A Few Words On The Jill Meagher case

By now, readers will know of the horrific ordeal of Melbourne woman Jillian Meagher, who disappeared a week ago; her body recovered from a shallow grave this morning, and a suspect charged with her rape and murder. It is chilling, it is a tragedy, and it is an opportunity for the community.

I’m not going to say much, and I urge readers to be restrained in their comments (or at the very least, mindful that the matter is now before the Courts, and thus it is imperative that none of us say anything that might prejudice the fairness of the trial).

Like many people in Melbourne — and across the country — I’m aghast at what happened to Jill Meagher; a woman who went out with colleagues for drinks, and never made it home.

It’s a salutory reminder that none of us are as safe as we would like to be, and a reminder too that for whatever good there is in the world, evil exists too.

And sometimes, evil is a force too strong to be reckoned with.

I didn’t know Jill Meagher, but people I have worked with did; as an ABC employee in Melbourne and thus a fellow media industry person, our “circles” if you like overlapped. And so this episode lands fairly close to home; not that that makes any difference.

Social media have assisted Police to identify and incarcerate a suspect quickly and efficiently; it is now to be hoped that the impending trial proceeds expeditiously and smoothly, and that justice is done — and seen to be done.

It is on this point specifically that I urge caution upon my readers; not just in terms of any comments that may be posted here, but in their conversations and communications elsewhere.

Whatever the end result of the judicial process may be, it is unwise to canvass or to speculate upon it; indeed, the only “change” likely to be effected by doing so is to compromise the prosecution case and/or lead to its abandonment — and I don’t think anyone would wish that.

So let us all be very circumspect; there will be a time and a place for recriminations and for opinions.

Yet later, when the time is appropriate, these events may be the catalyst for a community discussion or debate about standards: what degree of punishment is appropriate as a reflection of community standards and expectations, and how the judicial sentencing process might be reformed to better serve those standards.

I must reiterate, for clarity: I am not prejudging anything here, although many will, and some will interpret my remarks as a call for a reintroduction of the death penalty (which, admittedly, I certainly believe appropriate in cases of aggravated rape and murder generally).

But I make the point from the perspective that so often, people complain about the leniency of sentences and the inadequacy of penalties; there are lobby groups built around such sentiments, with violence against children an obvious example that springs to mind.

So whilst there is a lot of anger and grief and a desire for vengeance around this issue — and understandably, if not rightly so — I would call on all readers just to wait.

For now.

And in the fullness of time, the one positive that might come from this week’s tragic events in Melbourne may well be that Meagher’s legacy is to spark a reform of penalties and sentencing in criminal matters, initiated by her peers, to better reflect the expectations of the community at large.

In the meantime, my condolences and thoughts are with Jill’s husband, Tom, and their family; her ABC colleagues and friends, and to all of those around her who, by all accounts, have lost a very special friend.

And to the rest of you, my message is simple: look after each other, and yourselves.

And remember the difference between safety and mortality is sometimes a matter of seconds, or inches, let alone a question of degrees.

John Elliott As Deputy Lord Mayor Of Melbourne…One Word: Why?

I like John Elliott; from his days as a corporate high flyer in the 80s and 90s to his presidency of the Carlton Football Club — and from the highs to the lows — I have always had a lot of time for him. But his new ambition to be Deputy Lord Mayor of Melbourne isn’t just wrong, it’s ridiculous.

Today brought the news that Elliott will stand in next month’s local council elections in Melbourne, on a ticket headed by opinion pollster and serial mayoral candidate Gary Morgan, and my immediate reaction is to ask “why?”

The move makes no sense for a number of reasons; moreover, it is impossible to imagine Elliott being fulfilled as a result — even if he and Morgan were to win.

And that is a very, very remote possibility.

Like him or hate him, Gary Morgan polarises people; it goes with the turf whenever intellect, energy and ego intersects. I don’t mind Gary Morgan, either, but he’s stood as Lord Mayor in Melbourne previously, and lost.

Why should 2012 be any different?

Elliott’s entry, on Morgan’s ticket, is at first glimpse clever; it adds substance and a recognition factor to the ticket that would otherwise struggle to stand out in what is always a crowded field.

Yet the historical portents point to Elliott as deputy being a bad decision for all concerned.

John Elliott is used to being in charge; the man who once built a $100 million fortune on the back of a small jam making company he singlehandedly built into an Australian corporate giant is a man accustomed to the final say, and to getting his own way.

He ran that giant — Elders IXL, and later Foster’s Brewing Group — from the top, as he did during his 19-year tenure as President at the Carlton Football Club.

His tenure at both ended badly, but good or bad, Elliott was indisputably in charge at both until the end.

His record as a deputy (or more accurately, a player of second fiddle) can really only be judged on the period during the 1980s in which he was also the federal President of the Liberal Party; whilst nominally the head of the Liberal organisation, the role of President very much takes a back seat behind that of the parliamentary leader.

Early during his time as President, he was a constant thorn in the side of then-leader John Howard during the latter’s first unhappy stint in that role.

Later in his presidency of the Liberals, Elliott was instrumental in Howard’s removal and the reinstatement of “his man” Andrew Peacock, under whom he felt the Liberals would better reflect his own political and business-related objectives.

Elliott was also tipped as a future Prime Minister during this period; indeed, he was the first in a long line of figures (from both sides of Parliament) to attempt to be parachuted concurrently into Parliament and the Prime Ministership (or Premiership) at once.

The point is that Elliott, perhaps nobody’s fool, has never taken second prize as a triumph; not in business, not in sport, and not in politics. It has always been win outright or bust: and I suspect it will be the same in his candidature alongside Morgan.

Still, the ticket does have some things going for it — mostly emanating from the office of the incumbent.

Robert Doyle is an affable and likeable character; indeed, on one level, his apparently limitless energy is an ideal prerequisite for the high office of Lord Mayor of Melbourne.

Yet his four years in the job have seen little happen of substance in Melbourne, and what has changed on his watch has been misguided.

For example, Doyle was elected on a solemn pledge to reopen Swanston Street to vehicular traffic; whilst the idea of a second pedestrian mall in the Melbourne CBD is appealing, Swanston Street could have gone a long way toward relieving the traffic gridlock that is slowly strangling Melbourne.

Instead, once elected, Doyle adroitly reneged on the promise.

Similarly, the creeping infestation of so-called “super stops” on tram lines in and around the city centre has continued to spread; not only do these halve the available carriageway for vehicular traffic, but they encourage taxis, couriers, and anyone else dropping off or picking up in the CBD to double park along whole streets, rendering traffic visibility negligible and creating hazards in turn for both road traffic and pedestrians.

For a conservative Liberal of Robert Doyle’s vigour, it has been simultaneously a surprise and a disappointment to have watched him spend four years effectively implementing the Greens’ policies in the City of Melbourne.

And as someone who has lived in Melbourne for nearly 15 years and absolutely loves the place — believe me, Melbourne is in my DNA, I love it so much — it is difficult to think of a single resounding instance of Cr Doyle’s administration changing anything of great note for the better in Melbourne since 2008.

So this may help Morgan and Elliott; certainly, Elliott thinks Doyle has had his time, and must now move on. But if the Doyle record is of use to Morgan and Elliott, then it is of equal use to the several other tickets lining up to contest the election as well.

And this brings me back to Elliott and Morgan.

Were Elliott to head the ticket, with Gary Morgan as his deputy, I’d reckon the duo’s odds of winning would rocket. Elliott is a polarising figure too, of course — people literally love or hate him — but he has traded for years on his own brand of “controversial” as a larger-than-life figure in this town, and of the pair, I’d rate him as the ticket’s main electoral drawcard.

But on another level again, politics is still politics — and Elliott, a former bankrupt found guilty of allowing a company to trade insolvent, now standing on a ticket talking of running Melbourne “like a business,” provides some of his opponents who may choose to be less than ethical ample scope to get into the gutter if they wish to.

(And I’m not talking about Robert Doyle).

What do people think? Could Elliott play second-stringer as a huge fish in a tiny pool?

Melbourne By-Election: Too Close To Call, But The Messages Are Mixed

With the Victorian Electoral Commission posting final figures for the night — on about 60% of all votes counted — Labor leads Communist Greens candidate Cathy Oke by about 200 votes after preferences. Tomorrow the count will proceed, but the trends are already clear.

Today’s by-election in the state seat of Melbourne — caused by the resignation from Parliament of controversial former Labor minister Bronwyn Pike — has as expected gone down to the wire; it will likely be some days before a definite result is known.

At the close of counting, Dr Oke has a reasonable lead on primary votes over the ALP candidate, Jennifer Kanis, and is ahead by 37.75% of the vote to 32.41% (or about 1300 votes) which gives Ms Kanis a slender 50.4% lead, after preferences, based on the nominal distribution from the votes counted by the Commission this evening.

Twitter colleague (and usually dead-eye accurate source of information) @ghostwhovotes is reporting that when postal votes are added, the Labor vote after preferences increases to 51.38%, so whilst that would put Kanis in a good position, it’s still a trifle early (at 11.30pm) to call the result.

Much has been written about this by-election in recent weeks and days, and a lot of silly interpretations of what its result would mean have been made; interesting, that, given technically there still isn’t a result to interpret.

Still, there are a few observations I would make, and these are generally out of step with some of the wild pronouncements that have been made in the mainstream press.

This is a bad result for Daniel Andrews and the Victorian ALP; 18 months after the state election that ended Labor’s stint in government, its vote has gone backwards quite sharply in an electorate it should have easily retained.

There has been a lot made of the fact the Liberal Party did not contest this by-election; accusations of cowardice have been levelled at that party for not standing a candidate on the basis it had too much to lose on account of the supposed inaction and poor performance of the state government under Premier Ted Baillieu.

This ignores the fact that the Liberals under Ted Baillieu have generally chosen not to contest vacant Labor electorates at by-elections; I think this has been a mistake, especially in Albert Park a few years ago, in Niddrie earlier this year and in Melbourne today.

Even so, looking at the votes cast today and those recorded at the state election in November 2010, it’s easy to see the Liberal vote didn’t “go” anywhere, per se; Labor and the Greens aside, the other 14 candidates pulled in about 30% of the total vote between them, and that figure — in round terms — is what the Liberals got at the last election.

And whilst Labor has suffered a swing against it based on the 2010 result, the primary vote movement has largely been a direct transfer of votes from the ALP to the Greens, and not enough — it seems — to have cost it the seat.

Indeed, the likely result looks very similar to the state election result in Melbourne from 2006, when the Liberals both stood a candidate and directed preferences to the Greens.

And so, this is a bad result for Andrews and the state ALP. Why? Very simply, having run as hard as he has for as long as he has on the theme of what might be termed the general uselessness of the Baillieu government — aided, it must be said, by the commentary and coverage of virtually every media outlet in Melbourne — Andrews and his party have gone backwards in what traditionally is a heartland electorate.

If the germs of a move back to Labor existed, they would have been visible today; as a rule, the heartland always returns to the fold of a beaten party before the marginals do, and as it stands, Labor has suffered a swing of just over 5% against it in Melbourne and will struggle to retain the seat.

And despite Andrews’ exhortations to voters in Melbourne, there is no “message” being sent to Ted Baillieu on this occasion.

It suggests Andrews has a lot of work to do; many of the issues he has been most vocal about — transport, infrastructure, public service levels — are more keenly felt in the Melbourne electorate than elsewhere in the state. Obviously, that message has not resonated. And the Melbourne electorate, today, has dealt Andrews a significant setback.

It’s been a good result, conversely, for the Greens, and whilst Dr Oke may not have won the electorate — this time — it is clear that the Greens continue to encroach into traditional Labor areas, leaching support and votes, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

I don’t think the contest between the Greens and Labor for support and votes has much to do with the federal government, and it certainly has nothing to do with the Liberals not standing today.

Rather, I believe what we are witnessing is the early stages of a fundamental realignment of the mainstream Left in Australian politics, which may well end with the emergence of a new major force representing so-called progressive policies along the lines of the Social Democratic parties in Europe and the Democrats in the USA. Time will tell.

In any case, Oke has done just as well today in receiving preferences as the Greens did in 2006, when Liberal candidates were preferencing them, which is a hint that the whole Libs not running/not directing preferences concept did not cost the Greens seats in 2010.

Clearly, nobody will ever definitively know what the result may have been had the Liberals run a candidate. But as it stands, the flow of preferences has been roughly 60% to the ALP and 40% to the Greens, which is about what might be expected — accounting for the leakage of preferences — had there been a Liberal candidate directing Labor be placed ahead of the Greens on how-to-vote cards.

I am told that Oke is earmarked by the Greens as someone with a bright political future; someone who will be the face of the Greens in Victoria for many years to come. Whilst I disagree with her party and her politics completely — on every level — she has done herself no disservice today, and her performance builds on the general momentum the Greens have been creating in inner Melbourne for several years.

Today’s result is a good one for Julia Gillard, but not for the obvious reasons; clearly, Labor winning the seat means she and her government cannot be made scapegoats for yet another electoral disaster, but by the same token Gillard has studiously avoided campaigning in Melbourne, and Andrews has studiously avoided enlisting her to do so.

Today’s result — warts and all — reflects squarely on Daniel Andrews, and if I were him I’d be looking for ways, urgently, to lift my game — and fast. This result is a loud wake up call to Victorian Labor; whether it listens or not is another matter altogether.

And of Ted Baillieu?

It’s hard to say whether this is good or bad for Baillieu; if Labor wins, his strategy to deny the Greens entry to Parliament at all costs appears vindicated; if the Greens win, the breathing room for the Coalition on the floor of Parliament becomes that little bit clearer. Either way, Baillieu wins, but here’s another reason the Liberals should contest every by-election that occurs on its watch from this point forward.

Had the Greens won today, Baillieu would confront a dilemma at the next state election: preference Labor in a seat like Melbourne and risk handing the ALP the gain of a seat at a tight election; preference the Greens and make a mockery of the “principled” anti-Greens stand made prior to the 2010 election.

If the Greens are to win lower house seats — in Victoria or anywhere else — it’s essential that they do so with a Liberal candidate on the ballot paper, even if the Liberal directs preferences away from the Greens.

To do otherwise would be to risk a repeat of the sort of scare campaign used against the Coalition over preferences and One Nation 15 years ago; it was badly handled then and it hurt the conservatives; this is precisely the type of scenario that could do so again.

The only alternative would be to pick a handful of seats — say, Melbourne, Northcote, Brunswick and Richmond — and never contest them, or to run “Independent Liberals” in these seats. Another possibility would be to run National Party candidates in these seats as “Coalition candidates.”

However, these options would simply disenfranchise voters in these areas wanting to vote Liberal, to say nothing of breeding resentment in local party branches that could intensify into a major internal brawl the Liberal Party didn’t need.

It’s obvious Labor — setting all the problems with its federal wing aside — has its fair share of problems to deal with at present; today’s vote underlines this, although it is not readily clear as to how the ALP can deal with these, let alone resolve them.

Where it goes from here, however — in Victoria at least — is a matter for another post, and another day.