Sydney Siege: Muslim Leaders Right On Gunman’s Corpse

CALLS BY MUSLIM LEADERS to dump the body of Sydney siege perpetrator Man Haron Monis in the sea — or to “chuck him in the bloody shithouse” — are appropriate; leaders in Australia’s Muslim community are right to distance themselves from the gunman, and if actioned, their call has the dual advantages of playing well with the public and of ensuring this criminal can never be made a talisman for terror.

A very quick post from me this morning — again, to share some media coverage and briefly comment — although after today I have a couple of weeks off, and over the break we will obviously pick up our conversation in a little more depth.

But a very populist-sounding call by leaders of Australia’s Muslim community to dump the body of siege leader Man Haron Monis is right on the mark, notwithstanding any complexities that otherwise underpin it.

Both Murdoch and the Fairfax press are reporting this morning that Islamic leaders are distancing themselves from the killed siege orchestrator, stating that “no Muslim funeral home will accept him” and that his body should be chucked “in the bloody shithouse.”

I have no quarrel with this kind of sentiment, and I am not about to quibble for a moment about any concerns around “respect for the dead” or other such wasted sentiment when it comes to such an evil specimen as Man Haron Monis.

After all, this was no model of human virtue in life — as we touched upon earlier in the week — who, by his actions, deserves nothing but scorn and contempt in death.

The notion of burial at sea is nothing new, and has in the past been used, at least in part, to ensure any “martyrdom” of slain radical figures is minimised; the precedent of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is a case in point.

And with radicalised renegade Islamic factions growing — and the threat of this manifesting as terror attacks in Australia growing, as the past week’s events have shown — the last thing this country needs is for any fixed burial plot to be made into some kind of shrine or talisman for would-be emulators to make “pilgrimages” to, or utilise in similarly distasteful acts of objectification and worship.

The ramifications of the siege in Sydney will take some time to fully become clear, although it seems a no-brainer to point out that any show of decency or respect — from any quarter of the Muslim community — is likely to provoke outrage among the wider Australian public.

As it should.

Certainly, the calls to dump the body of this monster at sea (or in “the bloody shithouse,” wherever that is in this particular instance) could be construed as in part a populist response on the part of the Islamic community, which obviously and understandably wishes to dissociate itself from this beast, that should play well with the community at large.

It is, however, also right.

This is one idea from Australia’s Muslims that should be vigorously and enthusiastically enacted.


POTUS 2016: The Bush-Clinton Showdown Is Coming

UNBELIEVABLY, it’s less than two years until Americans elect a President to replace Barack Obama; pundits have long salivated over a contest between Republican Jeb Bush — former Governor of Florida, son of former President George H. W. Bush and brother of George W. Bush — and former Senator Hillary Clinton. This column has already expressed preliminary support for Bush — if he runs. That prospect appears to be drawing closer to reality.

It is — by my standards — a very quick post from me this morning, and in truth, really just to share some material with readers.

It beggars belief to consider that it’s now more than two years since we sat glued to FOX coverage of the US 2012 presidential election, when former Republican strategist Karl Rove insisted GOP candidate Mitt Romney could still be elected even as the decisive swing state of Ohio declared for Barack Obama — sealing his historic, and in retrospect completely unjustified, re-election.

I wanted to post this morning to share a couple of articles being carried in the Fairfax press today; after all, with the recent US mid-term elections that saw Republicans sweep control of Congress (and making Obama a lame duck in every sense for the final years of his stint in the White House) attention in the States will now increasingly turn to who follows him into office, and a crowded field of potential Republican candidates appears to be taking shape more quickly than the number of names suggest.

In truth — barring some miracle of judgement on the part of the Democratic Party — the GOP contest is really to work out who takes on Hillary Clinton in 2016.

My motivation to briefly publish comment on this today stems from a report that Jeb Bush — sometimes referred to as “the competent Bush” — appears to be shifting decisively toward commencing a full-blown run for the Republican nomination; common sense and consideration dictates that were he to do so he would automatically assume frontrunner status, and in the interests of expediency I’m not going to canvass his prospects today either for or agin, other than to reiterate the early support for a Bush candidacy I have previously indicated.

After all, this post is really only to introduce the issue to our conversation, having occupied our consideration literally once or twice in the past couple of years. There will be ample time to talk this through in coming months.

And in any case, this piece gives cursory consideration to the pros and cons of any Bush run that I don’t have any quarrel with.

Rather, a second article (and companion to the first in today’s Fairfax papers) that purports to list out GOP presidential contenders may be of more early interest to readers as a possible guide to who might stand as VP on any ticket headed by Bush.

I tend to think that Bush’s frontrunner status is likely to be enhanced by the considerable experience (and success) he has already recorded as Governor of Florida, as well as the obvious positives he brings in appealing to the Republican base.

And this rules out a lot of the neophytes on the second list, although some of those names come into the mix as a vice-presidential consideration.

Either way, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is likely to fare very badly in the upcoming Republican primary season, credited as he is with swinging last-minute votes behind Obama in 2012 with his glowing praise of the President’s response to Hurricane Sandy, and the subsequent scandals of governance he has faced in his own state.

Obviously, today’s piece is meant as an early talking point: and to provide my own input into this, an early musing over who might be selected as Bush’s running mate if he runs and prevails as the Republican to face off against Clinton.

I tend to think, despite the conservative nature of his Governorship in Florida, that any running mate is likely to be someone to the Right of the Republican Party — partly to offset some of Bush’s perceived drawbacks to the conservative wing of the party, and partly as a sop to it.

And it is likely to be, like Bush, someone who brings “experience” to the table: again, someone like Clinton, with the experience and political muscle she would bring to the Democratic nomination, is unlikely to be beaten by a slate of novices.

The obvious name is Paul Ryan, who stood in second spot on the GOP ticket to Romney two years ago, although whether he would do so again is a point of conjecture.

The names I would single out (at a very, very early stage in the process) are Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who aside from hailing from the Right would balance a Bush ticket geographically, and Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who would provide accommodation (and perhaps perspective) for the Tea Party contingent within the GOP.

In any case, and as I said at the outset, this piece this morning is really only to get the 2016 election into the mix of our discussions. I am certain it will come around again in more detail soon enough: and possibly as soon as the Christmas break, given the odd timing US elections often seem to follow.

I will be back this evening with something a little more topical, and focused on affairs closer to home.


Sydney Siege: If Safe To Do So, Just Shoot The Bastard

AUSTRALIANS — and our friends across the world, especially those who have experienced the outrage of a terror incident — are entitled to feel violated this morning, as the country wakes to a second day of the Sydney siege; the professionalism of response personnel is laudable, yet the welfare of hostages must be weighed against the stability or otherwise of their captor. If the opportunity to do so presents, Police should just shoot the bastard.

There are some readers who will not approve of my advocacy of a summary end to the outrage being played out in Sydney today, as the siege in the Lindt cafe in Martin Place enters its second day.

But the outrage being played out involving an unquantified number of hostages has the potential to turn far uglier than it already has, up to and including a significant and needless loss of life at the hands of what can hardly be described — based on information in the public domain — as a quality individual.

Despite the fact hostages were reportedly made to hold an Islamic State flag across the windows of the cafe at one point (and that the flag remained visible for much of the day yesterday), this is not — as first feared — an organised terror attack; rather, a so-called “lone wolf” acting independently, and said to be a “fringe Islamist.” At time of publication (1.30am, Melbourne time) the man has made no demands except to speak to Tony Abbott on commercial radio, and his motives are unknown.

And it needs to be noted that the mainstream Islamic community has co-operated fully with Australian authorities — as it should — and that there is no reason at all to believe it has any connection whatsoever to this incident.

Even so, the 49-year-old Iranian perpetrator — Man Haron Monis, also self-styled as “Sheik Haron” — is “well known” to Police; having arrived in Australia in 1996 as a refugee he apparently has a lengthy criminal record, including charges over the sexual assault and indecent assault of a woman in 2002, and is currently on bail pending other charges arising from the murder of his ex-wife last year.

In short, the guy shouldn’t even be in Australia as far as I’m concerned: he should have been sent back to wherever was so terrible he fled here to begin with. And if that wasn’t possible, he should never have been released on bail. The fact he was makes a mockery of the community’s expectations of due legal process. The siege underway in Sydney proves it.

Armed with a sawn-off shotgun and a machete, this monument to Australia’s refugee intake program is now holding perhaps 20 innocent bystanders hostage in a one-man reign of terror that has shut down a large portion of the Sydney CBD, disrupted the lives of Sydneysiders generally, and caused great outrage and angst that has resonated far beyond Sydney.

And the only positive thing I can find to say about this incident (aside from the fact none of the hostages have been killed) is that five of those held captive have managed to escape.

But the thing that really concerns me (as I wind up for the day for a few hours’ sleep) is the fact this fellow is known to be irrational, is clearly violent and unstable, and — with the siege already 16 hours old as I publish this — must be growing tired.

There is no telling what he might do if he feels he is losing control over the situation he has created as the veil of sleep begins to descend on him.

He may opt to simply lash out, which would be the worst possible development in an already fraught situation.

And as traumatised as those hostages remaining trapped in the Lindt cafe must be, their ordeal must surely grow worse — and more scarring — the longer it continues.

I don’t pretend for a moment to possess the full facts available to relevant officials and service personnel; these details are rightly known only to those directly involved in dealing with the crisis and who have tried to bring it to a peaceful conclusion.

But in making comment I simply relay an opinion I hold, and one which I have found, during the day yesterday, to be held by the vast majority of the people with whom the siege arose in conversation.

The best thing that could happen, of course, is that he could release the prisoners, hand himself over to the NSW Police, and the whole unfortunate business be quietly dealt with; and this clearly remains a possibility.

The next-best option would be for Monis to fall asleep, and for his hostages to overwhelm and restrain him.

But in the absence of either of those things coming to pass — and if Police around Martin Place can find their way into the building quietly through a roof, acquire a suitable vantage point, or obtain a clear enough sight through the glass windows with a heavy calibre weapon — I have little compunction in suggesting they simply shoot the bastard.

Any concern that such a move would merely inflame others, and inspire copycat and/or retributive events, should be weighed carefully against the ongoing impact of the siege on those trapped inside the cafe and the growing traumatisation a drawn-out and fruitless endeavour to end the event peacefully might cause them in the longer term.

In the end, the welfare of his victims (which is what they are) must be the first priority of those who seek to liberate them; and after almost a full day of the obscenity having now played out, a single fatal shot might also be the easiest, safest and fastest way to bring it to an end.

There is a suggestion in the mainstream press this morning that the siege could drag on for days. It shouldn’t, and it shouldn’t be permitted to.

If it is safe for Police to do so, they should simply shoot the bastard. It might be the least damaging of all the options to deal with this monster that are presently being canvassed.

Short of unconditional surrender by the bandit, however, there is no ideal solution to this obscenity.


Newspoll’s Sinister Christmas Tidings For Abbott

THE FINAL NEWSPOLL for 2014 makes sobering reading for anyone within the federal government, committed to the notion of centre-right conservative government in Australia, or opposed to a resumption in office by the ALP; the voting intentions are awful, Tony Abbott’s numbers worse, and this poll brings nasty festive season surprises at a time bad headlines are not in short supply. Come the new year, Abbott will need to get his skates on.

It has been some time since I have dissected an opinion poll in this column: not because I’m avoiding poor numbers for the government, but simply because I honestly believe it’s a given that everyone knows the Coalition is faring very badly, and that that reality is becoming entrenched. In fact, I have alluded to it, depressingly enough, with increasing regularity in recent times.

Yet the final Newspoll for the year in today’s issue of The Australian carries with it a couple of nasty surprises that if anything deepen the electoral trouble the Abbott government seems to be in, and for all the accusations of disloyalty to the Liberal Party I have fielded (mostly via my mobile phone) for calling things as I see them, it validates the conviction that my judgement of the bind the Coalition is on balance rather more sound than those who accuse me of treachery.

In truth, I’d never do anything that would help facilitate the election of a Labor government. Ever. But to get out of a hole it is necessary to first acknowledge being in one to begin with: and this is something that simply isn’t happening in government circles, not publicly nor — to the best of my knowledge — behind closed doors.

And the spectre of being the first one-term federal government since Jim Scullin’s ALP was booted out during the Great Depression in 1931 looms ever closer.

Newspoll is the opinion poll of choice among the Canberra political set with good reason; come election time it is — almost unswervingly — the most reliable and usually accurate barometer of voter sentiment, and the fact it has in the past couple of months fallen into line with the other reputable opinion polls is cause enough for concern in itself.

Its headline finding this fortnight that Labor leads the Coalition by a 54-46 margin after preferences — mirroring the average of Essential, and Morgan, and Galaxy, and ReachTel — is, in isolation, not especially significant, save for the fact such a result amounts to a 7.5% swing against the Coalition that, if replicated uniformly at an election, would see the ALP win 34 extra seats for a total of 89 of the 150 in the House of Representatives, and with them Labor’s strongest election win since the Hawke government came to power in 1983: and its second-biggest win ever (after, for the aficionados, 1943).

But what should concern Coalition strategists is the fact that for the second time in a month (across two of three Newspolls) the Coalition, with 38% of the primary vote, now trails Labor (39%) on this critical measure despite having maintained its lead during the year, and despite being behind on the two-party measure since the inept May budget derailed its standing. (The Communist Party Greens, with 12%, see their support continue to sit at 2010 levels, with “Others” on 11% — and of that, Clive Palmer’s disintegrating outfit registers just 1%).

Until now, it has been popular (including here) to point to Labor support at anywhere between 33% and 35% and ridicule its “lead” as built on the same or similar voter backing as the embarrassing 33.4% the ALP scored at last year’s election. Now, Labor support has crept up on the Coalition to the point it exceeds the 37% won by Julia Gillard in 2010 that underpinned a narrow election loss.

A similarly sobering phenomenon has crept up on the Liberals by way of the leaders’ personal approval numbers.

With 33% approving and 58% disapproving of him, Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s approval figures are nothing new; they aren’t even the worst he has recorded, and results like this were no bar to him winning last year’s election in a landslide.

But they do show that Abbott has singularly failed to consolidate his position in the eyes of the public, and the storyline many commentators (including myself) foresaw — that freed of the daily pitch battles with Kevin Rudd and the grimy, gender-laced fight with Julia Gillard — Abbott would grow in public estimation as Prime Minister, and gradually win more people over. The fact he hasn’t is an indictment on the way his government has operated.

So, too, is the fact Labor “leader” Bill Shorten — with 37% approving his performance and 43% not — remains more popular than Abbott; only just, of course, and it is reasonable to infer that were it not for 20% of Newspoll respondents remaining indecisive over his performance, his numbers would be just about as bad as Abbott’s.

But the nation’s most reputable poll finds the obsequiously populist Shorten to have been consistently more popular than Abbott all year: and for a man with no policies whatsoever aside from the wholesale abolition of the Private Health Insurance Rebate — a move that would cripple the public health system at a stroke, and which seems to have been quietly dropped in recent times — the idea that someone who stands for absolutely nothing could be more highly feted than the elected Prime Minister of Australia is a damning one indeed.

To ice the cake, Shorten (44%) is preferred as Prime Minister to Abbott (37%) in another key finding he has now led Abbott on for months, after having crept up on this measure during the year too.

My standard disclaimer about not reading too much into a single poll notwithstanding, this is a terrible set of numbers for the government.

It comes in the wake of Abbott’s so-called “barnacle removal” operation of quietly ditching and/or modifying poorly received policies in an attempt to clear the decks of political negatives; the changes to the $7 Medicare co-payment are the most obvious example — there are others — and has been met with a switch in Shorten’s shrill rantings from going on and on about a “GP tax” to lambasting Abbott over the instability exhibited by a change of direction.

It mirrors Shorten’s response to moves to modify Abbott’s “signature” paid parental leave policy; having clamoured for this initiative to be means-tested and reduced in scope, and the savings ploughed into expanded child care measures — and having got these changes, too, in the “barnacle removal” process — Shorten now pillories Abbott for breaking “yet another” election promise.

And it comes in the wake of the explosive fracas over the influence of Peta Credlin on the Abbott government; we have discussed this issue at length in the past week. Now, of course, it has arguably fed into the Abbott government’s poll numbers, and predictably enough, the pro-Labor cheer squad in the biased Fairfax press has leapt on it gleefully, promoting the feud through the anti-women prism Abbott stupidly introduced into national conversations in the ill-advised and poorly considered defence of his adviser.

The small matter that Julie Bishop — in any ballot to replace Abbott as leader — would be embraced by most sections of the Liberal Party as an alternative, especially the Right, seems unimportant. In fact, the only wing of the party that might vacillate is the Turnbull-inclined moderate Left, which is ironic indeed given the ABC and the Fairfax press have been the most vocal in their support of him as well.

The point, without labouring it, is that Abbott and his inner circle have much to contemplate over the silly season.

I think the detonation of the resentment and pent-up anger over Credlin and her office in the past week heralds the arrival of a turning point for the government, and these figures seem to reflect that.

The Coalition government that is run on a command-and-control structure that would make the likes of Brezhnev and Andropov look positively moderate by comparison is further compromised by a lacklustre front bench that needs rejuvenation whilst an embarrassment of riches sits un-promoted on its backbench, wedded to a budget that should never have been delivered and is in no way representative of a conservative government, and whilst political strategy and tactics — to say nothing of effective salesmanship and marketing to the electorate, of which there is none — produce daily and weekly political disasters for the government that it seems unable or unwilling to effectively resolve.

The odds on this government losing office in a little over 18 months’ time are shortening.

If Abbott is to prevail, the Christmas break and silly season must be spent re-evaluating, recalibrating and relaunching the overall thrust and strategy of his government.

He will have to get his skates on. Labor is not the only opponent he faces. Despite talk of not emulating ALP leadership instability, some elements of the Coalition will not meekly go down without a fight, or at least a change of leadership, if the present alignment of circumstances persists. And his office, which runs every aspect of his administration but is apparently accountable for none of it on the grounds of a “sexist” attack, will either have to be drastically overhauled or gutted and rebuilt from scratch.

Come the new year, Tony Abbott is going to have to start running for his political life.


No, Prime Minister, Criticising Credlin Is Not “Sexism”

FRUSTRATION AND FURY have erupted in the Coalition this week; the latest twist — a suggestion by Tony Abbott that criticising his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, is “sexist” — is not just wrong, but offensively so. The government is ending 2014 in an almost cataclysmic political position, and Credlin and her staff bear more than a little blame. Intervening as he has, Abbott has legitimised questions over his judgement and his tenure as Prime Minister.

I’m not going to labour the point today, for we have already talked about the growing problem of the Prime Minister’s Office under Peta Credlin’s leadership twice this week — here and here — and there is an increasing volume of content appearing in the mainstream press on the same subject, from highly reputable writers whose research and sources are almost invariably impeccable, and who take no interest whatsoever in flying kites and mischief-making: such as respected veteran journalist Laurie Oakes in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph today, and Peter van Onselen over at The Australian.

But the suggestion from Tony Abbott that the criticism being levelled at his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, derives from the fact that she is a woman is incorrect, offensive, and represents a misguided overreach of loyalty that could ultimately turn speculation onto his own position as leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister.

As Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, Credlin heads up a team at the very heart of the Abbott government; this team — notoriously — exercises the tightest and most centrally determined control regime over any federal government that has sat in Canberra to date, and whilst every own goal kicked by the PMO may not derive from Credlin directly, as the figurehead in charge of this hand-picked outfit, responsibility for its activities (and its glaring mistakes) rests with her.

It’s not a job in which the “all care and no responsibility” outlook can be applied.

Yet that — based on the (few) defences made of Ms Credlin publicly — seems to be precisely the view her detractors are apparently meant to adopt: until yesterday this was supposedly because Credlin’s influence in opposition “got” the Liberal Party into government.

Now, it seems — according to Abbott — we are meant to believe that criticising Credlin is “sexist,” and Abbott, of all people, ought to know better than to throw gender slurs into the political mix when there is little or no justification to do so.

Certainly, Credlin (who, despite claims of eschewing media attention, has the highest public profile of anyone in her role to date) has noted that at official events abroad and in meeting officials and dignitaries from other governments she has at times struggled to be taken seriously, and been confronted with the view that the Prime Minister’s CoS is a “Peter Credlin” on more than one occasion.

I don’t dispute that incidents such as this occur, and I don’t suggest for a moment that they are anything other than demeaning to her as a woman and inappropriate (assuming, that is, that there isn’t a simple misunderstanding in the first place that “Peta” is a lady). But holding them up as evidence that criticism of her is sexist simply doesn’t cut it.

Rather, to do so misses the point: the PMO (and with Credlin in charge of it) has arguably bungled the job of efficiently running a politically productive and effective government. It is well known, both publicly and behind the scenes, that ultimate authority in the PMO rests with Credlin, which means the buck stops with her too.

The PMO controls the government’s parliamentary strategy.

The PMO controls the government’s press and media relations strategy.

The PMO controls the government’s parliamentary policy agenda, including (but in no way limited to) the disastrous, ill-conceived, poorly marketed and politically incendiary budget delivered by Joe Hockey as Treasurer in May.

The PMO controls who has access to the Prime Minister, on what terms, and even what is permissible to discuss when meetings between the Prime Minister and his MPs are convened.

The PMO controls the process of virtually every internal function of government, from the recruitment of personnel to the approval of material for Cabinet consideration, through to the travel arrangements of MPs and (as we now know) even the ability of ministers to attend international functions that are relevant to their portfolios.

In short, the tendrils of the PMO reach into every conceivable function and orifice of the process of governance, and it is arguable — given the dreadful standing of the Abbott government in all of the reputable opinion polls and the apparent low regard in which it is held by the voting public — that it has failed on every one of these measures.

It matters not whether Credlin has a penis or a vagina: she is the official responsible for all of these things, and on her watch all have been botched.

And micromanagement regimes wrought in control freakery, paranoia, excessive secrecy and the near-complete denial of the state of the real world beyond the walls of the citadel in which they operate are hardly a female preserve, or even gender-specific at all. One look in the rear-view mirror at Kevin Rudd proves this quite neatly.

Yet by the same token, women in roles like the one Credlin occupies are not immune to criticism simply because they are female, and nor should they be.

I don’t really care whether Credlin (or anyone else in charge of the PMO) wears a skirt, pants, or whether they are man or woman — the only criteria for success is whether or not they do the job properly and again, the Abbott government is travelling so badly that it is difficult to conclude that Ms Credlin is doing so.

Especially when the PMO has a very large controlling hand in virtually everything the government does.

Viewed through this paradigm, Abbott’s claim that Credlin “would not face the same criticism if she were a man” is disingenuous, distasteful in the extreme, and through a misguided overreach of loyalty introduces the same divisive red herring into the defence of his staffer that was maliciously — and wrongly — deployed against him by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her so-called handbag hit squad.

At the very least, Abbott should know better.

There are good and valid reasons for the frustration and fury that is beginning to spill over into the public domain about the way his government is being run; I would wager very few (if any) of Abbott’s ministers contemplate the prospect of returning to opposition after a single term in office with any enthusiasm.

The cynical use of gender politics is no defence to bad performance, poor judgement, or highly adverse political outcomes: it wasn’t when Gillard tried it on and it certainly isn’t now.

Apparently Credlin is unhappy that the fact her husband, Brian Loughnane, is federal director of the Liberal Party is “constantly referenced” by the media.

But as perhaps the most politically powerful pairing in Australia at present — with one in charge of the organisational wing of the governing party and the other in charge of the operation of that government — questions based on the appropriateness or otherwise of so much influence being concentrated in one couple are justified.

And aside from enraging just about every Coalition voter in Australia who was affronted by Gillard and her “misogyny” misadventure (deployed, it must be remembered, to try to shore up as Speaker a man who’d been caught sending absolutely disgusting filthy text messages about female genitalia), Abbott has brought the whole stink closer to himself, and the issues of his judgement and his loyalty to Credlin raise for the first time the issue of his own political mortality.

In apparently “owning” what the PMO does in an attempt to bolster Credlin’s defence, Abbott risks tarring himself with the political calamity the PMO appears to be crafting: maybe his office “does what (he) asks it to do” as he says.

But his office is steering the government onto the rocks of electoral oblivion, and if Abbott can’t or won’t see that, then the unthinkable — a change in the federal leadership of the Liberal Party — might be the only way to get the PMO operating in the party’s best political interests rather than slowly obliterating its stocks.

I have said in this column before that Credlin remains the best-placed to effect change, both in the PMO and in the government more widely, and she is; and irrespective of her failings (or the failings of the PMO under her stewardship) she remains a capable operator with the ability to significantly advance the government’s agenda.

But clearly there is work to do, and if the government were ahead (or even merely thereabouts) in the polls, winning the day at least as often as it loses, and making clear progress toward fulfilling the brief it was elected upon, then nobody would be criticising Credlin at all.

A lecturer in government at the University of Queensland once told me — in direct reference to active politics — that if you want to enjoy the status, you have to eat the shit, and this blunt edict on the lot of MPs and those surrounding them (if inelegantly expressed) is particularly relevant in this case.

Everyone should forget about the gender barbs, or flinging accusations of sexism around, and confront the very real problems this government faces.

The government ends the year (and virtually the first half of its first term) in almost cataclysmic political shape, and whilst recovery is always possible, it will take a lot of hard work — and a much more shrewd approach to the mechanics of governance than has, to date, been shown.

Loyalty is admirable, but too much of it in the wrong circumstances is both misguided and self-destructive: and whilst Abbott’s famed loyalty to those around him is a significant personal strength, doubling down in this regard — and accusing anyone who wants to call Credlin out for the potentially disastrous consequences of the activities of the office she runs of rank sexism — could ultimately take Abbott down as well if he persists in such a ridiculous, and overtly provocative, defence of her that has no justification when the hard outcomes of the PMO’s best efforts are considered.

The irony — if Abbott were to fall under the proverbial bus — that his likeliest replacement would be a woman should be lost on no-one, and nor should the fact that the first person to be thrown out in any “house clean” by a new Prime Minister would probably be Credlin, and especially if Abbott’s replacement is in fact Julie Bishop.

No, Prime Minister, criticising Peta Credlin is not “sexist.”

Persisting with the suggestion that it is could see Abbott with a lot more time on his hands, and a lot sooner than anyone imagined or thought possible.

Either way, none of this helps the government or the country. Australia is crying out for real leadership.

Right now, the government cannot claim to be delivering anything of the sort: and for that, Credlin and the operation she runs are culpable.


Victoria: Results And Pendulum From State Election

WITH RESULTS NOW AVAILABLE in the 88 Lower house electorates from the state election held in Victoria a fortnight ago, an updated election pendulum is available — with the inferences and conclusions that will form the “sifting of the probabilities” for the next four years now able to be drawn. The Labor win is deceptively narrow. Liberals will need a solid swing to win the seven extra seats to form government.

This morning’s post really is a quick one; the ABC’s rightly renowned election guru Antony Green has posted an updated election pendulum for Victoria in the wake of the recent state election that saw Labor swept to power, and knowing this is a resource readers often come looking for following an election, I simply want to share it today.

At first glance, the Labor win looks quite modest, and in terms of seats it is; the ALP resumes office in Victoria with 47 seats in the lower house — a majority of 6 over all other parties — with 38 Coalition MPs (30 Liberals, 8 Nationals), two Communists Greens, and an Independent in Shepparton.

Yet using the notion of uniform swing, this “narrow” win shows the Coalition really needs quite a solid swing if it is to unseat new Premier Daniel Andrews in four years’ time: the eighth extra seat needed to fall, on a uniform swing, is Albert Park in Melbourne’s inner south, on a 3.0% margin; should the Liberals and Nationals not renew their Coalition agreement (which at time of writing is an obvious “unknowable unknown”), then the Liberals need an extra 15 seats to win in their own right — and looking up the table, that means everything up to and including Bellarine in the Geelong basin, and a 4.8% uniform movement to boot.

The Liberal Party last won outright majorities in 1992 and 1996 (in Coalition) and of course formed government in its own right after elections between (and including) 1955 and 1979, so the latter scenario — whilst improbable — certainly isn’t out of the question.

In both of those scenarios I have, of course, discounted Richmond, which despite is slender margin, is a Labor-Greens contest that is unlikely to ever be won by the Liberal Party.

Interestingly enough, the seats in the “sandbelt” in Melbourne’s south-east, along the eastern shore of Port Phillip Bay, which so much comment has focused on — Bentleigh, Carrum, Frankston and Mordialloc — would be the first to fall to the Liberals, and all would be retrieved on a swing of roughly 2%: enough to send the ALP into minority, all other things being equal, and suggestive of the fact Labor has its work cut out to hold them.

The politics of the Frankston train line are a double-edged sword: yes, the ALP has harnessed discontent over the slow pace of improvements along Melbourne’s busiest rail corridor, and the failure of the beaten government to deliver the promised station at Southland shopping centre didn’t help its efforts to hold them.

But the ALP is about to find out what it already should know: the kind of capital works needed to bring the line up to scratch are a slow boat indeed, and voters in these seats will punish it heavily if it is seen to have under-delivered by 2018.

I think the rest of this is self-explanatory and, as ever, we will likely feature the details of Antony’s pendulum quite a bit in our ongoing discussions over the state of play in Victoria.

As I said at the outset, this morning’s post is really about getting a resource to readers that I know is eagerly sought after, and shows up in search results throughout parliamentary terms at various points — so here it is.

I will probably have something a bit more topical to post late this evening: there is, after all, an awful lot going on at the moment…


Bishop Must Prevail In Stoush With Credlin

THE PRIME MINISTER’S Chief of Staff is in the headlines again this week — for all the wrong reasons — this time for allegedly vetoing the attendance of Foreign minister Julie Bishop at a climate change conference in Peru; Credlin has an important role to play in the operational efficiency of the government, but her place should be kept in perspective. Ministers and MPs are answerable to voters, not some jumped-up adviser.

As is ever the case with critics of the Liberal Party and of the Abbott government particularly, it never fails to surprise how malleable their righteous bleatings can be.

Shortly after the Coalition win at last year’s election — as Peta Credlin’s influence over staff appointments was beginning to ruffle feathers — the chorus from (mostly) the Left was one of indignation: how dare one unelected official wield so much power over an elected government? Now, however, as dissent and defiance toward the Prime Minister’s office percolates at a rolling boil, the same anti-Coalition voices (with a vested interest in the continuity of her shortcomings) profess outrage that a single, individual adviser could be so victimised and pilloried for simply doing her job.

Yes, there’s an outrage afoot all right, and to listen to the voices of the government’s enemies, the growing anger over Peta Credlin’s influence and the degree of control she wields over the government is the real evil in the equation.

But discipline in government and the efficient operation of a well-oiled machine are one thing; a central control edifice that arguably runs counter to the electoral and political interests of the government is something else again, and the ugly fracas that appears to have spilt over into the national press this week between Bishop and Credlin is symptomatic of the latter.

I have written in this column, many times, that the job Credlin did in welding the Coalition into a cohesive unit to fight the 2013 election was outstanding, and that the discipline in Coalition ranks that helped deliver government was achieved in no small measure as a result of her presence and her skill as a political fighter.

But since that point there has been ample reason for those committed to seeing the Abbott government succeed in office to grow uneasy, and whether true or not — or whether she and her acolytes like it or not — all roads lead back to the Prime Minister’s Office on her watch, and so does responsibility for a growing list of the government’s shortcomings and failings.

The problem — succinctly stated — is that Credlin has been free to either manage the government’s activities on every conceivable front, or to veto everything in sight, and whether political error derives from Credlin personally or the cabal of insiders she is cosseted in the Prime Ministerial bunker with, the effective end reality is unchanged.

On the latter count, the veto has been wielded with almost reckless abandon; the point at which I stopped defending Credlin to anyone who asked came when I learned that her central vetting panel for appointing advisers extended beyond the realm of ministerial offices, and instead reached right down into the individual electorate offices of Coalition MPs, with even the lowliest secretarial shitkicker roles subject to central approval or rejection.

Despite the insistence by anyone who was asked that MPs were free to hire whoever they liked — which they should have been — it was an exercise in micromanagement that bordered on the pathological.

We know, of course, that the PMO has had a high level of control over what ministers are permitted to say in press conferences; readers will recall the embarrassment of Immigration minister Scott Morrison flubbing the lines he had been given to regurgitate on one occasion early this year, only to be visibly berated by Credlin on the sidelines once the media conference had concluded. It is a single example but it is telling. And it wasn’t a good look.

Strategies, parliamentary tactics, policy initiatives, and the schedules of ministers are all managed on a short rein from the PMO, which seems happy for elected representatives to wear any opprobrium arising from the discharge of instructions — irrespective of the merit of those instructions — yet immune from any of the fallout, simply continuing to issue orders and exercise control from a fortified bunker that seems beyond any measure of accountability.

Yet if one chooses to wield the control and authority of the PMO as it is being wielded, and if the veto of just about everything in sight is exercised ruthlessly, relentlessly and remorselessly, then the inevitable fallout and consequences must also be accepted as part of the remit, not shuffled down the line or blame transferred onto those actually elected to govern.

And the tendency to extreme micromanagement (which is never the best approach to the administration of anything involving large numbers of people) exhibited by the PMO appears to be reaping the results that micromanagement regimes in business almost invariably yield: the spiralling loss of control, compliance and cohesion that comes from the sheer resentment of people being treated like idiots — in this case, the government’s own MPs.

The latest alleged spat that has found its way into the pages of the press between Credlin and Foreign minister Julie Bishop has been met, predictably and commendably enough and from both sides, with standard rote denials and the insistence that these two forceful and highly capable women share a robustly functional professional relationship.

I have my doubts, but even accounting for media sensationalism and the penchant for the odd mischievous journalist or three to fly a kite, the consistency of this type of material spilling into the public domain simply wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t more than an atom of truth to it.

The episode over the veto of Bishop’s attendance at a conference in Peru — later overturned by Cabinet approval, which in turn was met with the PMO insisting Trade minister Andrew Robb be sent as a “chaperone,” which is a novel euphemism for keeping an eye on her if ever there was one — and the subsequent growing clamour from disgruntled MPs who find themselves shut off from the Prime Minister in every way except the receipt of orders from his office highlights how serious the problem (and the disconnect) between the Prime Minister’s Office and the actual government has grown.

In my view, the consequences are writ large: a government flailing in the polls, with a ministry providing succour to a number of no-hopers, no-shows and non-performers, acting on a political strategy apparently designed to return the Coalition to opposition, and as whatever dubious strategy the Coalition is following flounders.

If anyone inside the little unelected cabal running the government disagrees with that assessment, then they should get out more, frankly. It doesn’t take a lot of time talking to people disconnected with politics in a structural sense to realise that — rightly or wrongly — the Abbott government is not travelling well, and is unlikely to win an election any time soon unless a fundamental and profound shift occurs in the strategies it is currently welded to.

Nobody can have it both ways; Credlin might be a formidable operator and yes, she can point to significant political accomplishments that entitle her to a degree of the credit for getting Tony Abbott elected in the first place.

But what has transpired in the 15 months since is also a chronology she owns and must wear, for whether Credlin personally — or the overall structure that is the PMO, which in turn is tantamount to the same thing — has left this government, near the midway point of its first term in office, in a precarious political position.

There are things beyond any government’s control, and the obstruction of the Senate and the reprehensible conduct of Labor “leader” Bill Shorten in his approach to his role as alternative Prime Minister are two cases in point. But on any objective analysis, those things well within the capacity of the Coalition to influence and control are, to put it bluntly, being mishandled far too often, and more often than not.

The bickering between the parliamentary wing of the government and the PMO has gone on too long; it is never a good look for these matters to be laid out before the public. The fact they are reflects in this case the justified frustration of both Coalition MPs and of others, beyond the parliamentary realm but firmly committed to the success of the government, and all of whom can see the growing stain being left on it: and the likely electoral consequences of the “simply stand firm” approach that is being taken too often, and almost entirely in relation to the wrong things to be defending in the first place.

If Ms Credlin wanted to do the government a real favour, she would marshal her minions to see a ministerial reshuffle occurs in the new year, along with a critical and wholesale stocktake of who in the adviser pool is performing and who, really, is not: loyalty and pride are admirable attributes, but not when their repercussions might include the loss of government at an election after a single term.

That, in short, is where the Abbott government now stands.

It is why, in the latest of a litany of embarrassing confrontations between Ms Credlin (or her hand-picked lieutenants) and other forces within the government, Bishop must prevail, and be seen to prevail: in the actual sense, among government MPs and elsewhere internally, and in the eyes of the public.

Ultimately, the government, its MPs and its ministers are answerable to voters, not to some jumped-up unelected adviser whose influence is arguably now doing far more damage than good: and it would be wise, even if for no better reason than self-preservation, for the likes of Ms Credlin and those in charge of the mechanics of what has been a poorly operated government, to take stock — and to respond accordingly, whilst the time and opportunity to do so still exist.