clive Palmer’s increasingly destructive little outfit — actually increased by two points, to 15%; Newspoll doesn’t strip the Palmer vote out into a separate column like some of the other polls do, so there’s always some ambiguity about this, but it’s a fair assumption that that additional support has gone straight to his party.

In turn, this is a measure of either the abject stupidity of voters or of their total disgust with the major parties, given the self-indulgent rant Palmer went off on last week and the damage he and the objectionable Jacqui Lambie seemed determined to inflict on Australia’s relations with China.

I would simply observe that people are not stupid, and assert that the ongoing support for Palmer — all 500 tons of him — has more to do with the electorate being treated as if it is stupid by the major parties than it does with any real appeal of the malicious cacophony that constitutes the Palmer position on anything.

Come down here to Melbourne, and a first-term Coalition is set to get it in the neck if the polls are any guide: Newspoll at the weekend found the ALP ahead, 55-45; last week, Galaxy called the likely result at 52-48 the same way. The discrepancy — for what it’s worth — seems to be that Newspoll has understated the National Party vote at just 3%, whereas Galaxy recorded it at a more realistic 5%. At the previous state election in 2010, the Nationals polled 6.8%.

If ever there was a government that deserved a second term, it’s Denis Napthine’s here in Victoria; boasting the only state budget in the country that retains the AAA rating Labor types are so fond of, the Coalition in 2010 replaced an aged Labor administration that hid its inability to handle the state’s finances behind a series of infrastructure deals that almost restored the state’s debt position to the levels that existed before Jeff Kennett took the axe to them in 1992.

Just three months ago Napthine’s Treasurer, Michael O’Brien, delivered a budget that was roundly and warmly received with great fanfare and acclaim. But one week later, the Abbott government’s federal effort knocked the stuffing out of the Victorian government’s budget sell, and I agree with other commentators that if Napthine is beaten in November, the blame can and should be sheeted home directly to his federal counterparts. This column has been impartial and unreserved in its criticism of the budget delivered by the federal Coalition. And its fallout — as long as Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey persist with it — knows no bounds.

Of course, here in Victoria there have been other factors at play; the unfortunate but necessary move to switch Premiers 18 months ago isn’t the kind of thing any government would seek to do arbitrarily (the NSW ALP notwithstanding). Notorious ex-Liberal MP Geoff Shaw, who seems set to be expelled from state Parliament when it reconvenes — and deservedly so — has seen to it that for almost two years, the atmosphere around Spring Street has been one of entrenched crisis. And the “leaked tape” scandal that broke in June has scarcely helped either, although that one might well rebound on the ALP and could yet help cost it a state election win.

Yet even so, Napthine — who remains more popular than most of the other state Premiers — has attacked the job of governing with vigour, and it’s a sad reflection on the fact that this dedicated servant of the state of Victoria, trying to get on with making things in the Garden State better for as many people as he can, is perennially thwarted by factors beyond his direct influence.

And it’s a sad state of affairs that a puerile, adolescent oaf like Daniel Andrews is even a shot at becoming Premier. Not that the voters like him; no poll has ever found him to be preferred as Premier, and no poll has ever recorded higher approval for Andrews than his Liberal counterpart. Even now, as it finds Labor up 55-45 in Victoria, Newspoll records just 32% of Victorian voters approving of Andrews, with 41% disapproving, and even that’s probably more than he deserves.

Head up to Sydney yesterday, and the rather triumphant headline in the Daily Telegraph was that the newly installed Liberal Premier, Mike Baird, was set to win a second term for the Coalition when it goes to the polls next March.

Dig a bit deeper, and the same poll — this time, from Galaxy — finds a swing against the state Coalition of almost 10%. Yes, the 2011 state election in NSW and the 64.7% result the Coalition recorded were watersheds. But even so, 10% — if it were to occur in March — is hardly a vote of confidence.

It isn’t difficult to see why; the scourge of corruption, non-compliance and/or official misconduct has claimed a number of Coalition scalps in NSW, including that of former Premier Barry O’Farrell, as the same ICAC machinations that seemed set to keep Labor in opposition for a decade also turned the blowtorch on the government.

My view on such things — that they should be pursued without fear or favour — is undiminished by the embarrassment this has caused the NSW Liberals. But the price of such idiocy is a loss of public support, and what should have been a lay-down misere for the Coalition in NSW in March is increasingly looking like a 1991-style near death experience for the government.

Perversely, the best thing the NSW Liberals have going for them is Labor leader John Robertson, whose Sussex Street connections and union pedigree alone should be enough to render him unelectable; when it’s remembered that this is also a man who admits to self-adjudicating that a $3 million bribe he was offered shouldn’t be referred to ICAC or to Police simply because he said “no” to it, it’s not hard to see why Labor in NSW is unlikely to leap the Coalition citadel in a single bound.

But up in Queensland, Labor may be readying to do precisely that; another first-term Liberal LNP government elected with close to two-thirds of the two-party vote, the trend line in the LNP’s polling over the past 18 months has been a virtually straight line: downwards. It has been too consistent to either ignore or dismiss.

Now sitting on just 52% of the vote, according to the most recent Galaxy poll, the Newman government is already in the statistical grey zone that could see it lose office depending on where the votes fall; the electoral boundaries in Queensland are skewed in favour of Labor by somewhere between 2% and 4% as it is, and it needs to be remembered that 53.7% of the two-party vote in 1995 still returned a Labor government on polling day, albeit by a single seat, and notwithstanding the fact that a disputed return saw a seat change hands at a by-election that led to a minority Coalition government.

But even here, the story is depressingly familiar; a deeply unpopular Premier shadowed by an opposition leader in Annastacia Palaszczuk who is, in round terms, every bit as unpopular as Newman is; Newman seems certain to lose the marginal seat he clings to, whilst a has-been (who never really was) sits in an 80-20 Liberal electorate in Moggill and refuses to budge.

Nobody — even some of the LNP people I talk to in Queensland — suggests for a minute that Newman hasn’t roughed a lot of people up over the past couple of years.

But in this case, a government that has been mostly competent and governed well seems set to suffer heavy losses, if not defeat altogether, and if the latter scenario emerges, then God knows what will happen in Queensland. Labor spent 20 years virtually bankrupting what should be one of the strongest states in the country. For the LNP to squander the massive majority it scored in 2012 and perhaps lose at its first bid for re-election are prospects for which it will have nobody to blame except itself (and for once, that includes Clive Palmer, too).

Up and down the country, the story is the same.

Unpopular first-term conservative governments — whose problems are diverse and the causes of them varied — all facing either defeat or such a hefty kicking as to virtually destroy their authority. In Victoria’s case, the net loss of a single seat would be enough to do it.

And in every case, unpopular oppositions — led by questionable figures like Robertson, unimaginative plodders like Palaszczuk, or dickheads like Andrews — are lining up to fall into office by default; should any or all of them do so, they promise to usher in yet another era of insipid Labor government that will deliver as much as it promises, which at the present time is very little.

It cannot be otherwise: conservative governments, faced with the unruly destructive antics of Labor in opposition, have demonstrated that putting ideas and tough medicine on the menu in the name of the greater good can and will be turned into electoral Kryptonite; if any or all of these governments fall, one of the legacies will be that political parties of all colours will be extremely reticent about rolling out agendas of policy that take any other form than the populist.

And that leads to the real message from all of these polls.

The Abbott government in particular has shown that by trying to please everyone, promising all things to all people and attempting to offend as few people as possible, the end result is that everyone ends up being pissed off: I’ve voted Liberal consistently for nearly 25 years and will continue to do so, but there are plenty of rusted-on conservative voters who are annoyed at the direction the Abbott government has seemed determined to take.

Instead of cutting government spending and eliminating waste, the government has increased taxes in a brazen attempt to have its cake and eat it too: the electoral bribes of the Gillard era are mostly reprieved, with Gonski and the NDIS (and their combined $30 billion annual hit on the federal budget) left undisturbed.

Those cuts in government spending the federal budget does attempt have been efficiently used by all of the forces ranged against the government to howl it down under the auspices of “unfairness.”

In the meantime, the anti-party forces of Clive Palmer prosper, as voters rebel against the major parties who offer nothing, like Labor, or nothing they want to hear, like the Coalition.

And all the while, even “the devil you know” seems as despised by voters as the devil they don’t, with the difference between the two so minor as to be absolutely inconsequential.

That’s the lay of the land this week; politics is everyone’s cup of tea, to put it sarcastically.

In reality, it’s a case of “a pox on all your houses,” as far as voters are concerned. I don’t know what you do to break such a perfect storm of public distaste. But even for those readers whose allegiances lie with the Labor Party, it should be terrifyingly obvious that changes of government are not the way to achieve it.

 

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.