Shorten “Dream Team” A Foul, Seething Brew From The Septic Tank

OPPOSITION “LEADER” Bill Shorten has reshuffled his frontbench days after a rearrangement of the Coalition benches, describing his new shadow ministry as a “dream team” that will make Education the opposition’s focus; if the line-up announced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week was a damp squib, the ALP’s is far worse. Rather than talk of a “dream team,” a creature from beneath the septic tank is a more useful analogy to paint.

It was with no apparent sense of irony that Fairfax journalist Nicole Hasham, writing in The Age yesterday, eulogised

“Senator Penny Wong, one of the (Labor) party’s most accomplished talents, will give up the trade and investment portfolios for the coveted foreign affairs gig. She will juggle the responsibilities with an already large workload as Labor’s leader in the Senate.”

The truth be told, Wong — a Finance minister in the last Labor government who was party to the accrual of hundreds of billions of dollars in Commonwealth debt — is an unrepresentative and unreconstructed socialist warrior of the hard Left, who is an offence to notions of responsible governance; the pinnacle of her stint in her previous position was to campaign to implicate the Governor-General in an undemocratic conspiracy to shut down an inconvenient Royal Commission into Labor’s lawless union paymasters, turning on its head at a stroke Labor’s solemn post-1975 dictum that “the Governor-General takes advice from his Prime Minister and from no-one else” (outraged Whitlamesque emphasis added).

It is not known what value (if any) Wong delivered in the areas of Trade and Investment, although as shadow Foreign minister she now has a platform upon which to spruik internationally her support for the so-called BDS campaign (boycott, diversity, sanctions), aimed at Israel and so beloved of the Communist Party Greens and others on the lunatic socialist Left, that is sure to win great acclaim among Australia’s international partners (including Israel) for its sobriety, its maturity, and its lack of doctrinal strictures.

Of course, I speak in jest, but to read the sage words of Uncle Fairfax’s scribe, you could be forgiven for thinking poor Wong has actually deigned to make some sort of sacrifice as part of the switch. It’s as bad as that. And truly, the whole tawdry business of Labor’s new front bench gets a whole lot worse from there.

First things first: in the interests of balance, those readers who prefer the News Ltd take on the ALP reshuffle to the Fairfax one can access coverage here; but just as I was scathing (with good reason) of the reshuffle unveiled by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week, the criticism I made that Turnbull’s line-up was a damp squib and a disappointment pales into insignificance when ranged against objective consideration of the “dream team” Labor “leader” Bill Shorten wheeled out yesterday.

In fact, rather than any talk of a “dream team,” a more fitting comparison would be with the mythical creature from beneath the septic tank: a foul, evil specimen with nothing to recommend it; noxious, vile and malevolent, Shorten’s motley crew represents the stuff of nightmares — and based on what it says on the label, would prove an unmitigated disaster if ever sworn into office on the allocation of responsibilities that has been doled out.

If there are two things Labor thinks it “owns,” they are Health and Education; the ALP seems to think that provided it talks incessantly about those portfolio areas, it will storm home at elections it contests: and as the recent election brutally showed, if the party’s “standard” message on these themes isn’t registering strongly enough to get the job done, then Labor is perfectly happy to lie through its teeth — a la “Mediscare” — in a desperate attempt to ensure that it prevails.

In this sense, the move by deputy Labor leader (and sometime Prime Ministerial wannabe) Tanya Plibersek to the Education portfolio can hardly be seen as positive; certainly, Plibersek has a higher media profile and more authority than the former spokesperson, Kate Ellis. But the chatter emanating from Canberra in the immediate aftermath of the election was that Plibersek had set herself to be shadow Health minister, so her enthusiasm for the role she finds herself in is questionable from the start. “(Education) is one of those areas that makes a difference to an individual’s life,” The Australian quoted her as saying.

No shit, Sherlock.

But the near-invisible shadow Health minister from the last Parliament, Catherine King, has been left in her position, which invites the conclusion that just as he did before, Shorten will once again more or less usurp his frontbencher and arrogate the bulk of comment on Health to himself; then again — with ominous suggestions about “continuing to fight to save Medicare” emanating from the ALP a pointer to the likelihood that “Mediscare” is by no means dead and buried — it probably isn’t going to matter a can of beans who prosecutes the Labor argument on health given we already know it’s just a crock of shit to begin with.

Even so, Shorten’s pronouncement that “Education…is the first order economic and social priority for Labor in the 45th Parliament” serves potent notice to the Liberal Party — and to the rest of the country — that the brazen lies the ALP resorted to on Health are likely to be replicated in Education, and in this sense, Shorten’s proud assertion of the firepower he has added to the education-related positions bears this out.

Kate Ellis (who loses the central Education role to Plibersek) remains as Early Childhood, TAFE and Vocational Education spokesperson; aside from the small matter of TAFE actually being a state responsibility, Ellis’ primary value on the ALP frontbench (which she demonstrated as a member of the “handbag hit squad” during Julia Gillard’s tenure as Prime Minister) is as a whinger unapologetic about turning everything into a heavily partisan political attack, and someone who will regurgitate whatever slogan or talking point has been cooked up by her betters.

Terri Butler (Universities) is the sort of finger-shaking, sanctimonious socialist claptrap purveyor who, by rights, should not be charged with the oversight of the mass education of young people at all; education and brainwashing are not the same thing. But anyone who has witnessed Butler’s appearances on the ABC’s loathsome #QandA programme knows all too well that where Butler is concerned, there are two perspectives: the way of the Left, and the wrong way.

Doug Cameron (Skills) doesn’t even get marks from me for being a Scotsman; like so many British unionists, Cameron mysteriously surfaced in Australia after Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher smashed the British union movement by (shock, horror) the involuntary imposition of democracy and the rule of law on trade unions and by outlawing the ability of the TUC to hold the UK to ransom, usually with the explicit objective of trying to bring down a Conservative government (which it did, successfully, in 1974, but came off second-best against Margaret ten years later).

Cameron’s unspectacular career since entering Parliament shows every fidelity with being an entitled, time-serving union hack rather than a serious proponent of meaningful policy; like so many refugees from British unions who find succour within the ALP or at Australian unions, he probably can’t believe his luck that despite twice being elected with a mandate to clean the union movement in this country up, the Liberal Party is likely to prove unable to do so on account of the composition of the Senate. Exactly what “skills” Cameron is meant to bring to his new role are uncertain, but the fight against industrial changes are likelier to feature than any substantial ideas relating to skilled employment, productivity growth, or similarly novel concepts.

I’ll confess I don’t know enough about Andrew Giles (schools) to offer detailed comment, but all anyone needs to know about the Labor approach to schools is encapsulated in a single word — Gonski — which, by the time the next election rolls around, will have morphed into a solemn trillion-dollar “package” that is held aloft as the greatest commitment to educational advancement in the history of this country.

Again, I speak in jest to some extent, but you get the drift.

But beyond the Education and Health portfolios, the clangers from Shorten continue.

Surely, Chris Bowen — who as Treasurer under Kevin Rudd proved just another slogan regurgitator in the Kate Ellis vein — is too tarnished and bereft of credibility to continue as shadow Treasurer now, having put his name to Labor’s $110bn slate of tax slugs and the admission the budget deficit nevertheless would worsen over the medium term had the ALP won the 2 July election; but in the grand old tradition of both major parties overestimating the value of some of their “stars,” Bowen has been left in his post.

A shrewder motive might be ascertained from the promotion of Richard Marles to Defence, a move that could bolster his leadership credentials in the event Shorten (regrettably) falls under a bus: someone from the Labor Right will need to stand against Anthony Albanese or Plibersek at some point, after all.

The notion of former ACT Chief Minister (and former Canberra bureaucrat and union hack) Katy Gallagher being made responsible for Small Business is as obscene and grotesque as Turnbull’s move to hand the portfolio in government to a National Party MP, and a neophyte at that: it remains to be seen what level of complicity Labor will have in this area in trying to advance the insidious spread of the unions as they seek to re-infiltrate, by stealth, industries and sectors that have progressively (and astutely) wiped their hands of them.

In fact, the frontbench Shorten has announced is as heavy on union hacks and spivs as any that has preceded it over the past decade.

An opportunity has been missed to move Employment and Workplace Relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor to a more suitable post; anyone can see that having the brother of a notorious CFMEU boss responsible for industrial policy is an intolerable and irreconcilable conflict, but such considerations of propriety are of no importance to “modern” Labor and its union-dominated, union-dictated agenda these days.

The idea of someone as slippery and as untrustworthy as factional spiv Sam “Dastardly” Dastyari being made responsible for Consumer Affairs would be laughable if it weren’t so ridiculous, or serious.

And the notion of Shorten himself being responsible for Aboriginal Affairs — an area he looked, and sounded, completely out of his depth in whenever he strayed into it during the last Parliament — can only be interpreted as a shameless attempt to rip off former Prime Minister Tony Abbott who, unlike Shorten, had cultivated real and deep links with Aboriginal Australia over many years. It isn’t difficult to see this self-appointment becoming a rod for Shorten’s back: even if, as loudly trumpeted, newly elected Aboriginal identity Pat Dodson is to be catapulted into an assistant spokesman’s role to help out.

Just as Turnbull was guilty of retaining too many underperforming time-servers on his own front bench, so too has Shorten committed the same error, with ageing warrior Jenny Macklin (a 20-year veteran of the Labor frontbench) kept in her position of Family Services spokesperson when a vacancy might have given someone younger an opportunity; Senator Kim Carr — dumped by his own faction — has been kept by Shorten for no better reason than the murky variables of his own survival in the ALP leadership.

When you consider just how insidious Shorten really is as a candidate for high office, such a criterion is hardly a satisfactory basis for doling out positions on the ALP frontbench.

Just about the only positive I can find in the Shorten announcement is the heavy demotion of Stephen Conroy to the posts of shadow Special Minister of State and shadow minister for Sport; it’s disappointing, however, that given Shorten has already defied the factions in keeping Carr that he didn’t dump Conroy altogether: a hell of a factional operator Conroy might be, but a suitable candidate for ministerial office he isn’t — and any doubt about that is resolved with a single glance in the rear-view mirror at his plot to regulate, and censor, the media when a senior Cabinet minister under Gillard.

Selling this line-up, Shorten — in what must rank as one of the most oxymoronic statements by a political “leader” in recent times — said “the challenge for Labor is that we’ve got more talented people than places to put them, which is the opposite to the government,” which begs the question: who? Where are they? A ragtag assortment of ALP bovver boys, socialist misadventurers and union spivs (the latter representing just 9% of all private sector employees now) does not translate to a group of talented people at all, let alone amount to an adequate quantum of talent to be crowing about.

In fact, there are two identifiable purposes behind this line-up, and two only: one, to further the creeping campaign of the union movement to slither its way through the back door into businesses and industries that long ago turned their backs on it; and two, to provide the firepower — the rat cunning, the lack of ethics or scruples, and the sheer effrontery — to attempt to win the next election with an even less honest or principled pitch than the blatant lies upon which Shorten sought to be elected just three weeks ago.

This is no “dream team;” it offers no vision or substantial offer to Australia whatsoever; and it is, to put it mildly, a toxic and seething brew of squirming appetites and competing egos that is no masterstroke or a blueprint for governance.

This is, to cite an urban legend, the political equivalent of the creature from beneath the septic tank. If the Turnbull government has any bottle at all, its top priority is to slay the beast before it can inflict untold damage upon the national interest in government.

Given the first-term Coalition administration lacked the killer instinct where its opponents were concerned, it remains to be seen whether it can get this crucial piece of strategic targeting right in its second.

 

Why We Do, In Fact, Need To Talk About Islam

IN THE wake of TV identity Sonia Kruger being all but crucified for suggesting Muslim immigration be halted — and after the ABC’s latest, awful #QandA show, which quickly descended into a pack attack on Pauline Hanson — Australia, whatever the Left thinks, must openly grasp and deal with the issue of Islamic arrivals. Failure to do so will, now or in future, rip the country apart: as it will Western society generally if the challenge is not resolved.

If Australia, like the rest of the Western world, has a growing problem with Muslim immigration and the rise of radical Islamic terrorism — and I believe that it does — then it has several inter-related other problems, too, almost all of which are entirely of its own making.

That is not to say the scourge of Islamic terrorism is the fault of liberal democracy, or even the product of “invading their countries” (it isn’t), but just as there is a problem — and it is potentially an existential one, where the future of Western society is concerned — it isn’t good enough for the aggrieved to point the finger at “towel heads” from “stone age lands” following a “religion of slaughter” and some of the even less savoury insults that are being bandied around these days, nor to slap such idiot-simple and incendiary provocations down with the insistence that Islam is a subject only discussed by bigots.

Even so, the vast majority of Muslim people are decent people who don’t actually harbour any wish to visit death and terror on Western society; I believe that to be a factually correct statement, and it has been borne out from time to time in my dealings with some of these people as they have crossed my path: people who simply want to get on with their own lives, some of whom most people would not even recognise as Muslims — they’re not all called Mohammed, or wear the niqab — and who to all appearances are no different to anyone else.

On the other hand, it is also a factually correct statement that those countries which have experienced the highest levels of Muslim immigration in recent decades — Belgium, the Netherlands and, of course, France — also have the biggest problem with Islamic terrorism and religiously motivated violence against majority populations, and no amount of finger shaking or character destruction crusades by the Left can change that fact.

But the default position of major political parties these days is to play down any suggestion that a problem exists with this newest source of mass additions to the Australian population, with rhetoric about social cohesion and tolerance and acceptance being spouted in the absence of anything more substantial (or even pertinent); the default position of the media — to its shame — is, and especially where the mouthpieces of the Left are concerned, not to report on the religious affiliation of the perpetrators of terrorist attacks, lest this shatter the integrity of carefully constructed diatribes around inclusion, humanity and social justice; and the default position of the Muslim community itself (or more particularly, those charged with acting as its mouthpieces) appears to be to refuse to add its own voice of outrage to wider condemnations whenever any of its own are involved in committing unspeakable atrocity, followed by lengthy justifications that their own “condemnation” should be withheld on the basis it’s merely a trophy sought by bigots wishing to drive them out of their adopted country.

These realities are more or less uniform throughout the Western world, and whilst our discussion today is focused on Australia it could as easily relate to Britain, or France, or Belgium, or the USA.

But Australia has witnessed in recent times the rise, on its far Right, of political candidates and parties which seek to foment public unrest over the presence of an expanding Muslim community and/or advocate some pretty heavy duty measures with which to “deal” with it (such as the compulsory deportation of every Muslim in Australia) and this is no solution to what is, as I said at the outset, a problem, and one that isn’t going to be resolved in any constructive way by the series of default positions it attracts depending on where the response comes from.

Serial troublemaker Pauline Hanson — well versed in whipping up hysteria over “problems,” but never with the hint of a meaningful solution in sight — isn’t looking at leading a Senate team of perhaps three Senators merely through a protest vote against Malcolm Turnbull by so-called “Del-Cons:” she has been elected by those who, for whatever reason, are deeply concerned by an issue they know is not going to be addressed by either of the major parties: the ALP because it harvests the overwhelming majority of Muslim votes; the Coalition because it doesn’t want to rock the boat.

The Australian Liberty Alliance, which is perhaps even uglier in its approach to social issues than Hanson could ever dream of, performed an electoral belly flop, scoring less than 1% of the national vote.

But if you look at the Senate, and factor parties and candidates that might be characterised as “far Right,” almost 10% of voters cast a primary vote for these entities: the support base might be fractured, and spread across a competing and disparate number of recipients, but a far Right vote nearing 10% is a phenomenon it would be dangerously unwise to dismiss as a protest.

The end destination of such a movement is likely to be arrived at in France next year, when leader of the far Right Front National, Marine Le Pen, is expected to get as far as the runoff round in France’s presidential elections; this wouldn’t be the first time such a divisive contest had been joined, of course, for Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie made it to the final round against Jacques Chirac in 2002. The elder Le Pen was trounced by Chirac on that occasion. But Frances’s problems with its Muslim community have arguably grown far worse in the years since.

So let’s be clear: the capacity for some kind of popular uprising, should people take matters into their own hands if they feel the establishment parties will not, cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Whilst France’s problems stem largely from its botched management of settling immigrants from its former African colonies, the problem in Australia is almost the reverse: too much “tolerance” and “generosity,” but the wrong kind of each — the kind that is legislated by governments, and funded by a tax paying public that is prevented by law from having an opinion and/or roundly abused by Left wing champions of “diversity” and “understanding” whose ideas about free speech boil down to people being free to say whatever they like, so long as it’s the message that has been predetermined and approved for them by people who know “better.”

Whether you like it or not, Australia is a Christian country founded on the same Judeo-Christian and liberal capitalist principles that underpin almost all of the societies of the Western world.

It is true that Australia is a nation of immigrants, and indeed everyone that lives here (including, at least partially by blood, a goodly number of those identifying as “Aboriginal”) possesses at least some cultural heritage than can be traced to other parts of the world; readers know I identify as Scottish as much as Australian, and I’m proud of both traditions. Millions of our fellow Australians have their own unique stories in this regard.

But the very nature of immigration, and certainly since 1945, means that those coming to this country are joining it; the onus is not — irrespective of what any Left-wing imbecile likes to proclaim — on the rest of Australia to be modified and to adapt itself to fit the specific requirements of one particular group of newcomers.

The key to making immigration work (and the reason Australia has historically been so successful at it) is to get the new arrival communities fully involved in mainstream society; if you live in Melbourne (as I do) half the people you meet are from a Greek or Italian background; go to Sydney, there are Vietnamese people everywhere you look; in Brisbane, I see a greater Chinese presence these days, along with the residual (much smaller) Greek and Italian communities that were there when I was growing up. People from Eastern Europe have joined us over the past 20 years or so in great numbers, and Melbourne is of course the largest Jewish community outside Israel and excluding New York. These are general examples only, and they are intended to be, but the point is very simple: having these people with us works, and it works very well indeed.

Some of these nationalities have brought great cultural enrichment: think food, think music, think the arts. Apart from absolute rednecks, does anyone seriously think we’d be better off without them? Even the Asians Pauline Hanson so famously launched her political career claiming would swamp Australia seem to get along with everyone else just fine. Yes, there are concerns about the sale of Australian infrastructure to China, but not through any racism; rather, it’s because most of the buyers are state-controlled companies with links directly to a Communist regime. But are their people welcome here? I think they are, absolutely, although others may disagree.

Every time there seems to be a national intake of breath over one migrant community or another — think the Japanese, with their investments on the Gold Coast and in Cairns in the 1980s — it has always worked itself out.

But just as I’ve taken a rather circumlocutory route to come back to the issue of Muslim immigration, people from all of these countries of origin have, by and large, come here and made a go of it in their new country. The fish and chip shops once run by the Greeks (and famously, by Hanson) are now run by the Vietnamese. Indians and others of South Asian origins increasingly form the backbone of the local IT industry.

We could give other examples. But by and large, for the first time, we are confronted by something very different indeed.

If you go to your local supermarket now, you are as likely as not to buy “Halal compliant” goods. Go to the butcher, and there’s a good chance the meat you purchase will be Halal as well. It is no longer acceptable to celebrate Christmas in some schools, or to wish people a Merry Christmas: “Happy Holidays,” grotesquely, is now the approved nicety. Human rights bodies exist to uphold the rights of minorities — and let’s not kid ourselves, an awful lot of this nowadays means Muslim minorities — and anti-discrimination bodies and legislation exist to stop anyone making a serious attempt to lawfully outline legitimate grievances with these communities or groups. Many Muslims live in relatively closed communities, and most of their leaders don’t even speak English. People are unsettled by the sight of those walking around wearing the niqab. Mosques are closed shops for Islamic preachers to communicate to Muslim audiences. Community “leaders” gently sell the “compatibility” of Sharia law with Western law. There are gender-segregated sporting facilities in some parts of Sydney, and it’s well known that bacon is not sold in fast food outlets in areas with high (but not majority) levels of Muslim residents.

Now, of course, Australia has witnessed three recent examples of Muslim terror on its own soil — the slaying of two Police officers in Endeavour Hills in Melbourne, the murder of NSW Police civilian worker Curtis Cheng, and most insidiously, the Lindt siege in Sydney perpetrated by an individual who ought to have been thrown out of the country 20 years ago.

Part of the problem, of course, is that the do-gooder lunacy of the Left that infests every issue it concerns itself with has also infected the judicial system; jail is a last resort, they say; mitigating factors (such as marginalisation, oppression, blah blah blah) warrant leniency for doing the wrong thing, they say; and penalties and sentences seem to grow more divorced from community expectations with every year that passes.

But just as white, Anglo-Saxon Australians — and others — get away too often in the court of public opinion with a slap on the wrist for criminal misconduct, Muslim miscreants benefit to the same degree; there are those who use this point to suggest that White Australians don’t get deported for committing crimes, and that therefore neither should Muslims. But this country already has a bad enough (and worsening) problem with crime, committed by people who are Australian citizens by birth, without merely adding to its scope on the specious pretext of “compassion.”

There are those who suggest that Islamic terrorism is the West’s fault. “We invaded their countries,” they screech. But we hadn’t when New York was attacked by radical Islamists flying hijacked aeroplanes on 11 September 2001, and such a simplistic justification for future acts of terror by radical jihadis ignores the fact that just as they increasingly seem to want to inflict carnage upon Western society, they have been doing the same thing to each other for decades — if not for centuries.

The Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, for instance, was a conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims; in many respects, the current quagmire that is Islamic State — whilst aspiring to a global Islamic caliphate — also involves a similar conflagration between disparate Muslim factions as a precursor to establishing internal supremacy.

The point is that the radical elements of Islam (as opposed to the moderate ones who really don’t want to go down this track at all) have been fighters by nature long before they came to our shores; of course, the scourge of radicalisation — fuelled by regimes such as the Taliban in Afghanistan, or Al Qaeda and its various proxies as galvanised by Osama bin Laden — has given such endeavours an “anti-infidel” flavour directed malignantly at the “decadence” of Christian Western society, and I contend (although it’s an argument for another time) that the “clash of civilisations” bin Laden sought to ignite would have found a spark irrespective of whether George Bush and Tony Blair led a Coalition of the Willing into Iraq in 2003 or not.

Now, we agonise over what to do with “radicalised” Muslim youth who want to go to the Middle East to fight for or against Islamic State; I actually think the best thing to do in this particular instance is to let them go, but make damn sure they never come back: fighting a civil war is not an Australian way of life, and those who wish to do so probably shouldn’t be here anyway.

But in terms of a broader discussion of Muslim immigration, the Muslim community and the way it is treated and conducts itself, these are fraught issues that are as good as forbidden to speak of in this country.

I’m no apologist for Pauline Hanson (quite the contrary, as past articles in this column will show) but the approach of the “social justice” Left was belligerently illustrated on the ABC’s ghastly #QandA programme on Monday night: Hanson was outnumbered and cornered, 5-1, by a stacked panel and a hostile audience that for three-quarters of the show focused solely on the issue of Islam with a lynch mob mentality and the determination to skewer Hanson in a wild pack attack. It was as unedifying as it was disgraceful.

Earlier that day, Nine network identity Sonia Kruger opined on national television that she thought Muslim immigration should be stopped altogether: there wasn’t to my mind a great deal of cogency in the remarks, which were slapped down the following day by Muslim TV personality (and host of Network 10’s The Project) Waleed Aly on the grounds Kruger was “scared.” I almost thought, for once, that I would agree with the insidious Aly, over whom my objection has nothing to do with the fact he’s Muslim but everything to do with the fact he’s a socialist gnome with a very big soapbox to spruik from. But even then, he lost me: Aly’s column twisted the issue to allow himself to talk about how “scared” he was — of his, and his (Muslim) friends,’ treatment by the majority community.

Part of the problem is that the Muslim community’s leaders seem to think they are presiding over some kind of closed shop; if members of their flock do wrong, unequivocal denunciations are rarely heard.

What the majority community does hear, though, is lunatic pronouncements that Western women are like “plates of uncovered meat” in explanation of sexual assaults they suffer — and similarly offensive rhetoric — that might hold sway in some of the places they come from, but which has no place in Australian society.

It looks at the UK, where British Labour now routinely gender segregates attendees at major televised election functions, or at France, where random acts of mass slaughter committed by Islamic terrorists are on the rise, and then it looks closer to home where so-called “lone wolf” attacks are dismissed as not examples of Islamic terrorism at all, but of dislocation resulting from the refusal of the majority population to accept Muslims into its midst.

And it hears the e’er gentle suggestions from the Islamic community that Islam is a “religion of peace,” often made in tandem with helpful ideas about how Sharia law can “co-exist” with Western common law: people see the thin edge of the wedge, and they don’t like it.

Having a proper, open, candid discussion about the place of the Muslim community in Australia is, ironically, potentially as much to the benefit of the Muslim community itself as to anyone else living here.

But through a labyrinth of politicians, social commentators, the finger-shaking Chardonnay drunks of the Left and a wall of legislative and regulatory prohibitions on daring to raise the matter at all, it’s only a matter of time before the current approach of stifling debate completely (and attempting to destroy those who attempt to start one) leads directly to vigilantes and other undesirables taking matters into their own hands — which, to be clear, is every bit as unacceptable as the grievances, legitimate or imagined, they purport to hold.

This is the wake-up call Hanson, and others like her, represent: they may not advocate lawless behaviour and vigilante conduct themselves, but the very fact of their growing support means that the core issue can no longer be ignored, wished away or countered by legislated silence and personalised malice.

As I said at the outset, I think most Muslims don’t want to hurt anyone; like every barrel, there’s a bit of shit in the bottom of that particular one where the couple of rotten apples have liquefied into a lubricious scum: and in this sense, the same is true of any mass grouping of people, be they Islamic, Christian or otherwise.

I think the real solution here is enhanced screening — of candidates for settlement in Australia — backed by an improved regime for weeding out undesirables before they arrive, and getting rid of those who quickly show they simply don’t belong here, which means most would get to stay, but some would never set foot here in the first place.

But a growing number of Australians, as inelegantly expressed by Kruger this week and as explosively needled by Hanson for years, are finding an awful lot to be apprehensive about where the presence of Muslim immigrants in this country are concerned, and looking at the countries of Western Europe — where the problem has been percolating for some years longer than it has been here — they see precedents they do not wish to see repeated in Australia under any circumstances.

Stop the abuse, stop the name-calling, make sure everyone is involved and grasp this issue in a proper national debate, for even if the Muslim community doesn’t destroy our society and way of life under its own steam, the reaction to it — if left unchecked, or not conducted on more reasonable grounds designed to find a solution — will almost certainly do so.

Wishing this out of existence and ignoring it just aren’t options. The longer it takes, the harder it will be to fix.

 

Still Standing, But Only Just: Timid Reshuffle Weakens Turnbull

IN A CHOICE between being bold — an extensive, imaginative reshuffle of the Cabinet and ministry — or timid in his first act since his narrow re-election, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday chose the latter; a series of ostensibly petty changes based more in stubbornness than proactivity will do nothing to quell anger over a poor election result. More of the same, which would hardly surprise, will further weaken his diminished standing.

It really isn’t good enough — amid solemn and po-faced declarations on the ABC’s 7.30 programme last night that “we have won the election” — to be emphasising that his will be a government focused on “stability and continuity” in office.

But it is patently ridiculous, armed only with a two-seat majority in the House of Representatives and probably little more than a third of the seats in the Senate, to state that the Coalition is embarking on “three years of delivery” when those fraught numbers impose the very real risk of being unable to legislate anything of genuine substance at all.

A tangible pointer to this brave new world of stability and delivery emerged yesterday in the form of a reshuffle of the Turnbull ministry that was unimaginative at best, and a truculent exercise in petty malice at worst, and it pains me to say that the line-up announced by the Prime Minister will do nothing to enhance the reputation or authority of the government and/or himself: much less the good of the country.

Even those grassroots Liberals who identify as members of Turnbull’s own moderate faction are entitled to shake their heads this morning, but the conservative wing is entitled to be enraged — which, of course, was the whole point.

First things first: I’m linking an article from Michelle Grattan today, from her column at online portal The Conversation; whilst I don’t disagree with any of the comment Grattan has provided it doesn’t go very far, and in any case the main reason for posting it is the full list of Turnbull ministry that is the result of a very poor use — or failure to use — available resources.

On just about every line there are big black marks over Turnbull’s famed defective judgement; 7.30 host Leigh Sales tried to get Turnbull to admit the quantum of donations he made to the cash-strapped Liberals during the campaign to pay for advertising (rumoured to exceed $2 million) and/or to comment on the assertion that the money meant people would be reticent in standing up to him.

Turnbull, of course, refused to be drawn on either barb, but if yesterday’s reshuffle is indicative of what the Liberal Party is to be saddled with in exchange for Malcolm’s money, it would be better off finding some way to give the money back.

The minister most central to Labor’s so-called Mediscare lie campaign — Health minister Sussan Ley — has been left in her critical portfolio, despite being virtually invisible to the public eye in refuting the fictitious scare during the election campaign, the small matter of policy changes made on her watch that enabled the ALP to cobble such rubbish together and make it sound plausible to voters in marginal seats notwithstanding.

The most obvious under-performer during Turnbull’s tenure in the Prime Ministership (aside from himself), Treasurer Scott Morrison, has also been left where he is; the election campaign exposed Morrison’s inability to frame and carry a cogent economic message to the electorate — to the extent that description could be applied to the woefully thin manifesto he and Turnbull had the gall to describe as “a strong plan” — and in the aftermath of an election, even a close one such as this has been, Morrison should have been an early candidate to be moved.

Defence minister Marise Payne remains in her role — despite suggestions the portfolio is simply not a fit — albeit with the high profile and substantial responsibility for the construction of new submarines chopped out and handed to Christopher Pyne.

And junior minister Kelly O’Dwyer remains in the ministry, albeit relieved of her responsibilities as Small Business minister; I have spoken to a lot of Liberal members off the record, including many who claim to be moderates, who all concur O’Dwyer really should have been dumped: nobody could accuse her of effective salesmanship of the controversial Coalition changes to superannuation, and the more I speak to people, it seems even fewer would have been particularly perturbed to see her sacked.

But all of these ministers — underperforming, ill-fitting, or simply not up to it — were key Turnbull supporters at the time of the leadership change last year; the practice might be as old as politics itself, but despite the rhetoric about competence and delivery, it is immediately clear that there are an awful lot of protected species in the ranks of the Turnbull cabal.

Little has been done to advance the Liberal Party’s eventual leadership stocks in this reshuffle; Christian Porter (who has performed adequately in Social Services) could easily have replaced Morrison, having served as a state Treasurer in WA prior to moving to Canberra; similarly, Josh Frydenberg — spoken of in some quarters as the likeliest long-term prospect from the conservative wing — could as easily have been moved to Health, to add solid domestic experience that will be invaluable if a leadership baton ever finds its way into his backpack.

Instead, Turnbull appears to have played the silly game of making Frydenberg responsible for both Energy and the Environment — a contradictory appointment on any analysis, the disclaimer that another minister would be “responsible” for fossil fuels notwithstanding — and seems only to have been aimed at throwing obstacles in the path of the talented Kooyong MP.

The even longer-term prospects on both sides of the party — Dan Tehan, Angus Taylor, perhaps Steve Ciobo — have received little or no advancement this time; even the junior minister (and a Turnbull moderate) who was one of the most effective election campaigners, WA’s Senator Michaelia Cash, has been left right where she was.

In fact, the only MP who could be said to have experienced promotion that in any way enhances his leadership credentials is Christopher Pyne, with his new Defence-based role added to duties as Leader of the House of Representatives, and Pyne — unlikely to ever win an election in the even unlikelier event he ever contests one as Liberal leader — is yet another of Turnbull’s inner sanctum.

For a leader so obsessed with innovation and transition and renewal, this failure for succession planning must be acknowledged.

Certainly, the proportionally strengthened presence of the National Party within the Coalition has forced Turnbull to add to the number of spots that party is allocated, and he has done so.

But for a Prime Minister from the party of small business to not only downgrade the Small Business portfolio from a Cabinet-level position, but to hand it to a relative neophyte from the National Party, is simply unfathomable, especially in view of the abundantly gung-ho, pro-business rhetoric Turnbull filled his campaign utterances with.

With a minimum of three vacancies (before anyone might have been involuntarily dispatched, which they weren’t), Turnbull has seen fit to promote just one new MP from the Liberal Party’s conservative wing — the Senator for the ACT, Zed Seselja — and whilst Seselja is thoroughly deserving of a post on merit, the pettiness of Turnbull’s failure to add to his number with at least a second fellow conservative is compounded by the Turnbull supporters who kept their jobs, despite growing evidence they deserved at the minimum a sideways shift, and strips bare the reality that talk of “healing the rift” with the party’s conservatives is nothing more than that: talk.

As has been noisily protested by Bill Shorten, there were no promotions for additional women in this reshuffle, and that is true.

But there really weren’t all that many promotions for anyone else, either, for whilst a few of the chairs have changed, the backsides that fill them have remained mostly the same.

Even so, names like Karen McNamara, Sarah Henderson, or the Nationals’ Bridget McKenzie would have added to this ministry: not least when other time-serving, Turnbull-supporting duds like Jane Prentice are taking up spots that could easily be used to give others who offer the government and the Liberal Party more promise in the longer term an opportunity.

Rather than demote anyone — with the consequent risk of pissing them off — to accommodate the extra National Party Cabinet berth that that party’s improved electoral showing entitled it to, Turnbull has simply enlarged Cabinet, from 22 to 23: meaning the taxpayer will fork out a little more in ministerial salaries, whilst the National Party’s prize for holding its ground when the Liberals went solidly backwards looks just that little bit diminished.

Tasmania is now completely unrepresented in the ministry altogether — an oversight the Liberal Party might pay dearly for in future, at both the state and federal level — and whilst the failure to restore any of the trio of Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz or Kevin Andrews to the ministry was the correct decision, it could only have been truly validated by the promotion of one or two more of the up-and-comers from the conservative wing which, of course, it wasn’t.

All in all, the reshuffle — which, despite the near-death experience the government suffered 17 days ago, could have sent a strongly positive message — is instead a damp squib, and a disappointment.

There is a very clear suggestion of a one-fingered salute aimed at the party’s conservative wing in all of this; you’d have thought that even if Turnbull hadn’t learned his lesson from almost being booted out of government that some of the more seasoned types advising him might have prevailed upon him, but no.

Asked by Sales on 7.30 last night what he thought the lessons from the election debacle had been, Turnbull started waffling about his “strong plan” and a focus on jobs and growth: after the abysmal election campaign effort he turned in, the remarks were alarming, to say the least.

As for the capacity of the minders to enforce perspectives remotely grounded in the real world or in common sense at all, comments attributed to federal director Tony Nutt and pollster Mark Textor in The Australian today are more suggestive at best that the delusional narrative of how great Malcolm Turnbull has done still persists, and at worst sound more like a justification for keeping their own jobs safe.

And speaking of the advisory pool, an awful lot of people have had a hand in engineering the Liberal Party’s current parlous predicament; it stands to reason that an awful lot of new blood is going to have to flood into the ministerial wing to retrieve the situation. But if the cultures of butt-covering, preferment and petty jealousies inherent in the reshuffle are anything to go by, there isn’t going to be all that much change behind the scenes, either.

Which is a shame.

I should like to assure readers that I have no wish to harm the government through this column, and that I do hope — somehow — that it can succeed.

But I’m not going to pander to it either — whether from tribal diplomacy or the fear of missing out on a call to serve (that really, I know will never come) — and so I am going to be completely candid in covering the new term of Parliament, and critical (whilst constructive) in any analysis I publish.

Still, this first shot from the government’s arsenal isn’t going to win it plaudits from anyone other than the most sycophantic of observers — and nor should it.

Turnbull has probably made his first howling clanger since the election by naming this line-up as his refreshed ministry. Unless some radical or drastic or unforeseeable force intervenes, many more seem certain to follow — and with them, Turnbull’s standing will weaken even further.

Sooner or later, it won’t matter who paid the Liberal Party’s advertising accounts. If this is Turnbull’s idea of stability and delivery, it will all end in tears.

One way or the other.

 

Game Over: Turnbull On Probation, Maybe, But Shorten Is Finished

ARROGANT DOLT and loser Bill Shorten is almost certainly finished in Australian politics, after the reprehensibly deceitful campaign he oversaw as Labor “leader” and the folly of the so-called “victory lap” he is undertaking in newly captured ALP electorates; Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull faces legitimate questions over his authority, performance, and the efficacy of the government he now forms, but Shorten — sooner or later — will be gone.

Since the tongue-in-cheek “victory” speech I published a week ago (which some readers, both online and offline, actually had to be reminded was a parody) I have taken the opportunity for a few days away from this column: but not the keyboard, mind, as a spirited argument in the comments forum will attest, although my main focus (aside from a report I’m writing in another capacity) has been on political developments in the United Kingdom, which we may (no pun intended) or may not talk about once the dust has settled after the ministerial reshuffle being undertaken even as I write.

But until now — with the endless process of finalising seat-by-seat results for the House of Representatives proceeding at a snail’s pace — there has seemed little point in providing a blow-by-blow commentary; finally, there remains just the one seat to go (Herbert, on the central/northern Queensland coast), and irrespective of whether it adds a 77th seat to the Coalition tally, it is now clear that Malcolm Turnbull has won the 2016 election, and won it with a majority in the lower house.

At precisely what cost will take time to become apparent.

But an unsatisfactory contest comprising two unsatisfactory options in the eyes of Australian voters has, in fact, yielded a thoroughly unsatisfactory result; I am not unhappy of course that the Liberal Party remains in office, but in something of a bookend to the 2016 campaign I am not going to pull any punches, either; there is still quite a fair argument that in some respects, the Coalition would be better off in opposition than the parliamentary quagmire it now finds itself in — as I also opined ten days ago — and whilst I may have softened in my view that Turnbull is “finished” by his poor election performance he is, very much, on probation: with the Liberal Party membership, with his own MPs, and with the millions of voters who will ultimately decide the government’s fate within the next two to three years.*

The same cannot be said of Labor’s “leader,” the contemptible Bill Shorten: we will come back to him in a moment.

But after a 30-seat majority has been whittled away to just two or four — depending on the eventual outcome in Herbert — and after a swing of 3.3% resulted in the Coalition snaring just 50.2% of the national two-party vote, it would be a dangerous delusion for anyone at the Liberal Party to be terribly jubilant; I say “the Liberal Party” quite deliberately, for our National Party counterparts appear to have held all of their at-risk seats, and picked up another (admittedly, from us, after the retirement of Murray MP Sharman Stone in Victoria).

I’ve seen and heard Liberal MPs across the country dismissing the charge that the election campaign was poor, but they have to say that; the hard truth is that it was abysmal, and were it not for the fact of the 30-seat majority achieved in 2013, any speculation about the Liberals going into opposition would go from hypothetical to non-existent.

It wasn’t just the painfully thin manifesto the Coalition placed before the people; 2016 has been a wasted year for the government, if we’re honest about it, and its genesis lay in the eruption of the Federal Police investigation into Mal Brough last November.

But ever since, when the government wasn’t plagued by ministerial scandals, it was plagued by poor judgement; when it wasn’t suffering the fools Turnbull inadvisedly added to the ministry, it was suffering the dithering ineptitude of a series of reform proposals being floated, cursorily examined, and discarded, achieving the double demerit of looking highly indecisive in an election year whilst closing off virtually every option for meaningful reform that might have existed.

But in an election for both Houses of Parliament, where a campaign of any impact whatsoever for the Senate (not least with its virtually halved quotas for election) was conspicuous by its non-existence, and at which the ALP was comprehensively outperforming the Coalition on the ground long before its odious “Mediscare” lie was trotted out, the combination of a poor campaign, a narrow platform for re-election and a shocking half-year of governance unnecessarily hobbled the government before it even got out of the blocks: an event, thanks to the public telegraphing of its intentions as far back as March, the ALP was well and truly prepared for.

Once the “Mediscare” rubbish began to circulate, there was no convincing response from the Coalition at all: yelling “it’s a lie!” is well and good, and in this case, the notion the Turnbull government would engage in a wholesale privatisation of Medicare was not only utterly fallacious, but easily revealed as bullshit by a glance in the direction of the likely Senate crossbench.

But the government has been re-elected with its entire buffer in the lower house erased — a uniform swing of less than 1% will probably be enough to hand victory to Labor next time — and a Senate set to be just as hostile as the one it displaces, with the added burden of needing to find up to 10 additional votes to pass any legislation rather than the six extras that were required before the election.

The sole triumph in this equation has been to keep the insidious Shorten well away from the Prime Ministership.

Some — but not all — of the blame for the dreadful Coalition result rests with Turnbull, of course; that dubious responsibility must be shared among those in the Liberals’ back of house who thought they knew better, and who (in any proper review of the election) should be given their marching orders: this column was a trenchant critic of Peta Credlin, and the mess that passed for the inner workings of government that she was given carte blanche to fashion and run as Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff, and those criticisms are not invalidated by what has gone on during the past six to nine months.

But in seizing the top job, Turnbull replaced many of Abbott’s key lieutenants with hand-picked henchmen of his own; their efforts almost cost the Coalition office after a single term, and it is inexcusable to suggest that heads do not deserve to roll as a consequence.

In fact, many inside the Liberal Party and beyond have claimed that were it not for Turnbull and his mates stepping in, Abbott would have been comprehensively been beaten, and that may indeed be the case — we will never know — but the cold truth is that by delay, misjudgement and ineptitude, an almost certain landslide win at a December double dissolution has been displaced by near-defeat seven months later, and no amount of finger-pointing toward Abbott can change that.

What complicates the assessment is a report in The Australian today that asserts the Liberal Party was effectively broke halfway through the campaign, and that Turnbull himself tipped in a million large from his own pocket to keep the ship afloat: unlike many of his critics I have never questioned Turnbull’s fidelity to the party, or called him “a Laborite” (as some are wont to do) despite the fact that’s where some of his ideas belong.

If it’s true Turnbull bailed the party out that is admirable on one level, but it places a grave conflict over his tenure as Prime Minister in the sense a tepid agenda received a less-than-tepid endorsement from the electorate, but the money could be seen as a surety by some of his backers if the whole thing starts to go pear-shaped (as many suspect or fear it may do).

But Turnbull looked uncomfortable on the stump; word quickly spread that he didn’t enjoy or like meeting ordinary Australians; stories of his sit-down lunches with business associates during the campaign grated on many, and he was lucky they somehow eluded the fervent attention of the media; his attendances at places like craft breweries, or drink orders for green tea, looked elitist and aloof; and the wild rant he unleashed after midnight on election night (I’m told, after ingesting a reasonable stipend of Champagne) enraged many of the people who had tried to sell his message among their social groups in the almost certain belief it was a lemon.

Any government — and I don’t care who forms it — peddling retrospective taxation measures of any description deserves a kick in the nether regions; the indecent breach of faith with people whose taxation affairs have been conducted lawfully and compliantly, only to be told that the goalposts are to be changed for games already decided earlier in the season (or in earlier seasons, no less) is unforgivable, and whilst Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison were eager to spruik the fact their superannuation changes would affect just 4% of taxpayers, the other 96% were most entitled to ask whether, or when, the government might find a pretext upon which to mete out the same treatment to them too.

The tax cuts for business — in fact a reasonable stimulatory measure, but in practice an albatross Shorten hung around the government’s neck as a “$50 billion giveaway to multinationals” and an “excuse to call billionaires small businessmen” — were a positive that was not sold in any way, shape, or form.

The industrial laws that Turnbull called a double dissolution over were barely sighted once the campaign got underway, the valiant (and lone) efforts of Michaelia Cash notwithstanding, and whilst there is some suggestion these may pass with modifications, the price tag attached to them — at best, Labor’s Royal Commission into the banks and at worst, the so-called “federal ICAC” that the Left wants so desperately, so it can refer Coalition politicians to it as incessantly as it does to similar bodies in NSW and Queensland — could prove very high indeed.

All that aside, however, the onus is now on Turnbull to perform: already, there are those who believe he won’t see out the year as Prime Minister.

This doesn’t (or shouldn’t) mean there is consideration of recycling Tony Abbott into the role; the former PM showed his bona fides during the campaign by not leaking, or contradicting Turnbull, or otherwise making mischief, and he deserves to be trusted to play the role of elder statesman, mentor to young Liberal MPs and backbencher that he says he wishes to play.

And it doesn’t mean Abbott should be elevated to the Cabinet: for once, Turnbull is correct in saying that the handful of vacancies in the ministry should be used to promote fresh talent, although these posts should be allocated to conservative Liberals as a measure to both restore the balance of the ministry and to tacitly signal an attempt to heal the rift that the leadership change opened up.

But more waffle, more dithering, more indecision and/or a paucity of any kind of program at all could be fatal to Turnbull; the Liberal party room, despite protestations that it was nothing like Labor, last year showed it was prepared to be ruthless over its leadership in the face of a perceived approaching election loss, and it will be so again if Turnbull does not or cannot make a fair fist of the challenging result this election has handed to him.

Goodwill — and support — are no longer commodities the Coalition can rely on: in both cases, its stocks must be rebuilt almost from scratch.

And it is here that I turn back to Shorten, for just as Turnbull is effectively on probation from this point, the opposition “leader” is almost certainly finished.

The big problem with running such a blatantly dishonest election campaign as “Mediscare” — which far transcended the kind of porkies average voters tolerate from politicians, crashing unapologetically into the territory of the bald, and knowing, lie as it did — is that unless it hits the desired outcome bang on the bullseye the first time around, there is likely to be no credibility left over whatsoever with which to regroup.

It is worth reiterating at this point that Labor, and Shorten, lost the election.

But someone in the ALP bunker should have reminded Shorten of that fact before he set off last week on a so-called “victory lap” of the seats the ALP snatched from the Liberals; the first offence of an utter and outrageous lie is now being compounded by the unbridled hubris and chutzpah of a “victory” tour when based on the election results, Labor lost.

Yes, Shorten improved the ALP tally by 13 seats and yes, he probably got closer than he might have been expected to.

But this dubious, self-confessed liar, who has achieved what gains he did on the basis of an outright lie his party is not only proud of, but has boasted publicly about, has little to celebrate.

The second-worst ALP primary vote on record would, were it not for preferences, have been insufficient to win much at all; even in the system elections in this country are conducted on, it still left the Labor Party eight seats short of victory.

Actual victory, that is.

And once the dust settles, and Shorten’s vacuous, vapid zingers and unreasoning negativity burst forth anew, people who might have given him the benefit of the doubt — not least through anger over the Liberal leadership change — will quickly wipe their hands of him.

An early taste of things to come has been Shorten’s offer to Turnbull that Labor will work to achieve “fair” budget repair — but only if the government implements ALP policies, rather than its own — in an amateurish move that will be given immediate short shrift once Parliament resumes: after all, Shorten is the king of bigger budget blowouts than the Coalition, on his own figures.

And with the economic headwinds starting to pick up, all it will take is for Turnbull to get rid of the people he and his backers rewarded with plum sinecures in plush Canberra offices and to replace them with those who might be able to win an argument, or carry a strategy, or otherwise know what they hell they are doing and give the government something tangible to sell, and Shorten and his vacuous bullshit will be sidelined.

There is also the small matter of Shorten’s union past, and the sins of his union buddies, that were not properly exploited by the Coalition during the election: if the overhaul of the Turnbull back office mirrors the one set to be imposed on his ministry, Shorten won’t be so lucky a second time.

There is also the not-insignificant matter of the $102bn in new taxes Shorten promised, too: something the Coalition can be expected to make far better use of with its standing now so precariously balanced.

But whichever way you cut it, Shorten probably enters this term of Parliament in worse shape than Turnbull does; had he achieved the gains he did with a clean campaign, there might be an argument for him to have “one more heave” to get his party across the line next time around.

But Shorten is a discredited hack of dubious principles who has led his party to defeat despite being literally prepared to say anything to anyone to fool them into voting for him; at some point the reverberations from the campaign through the electorate will rebound on him, and when they do, his colleagues will have no choice but to act.

It is one of those ironies: had Abbott remained in office, Shorten might be Prime Minister today, with little more exertion needed than his cringeworthy zingers and relentless obstruction.

Now, his survival is probably tied to Turnbull’s performance; just about the only way Shorten can survive for very long is if Turnbull quickly falters and sends the Coalition’s poll numbers crashing, and keeps them there.

Turnbull, for his faults, isn’t a stupid fellow. If candid feedback is presented to him and provided he heeds it, great changes will soon be made to his government. Given his known love for being Prime Minister it is not conceivable Turnbull will go away without a fight, irrespective of what people think of him, his policies or his judgement.

And this means that unless the Liberal Party inexplicably gets it completely wrong once again — as it did for seven months after Mal Brough’s house was raided late last year — Shorten is as good as finished, for there is little value in deception at the best of times, and none whatsoever when it has cost victory in the main game.

 

*The earliest date for a half-Senate election under the Constitution (and thus an opportunity to get rid of some crossbench Senators through doubled election quotas) is 11 August 2018; if the government is travelling well after the 2018 budget an election for the House and half the Senate would be a sore temptation indeed, but if it looks likelier to be flogged whenever it faces voters, full term — remembering the double dissolution we’ve just had will in fact slightly truncate the term for constitutional reasons — in May 2019 would be the safer bet.

 

 

Claiming Victory: A Prime Minister’s Speech To Australians

IN A CHOICE between dignifying the puerile drivel and arrogant hubris being indulged in by opposition “leader” Bill Shorten — or a statesmanlike address to the country by the Prime Minister, filled with humility, direction and fresh ideas — this column today inclines to the latter; there is a path through the ostensibly unworkable Parliament Malcolm Turnbull has been handed by voters. Whether he elects to pursue it is a matter for him.

 

MY FELLOW AUSTRALIANS,

I want to begin my remarks today with an apology.

Last Saturday, you spoke to us through the ballot box — to me, to my government, and to all of us in politics — and you told us, loudly and clearly, that you were not happy.

Today it is my duty to accept the opportunities and challenges that go hand in hand with another chance to form government in Australia, and in doing so can I simply say that I am humbled and excited to have been given that chance.

I accept that by entrusting my colleagues and I with the task of governing Australia, the very notion of “trust” is one we must work hard to rebuild: I have heard your message, and over the next three years my colleagues and I look forward to spending more time with you, talking about the issues that matter in your lives and your communities, so we can better understand what you want from your government and take steps to ensure that we deliver it.

For too long in Australia and especially during the recent campaign, politics has been conducted in an atmosphere of abuse, of fear, and sometimes — regrettably — hatred.

I’m not going to dwell on that today and in fact, I want to make an attempt to put that behind us, so we can get on with building Australia, working to resolve her problems and to encourage the hopes and dreams of our fellow Australians, and to make sure this remains the best country in the world for decades and generations to come.

And for that reason, my government will be making a very big invitation to the deputy leader of the Labor Party, subject to discussions we seek to have with our opponents, to join the government as minister for Health.

During the next three years, we face unprecedented challenges, imposed upon us by your will: a close result in the lower house and a fragmented Senate will make the job of governing difficult, but I believe it is not impossible and we will do our very best to live up to the clear expectation for improvement that you told us last weekend that you expect.

I accept that we have made mistakes and I accept, that since becoming Prime Minister, I have made my share of those.

But I firmly believe that today is a new day, and in that spirit we will seek to work with Mr Shorten, and his colleagues, to explore ways in which we can improve how we do our jobs, and to explore ways in which we can resolve some of the great differences that have always existed between his party and our own.

As a Liberal Prime Minister, it is my responsibility to my party — and to the millions of people who have once again invested us with their trust — to deliver truly liberal and conservative policies that we believe can improve the lives of all Australians.

But in seeking to work in partnership with Labor, we acknowledge that if we are to ask for something, we must give something in return, and for this reason one of the differences we intend to try to resolve is the eternal bickering over Health and Education, both between the Liberal Party and Labor, and between the Commonwealth and the states.

My people have developed proposals in these two critical areas that we believe can fix our healthcare systems and our schools, and it is on the basis of these we initially seek the co-operation of the ALP. It may be that nothing comes of those discussions, but we intend to try: and once we have discussed our ideas with the Labor leadership and provided we are satisfied there is scope to work together, we will make these plans public.

But more broadly, we want to try to reset the tone of debate: less abuse and fearmongering, and more productive outcomes.

We took a policy of tax cuts for business to the election; not because we wanted to give “handouts to millionaires,” as our opponents said, but because we genuinely believe that taking the burden off business is the best way to create jobs and growth.

Labor took a policy of abolishing negative gearing to the election; they said they believed this would increase housing affordability for young people, whereas we genuinely believe that such a policy could have catastrophic knock-on effects for the property industry, for rental affordability, for the value of the homes of ordinary mums and dads, and for the economy itself.

Where we differ, we should reach decisions on how to proceed through a battle of ideas, not abuse; by debate, not frightening people.

What I will say today is that we certainly shouldn’t lie to you: and speaking of the grand plot we supposedly had to privatise Medicare, I would simply say to Mr Shorten that you know it was never true, so let’s not hear another word about it.

Over the next three years, my government will be working to implement as much of the plan we took to the election as we can, and I acknowledge that with the numbers in Parliament being so tight it simply may not be possible to legislate all of it.

We know — from our members talking to people in their electorates, that there were some things we got wrong, and which in all likelihood contributed to the swing against us.

We will consult on controversial initiatives — such as our changes to superannuation tax concessions — and where we are satisfied improvements can be made, we will do so.

But with an eye to the future — and to the very real challenges we now face in Australia — we have a responsibility to fix the way we are doing things in certain areas if we are to leave behind a country that is great for our children and grandchildren; one where they can continue to enjoy the freedom and the way of life we cherish so dearly.

Putting aside the politics, I don’t think anyone really thinks we can continue to live beyond our means.

We now owe the rest of the world a half a trillion dollars — a figure growing by $50bn every year. The interest bill to service that debt is a billion dollars a month: money that could pay for schools, or hospitals, or infrastructure in regional centres, or a stronger safety net for those in our society who most desperately need it.

We are prepared to set aside the blame game — who did what, who started it, whose fault it is — and to work with our opponents to develop a solution to this problem that enables us to once again balance our budget and to begin to pay back some of that debt.

We have a rapidly ageing population that is already straining our health and welfare systems. We want to help older Australians, who have worked all their lives to make Australia a better and stronger society. But an ageing population throws up challenges: from the increased cost of looking after older Australians to the shortages of skills and labour their absence from the workforce creates.

We seek to explore, with Labor, ideas to overcome these challenges.

Mr Shorten and Labor have a choice: to work with us in genuine partnership to try to fix some of these problems, or to behave like opposition politicians and try to stop us from governing.

Either way, we are ready to act in good faith. There is a seat at the Cabinet table on offer if it is possible for us to work with our opponents, but whether we can or not I think it is critical that we make the overture if a difficult Parliament is to be made a success.

We understand you are not happy; we know this because of the swing against our government. We know because of the feedback our booth workers received on polling day. We know because of the record number of votes cast for independents and minor parties.

It is an article of faith in a democracy that the voters are always right, but it worries me that so many people have chosen to vote for parties and candidates who prey on what frightens or angers them, rather than for those who may smooth those fears and reservations, and it is our job to try to restore your trust in us as a party of government.

Over the next three years — beginning next week — there will be a small number of changes to my ministry; clearly, some of our ministers lost their seats at the election, and those vacancies will be used to promote new talent to the frontbench to ensure the government continues to renew itself and does not stagnate.

There may, as I alluded at the outset, also be a place for Ms Plibersek depending on the outcome of the discussions we seek urgently with members of the ALP leadership.

But during the three years of my government, our team will also be working on comprehensive policy ideas to continue the reform process. Further taxation reform. Further industrial relations reform. Ways to improve how our Parliament is elected to make it more representative and more responsive.

These — and other areas of reform — are always complex issues, and I understand many people can feel apprehensive and alienated in the face of change.

But it is my promise that any major reform will be laid out before the electorate, in detail: and then you will have the opportunity to vote on it at an election, with any of the changes we propose to take effect during the Parliament after this.

Fellow Australians, I truly believe the best days of our great country are in front of it; and I believe — to quote John Howard — that the things that unite us as Australians are more stronger and more enduring than the things that divide us.

I know you have heard me say it a lot lately, but there has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian; our challenge now is to ensure that that always remains the case, and to ensure that the generations who follow us can be as excited — and as proud — about their country as I am to have the privilege to lead it.

Thank you very much.

 

This is obviously a parody, but if Malcolm Turnbull were to deliver this speech, upon formally claiming victory in the 2016 election, what sort of response do you think he would receive?

Oh, and a note to Liberal Party backroom people: if you’re interested in the reform ideas on Health, Education, or parliamentary reform that flesh out the rhetoric in this hypothetical victory speech, you know where I am. We don’t need to telegraph those today.

 

Turbulent Times: Turnbull Closes In On A Victory To Regret

WITH ONGOING counting ameliorating swings against the Coalition in a handful of critical seats, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is nearing an election win, probably with 75 of 150 seats in the House of Representatives; with an eye to the strategic prospects of the Liberal Party and the long-term welfare of Australia, this is a “victory” likely to be extracted at astronomical cost, and one the Coalition parties will regret for many years to come.

The old adage — that “winners are grinners, and losers can do what they like” — is, in this instance, a piece of histrionic frippery that applies to nobody where the 2016 election is concerned; just as this column reluctantly provided a tepid, peg-on-nose endorsement of the Coalition on Saturday on the sole basis it was not Bill Shorten and Labor, there will be no congratulations emanating from this quarter when the results are finally declared, and the leeches and parasites who will now infest the Senate crossbench should give advance consideration to the fact that the behaviour now expected of them will compound a likely national calamity.

First things first: whilst the election result remains undetermined in the most literal sense, a better-than-expected strengthening of the Coalition’s position as counting continues now sees it likely to eke out at least half of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives; yet even if its best-possible case scenario of 77 seats (and perhaps about 50.2% of the national two-party vote) eventuates, it will do nothing to overturn the judgement that the 2016 election has been a debacle that was entirely avoidable, and for which Australia is likely to pay heavily.

I am loath to engage in seat-by-seat commentary, shifting as the electoral sands continue to be, but it now appears the Coalition has taken a seat from Labor (Chisholm in Melbourne) and should hold Forde, on Brisbane’s southern outskirts; five other previously Coalition-held seats remain in the Australian Electoral Commission’s “too close to call” bracket, and whilst the Liberals trail in all five this morning, it does seem likely they will hold at least one of these to make it to the 75-seat halfway mark in the lower house.

But Labor will command a majority of the seats in all states except WA and Queensland, including a total Coalition wipeout in Tasmania for the fifth time in the seven elections since 1998, and all four of the seats in the territories; this is no endorsement of Malcolm Turnbull’s government, although it should equally be noted that (despite the arrogant post-election hubris of Bill Shorten) it is no endorsement of the ALP either, and on one level, both sides — through the humiliation delivered to Turnbull and the failure to triumph by Shorten — have been rewarded with no less than they deserve.

To be clear, there is no winner from the 2016 federal election.

Rather than the near-death experience Turnbull appears to have suffered in the lower house, the greatest disaster of this election — and the greatest disservice it will prove to have inflicted upon the country — is the outcome in the Senate, which now appears likely to be populated by up to 13 crossbenchers in addition to no fewer than nine Communists Greens.

The new Senate (which will be constituted immediately the results are declared due to the backdating of terms after a double dissolution) is likely to prove a fatal thorn in the side of the elected government in the lower house; the behaviour of Labor and the Greens in the last Parliament provide a pointer to their likely behaviour now, and those entities — in cahoots with at least two Senators from the imbecilic Jacqui Lambie Network — will be able to block 100% of Coalition legislation through their control of at least 38 of the 76 spots in the upper house.

Opposition “leader” Bill Shorten, set to be unanimously reconfirmed in his position today for a further three years by the ALP caucus, is certain to continue the blanket suffocation tactics he directed Labor to employ over the past three years; for little Billy Bullshit, notions of responsibility and allowing the Coalition to govern are likely to be given short shrift as the malodorous stench of a terminally wounded government emboldens him to focus on the eventual kill, and with an eye to the haemorrhagic state of the federal budget, this means a continuation of the Shorten tactic of waving spending increases through the Senate (if any are even presented) whilst knocking any measures to cut outlays on the head.

The effects of this tactic were thrown into stark focus yesterday, with international financial ratings agency Standard and Poors downgrading Australia’s investment outlook from “stable” to “negative,” and whilst the country retains — for now — its prized AAA credit rating, it seems inevitable that this will soon enough be lost: make no mistake, the ALP is desperate for this downgrade to occur on the Coalition’s watch, and if it does, Shorten and his goons will proclaim it to be the final and irrefutable evidence of the inability of the Coalition to manage the federal budget, and claim final absolution for Labor’s fiscal recklessness during the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd period.

The reality, of course, will be rather different.

But it is at this point the Coalition is going to begin to pay — really pay — for its utter ineptitude where the ability to fashion and sell a message is concerned; as far back as the early weeks of the Abbott government, Labor was already trying to publicly wash its hands of any responsibility for the mess it left the country’s books in, and the response this effort elicited from the Coalition was misdirected.

Rather than mounting a savage demolition of the ALP from the government benches — as John Howard and Peter Costello did to devastating effect in 1996 — the Coalition instead devoted its energies to justifying targeting its own electoral base (and swinging voters who backed the Coalition in 2013) in a hopelessly ill-focused 2014 budget instead of taking careful aim at the tens of billions of dollars of recurrent social spending legislated by Gillard.

Then-Treasurer Joe Hockey went to the trouble of conducting a Commission of Audit — as Costello did in 1996 — but unlike his predecessor Hockey sat on the final report until the week before his 2014 budget, and only then tried to use its findings against the ALP in what gave every public appearance of being an afterthought.

And despite the wimpish option of slugging its own base with tax hikes and targeting its own constituency of families to wear the bulk of what cuts is actually deigned to attempt, the Abbott government — right from the start — failed to accrue double dissolution triggers based on economic management that might have provided the Coalition with real ammunition to fight the election that is now almost concluded.

Turnbull will have no choice but to abandon the actual pretext he went to the people on — union governance — for after a truly dreadful election campaign, there is simply no point in convening the joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament to which the government, after a double dissolution, is entitled; even if it manages a bare majority in the lower house with 76 seats, the Coalition will remain about ten votes short of an absolute Parliamentary majority, and looking at the Senate it is highly plausible that none of the crossbench Senators will vote for its measures to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

As veteran journalist Paul Kelly observed on Sky News last night, Turnbull is obliged, at the minimum, to attempt to pass the union governance measures through the House and the Senate, if for no better reason to be seen to be paying lipservice to the agenda he took to voters. But he is destined to fail in the upper house, and the very notion of convening a joint sitting in an attempt to prevail is now laughable.

In fact, the only group in Australia that can claim to have achieved any kind of victory from the election — unforgivably — is the union movement.

Nobody should believe the protestations from Trades Hall that unions’ overarching objective is to play the role of “safety enforcer” in Australian workplaces; their behaviour over the past three years marks them out as just another political outfit, and one committed to anti-democratic and at times violently brutal enforcement of its objectives.

Unions have been complicit with the ALP in recent years in attempts to rig state elections in Victoria in Queensland, with rent-a-crowd ring-ins dispatched to marginal seats to masquerade as essential services personnel, and to spread the standard itinerary of Labor lies about fictitiously apocalyptic Coalition “plans” to decimate schools, hospitals, and  emergency services.

In both states, unions (and particularly the rancid filth at the bottom of the virulent Trades Hall bucket, the CFMEU) have sought to extract their pound of flesh from the resultant Labor governments they helped get elected; the present attempt in Victoria by the hard-Left United Firefighters’ Union to take over the Country Fire Authority, with the sanction of the Andrews government and in defiance of the vast majority of volunteer CFA firefighters it would shaft, is merely a curtain-raiser to likely similar assaults against a range of targets from the State Emergency Service to surf lifesavers as unions use Labor governments to violate volunteer organisations and to entrench themselves where they are not wanted.

But the malevolent assumption by unions of a role to actively rig elections has been taken a step further in the election campaign that has just been held: union money has flowed to (and been accepted by) almost every non-Coalition candidate, in both Houses of Parliament, with any prospect of defeating the Coalition anywhere in Australia; it is one thing for the unions to campaign against a conservative government (the nature of their outrageous “campaign” tactics notwithstanding), but it is another matter altogether to rig an election by trying to make a conservative victory impossible at the first place before a single vote is cast.

One of the reasons we know the Senate crossbench will do whatever Labor and the unions want it to do is because of the sheer volume of union money that has sluiced through supposedly “independent” campaign funds; any idiot who took union money to bankroll themselves, whilst simultaneously clinging to the delusion they would be able to vote however they liked if elected, is in for a very, very nasty surprise.

Just as the unions were prepared to dish out the largesse to skew the electoral contest and engineer a Shorten victory, they will — as they have shown in Victoria and Queensland — now collect on their investments, and any crossbencher who regards themselves as free to vote with the government at will is going to be very quickly set straight about the realities of the agenda they surrendered to by taking union donations in the first place.

Pointedly, Bob Katter Jr — who yesterday announced “without any enthusiasm” that he had decided to offer the Coalition support on matters of confidence and supply — said that at the first sign of “union bashing,” all bets would be off: exactly what might constitute “union bashing” remains unclear, but it’s a fair bet that this spectre will be evoked if the Turnbull government tries to legislate its union governance measures, irrespective of whether such an enterprise is doomed or not.

But Katter — who also took union money — has also made it known that had the Parliament been hung (which it now seems certain not to be) and had Anthony Albanese been leading Labor instead of the noxious Bill Shorten, he would have backed the ALP to form a government: his “support” for Turnbull can only be understood in this context, and his threat about “union bashing” likely to prove merely a foretaste of the unions’ return on their campaign investments.

Unions are just about the most tainted and compromised organisations in Australia; they are a ship you do not board unless the political agenda of the Left is something you are prepared to unquestioningly back.

Labor, and the unions, have gone to inordinate lengths in recent years to make money from lobbyists, property developers and tobacco firms a no-no, and lethal to the political touch: and so too should be money from the union movement, for the genesis of such funds lies not in the pursuit of industrial safety but rather political brutality, and its objectives are anything but democratic.

Just as Labor and the Greens bang on about “campaign finance reform” — which is code for chopping the Coalition off from funds from the business sector — union money, which both Labor and Greens take, is an absolute no-go where this “principled” stand on donations is concerned.

To be frank, we are very close to the point Australia would be better off without the unions altogether in their current form.

But they will now wield greater influence in this country than they have ever done, with so many little elves and sprites on the loose in both Houses of Parliament to do their bidding; it is a reality that adds a very ugly undercurrent to what promises to be a very ugly three years, in which little is achieved but which lays the groundwork for even more damage to the national interest in coming years.

Whatever the eventual seat tally, the government enters its second term in office with dozens of marginal seats; with no electoral buffer remaining, the Coalition is now exposed to an absolute belting at the next election if things do not go well for it — which is why I have consistently opined that it might have been better for the Liberal Party to go into opposition now.

With a bare majority in the lower house, a gaping shortfall in the Senate and a majority of the two-party vote by the barest of margins — secured against a woefully thin election “manifesto” prosecuted with an appalling campaign — it is difficult for the Coalition to argue it has a mandate for anything at all.

The forces ranged against Turnbull in the upper house will see to it that what little authority he has emerged from the election with is smashed to pieces in extremely short order; it is not without reason that this column has questioned whether Turnbull — a decent individual, even if we disagree with many of his ideas — is really cut out to handle the stifling pressure and incessant crisis atmosphere that will soon enough engulf his government.

He faces an opposition “leader” who will continue to be utterly unscrupulous about the tactics and methods he uses to try to destroy the Coalition once and for all; Bill Shorten received no support from this column over the past three years (where a more reasonable Labor leader might have had his or her moments) and he will receive none now.

He faces a Senate hellbent, either by outright intent or through the puppeteering that will be enforced on it from Trades Hall, on laying the groundwork for a thumping Labor win at the next election.

He faces (justified) internal criticism of not just the terrible campaign he presided over, but of his leadership for the duration of 2016 and the dithering, aimless management style that has seen what might have been a solid election triumph squandered.

And in tackling the increasingly urgent problem of Australia’s fast-deteriorating fiscal position — against the backdrop of a likely, cyclical global economic slowdown or recession within the next few years — the only remedial action the Senate is even remotely likely to permit is a massive increase in taxation to preserve what was always Labor’s spending agenda: pinning the mantle of “highest spending government ever” on the Liberal Party, and fixing the budget ahead of Labor’s return to office.

Two problems fixed at a stroke if you’re Shorten; only one that Turnbull will ever be remembered for if he falls into the trap, and one the Liberals will pay for at the ballot box for many, many years to come.

It is appropriate that Turnbull ultimately, if belatedly, accepted full responsibility for the mess that was the Coalition’s election campaign; the real question is whether or not he will accept responsibility for the next, for electoral humiliation in three years’ time is likely to be the price for Turnbull’s survival by a hair’s breadth now.

This is a “victory” of the hollowest possible kind; a government re-elected to do very little will in practice be able to do almost nothing unless it accedes to the belligerence of its opponents, in which case it will be absolutely crucified for its actions.

A perfect storm has been established with more than a little help from the shockingly deficient capacity of the Coalition — from the very top down — to competently prosecute the political imperatives of the excellent position in which it found itself three years ago.

Aside from the government’s ongoing electoral prospects, the biggest victim will be the national interest, which has been heavily compromised for almost a decade, but which is likely to suffer now in ways that haven’t been experienced in 25 years.

Over to you, Malcolm.

 

A Breakaway Conservative Party? Perhaps, But Questions Abound

WITH THE ELECTION result remaining unclear, much of the political discussion yesterday turned to the initiative of controversial Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi to start a group — the Australian Conservatives — to “unite Australian conservatives;” the initiative, supposedly able to exist inside the Liberal Party, may have merit, but questions regarding its breadth, depth, policy objectives and personnel are all concerns that must be resolved.

We have only ever discussed controversial conservative Liberal Party Senator Cory Bernardi twice in this column; once, four years ago, when I ripped into him over comments about gay marriage leading to sex and marriage with horses and goats and so forth, and once last year, in the aftermath of the majority decision of the US Supreme Court to legalise gay marriage and following the publication of an essay (which can also be accessed through that link) in a respected political journal advocating “group marriage” (and God only knows what else at some later juncture), in which I published an unsolicited retraction of my attack on Bernardi, and an apology. He had been proven right.

I begin my remarks thus this morning because Bernardi has emerged — having correctly described the Liberal Party’s federal election campaign as “a disaster” — as the latest individual to the Right of Australian politics to set forth on some kind of adventure in creating a new conservative party; the objective is nothing new, and all too often has seen narrow, personality-based, cult-like organisations spring up that are nothing more than complaint amplification devices, vehicles for the indulgence of personal megalomania, or both.

Too often, they gravitate toward agendas based on guns and the wholesale vilification of Muslims, and whilst responsible gun ownership and the insidious rise of radical Islam are matters that concern genuine conservatives, they do not of themselves constitute an agenda for a mainstream party, or anything remotely approaching it.

Whilst the Liberal Party received votes from me in both Houses on Saturday, for the first time in my life (and this was my 10th federal election as a voter) it did not receive them by way of a primary vote; under its present leadership, the Liberal Party has come to project an image resembling an encounter group that would interact pleasantly with the Labor Right, or even some elements within the Greens, and this latte-swilling, inner-city focus on people totally into themselves simply because of who they are and where they live is a culture with which I have no truck: and the campaign which may yet cost the Coalition government was notable only for its excited screeching of empty messages that would appeal to such a trendy, with-it funky bunch. It was an exciting time, all right. The name of Tony Blair also comes involuntarily to mind.

Yet in the end, and certainly in the lower house where any vote in my local seat was ultimately a choice between the Liberal Party and Labor, the Liberals still offered the lesser of two evils; but others — those uninterested in seeing the party recover and prosper, or those who couldn’t really care less, or those who think the Liberals should be taught a lesson and who instead voted Labor to try to teach them one — deserted the Coalition in droves, balancing it finely upon the precipice of defeat as a result.

I don’t think there is any problem in having a conservative forum within the Liberal Party as a starting point; after all, the party is home to other sub-groupings based on business, women, young people, regional centres and so forth, and bringing like-minded people together within the famed “broad tent” is no bad thing: contrary to the view it can erect barriers between different elements within the party, I actually think it can break them down, as the like-minded network with each other, and people in each of the sub-groups network into other sub-groups with the effect that new and deeper connections between them can be forged.

Bernardi has set up a website for people to “register interest” in his Australian Conservatives; out of interest, I’ve registered: and a little disconcertingly, the first thing I received from it was an email thanking me for “joining.” We will see what is forthcoming as the days and weeks pass, and I will share this information with readers as it becomes available, but I haven’t “joined” anything, and the presumption I have is perhaps a sign that the Australian Conservatives are something other than what they say they are.

But it takes little insight to realise the end destination of this exercise — an attempt to form a new conservative party — and in that sense, Bernardi has some questions to answer.

A check of the website requesting registrations stated that Australian Conservatives was “an initiative of the Conservative Leadership Foundation;” a quick search revealed (surprise, surprise) that the Conservative Leadership Foundation is headed by “Chairman and Founder” Cory Bernardi, and the uneasy feeling that this might be another Clive Palmer/Jacqui Lambie/Pauline Hanson enterprise was heightened by the fact the “Conservative Shop” (accessible through another tab on the CLF website) is selling five books authored by Cory Bernardi in addition to a “Hardcore Conservative” T-Shirt range.

Readers know I have little time for the cult of personality, and it is perhaps poetic to report back today on a nauseating flower whom we noted last year was attempting to shanghai the noble principles of conservatism to legitimise an undeserving, personality-based bid for the Senate, which — in a happy takeout from Saturday’s election — received the sum total of 57 Senate votes out of more than three million cast in NSW, which is at least 56 more than it deserved.

Yet in that piece, I also set out many of the preconditions it failed to address for the establishment not just of a new conservative party, but of any new party at all.

As I opined at the time:

“Any new, mass-based party — conservative or otherwise — would need to spring from multiple figureheads spanning a raft of prominent roles in business, politics, commerce, industry, and other spheres like the armed forces and interest groups like pensioners…there is an agenda a conservative party — a proper conservative party — could easily win mass backing for: one fashioned around opportunity and reward for effort; built on the family, the business community, strong national defences and a sense of national identity; looking after the vulnerable, whilst rewarding the entrepreneurial; and modernising the entire outdated structure of the pillars of the so-called “Australian settlement” that still see unions controlling whatever they like in this country, despite less than one in six Australians belonging to a union, and which see anyone who wants to sit on their arses doing nothing protected by the populist outrage of anyone with a political point to gain from letting them do so.”

And as I also pointed out, I’m not closed to the idea of a Conservative Party of Australia, but there is an awful lot it would have to do and get right in the formative stages that no new party, to my mind, has managed and/or even bothered to do and get right since Bob Menzies founded the Liberal Party in 1944.

Bernardi is right to note that 1.7 million Australians cast their votes for “right-of-centre or conservative parties rather than the Liberal Party” on Saturday, and probably at least substantially right to suggest a large number of these people were disaffected Liberal voters who simply felt unable, for whatever reason or reasons, to support their party this time.

But caution is also required, for that 1.7 million also includes those who voted for blatantly and unapologetically racist outfits like the Australian Liberty Alliance, and divisive troublemakers like Pauline Hanson with her One Nation party, who (and this is an old story) is just great at whipping up a furore around race-based problems, but never advocates anything rational or substantial as a solution to them: it’s just stir the punters up into a frenzy, grab their votes (and the election funding they yield), and skip off somewhere else to make more noise.

Neither of these entities could be called “conservative:” they are bastions of the far Right, and there is a distinction between mainstream conservatism and the lunatic fringe that must be drawn — just like there is a difference between the mainstream social democrats of the Left and their insidious brethren at its ultra-socialist, ultra-statist extreme.

Disturbingly, though, the “comments” section of Bernardi’s call to arms on his personal website shows an awful lot of interest from people openly identifying with the ALA, nutcase religious fringe outfit the Rise Up! Australia Party, and One Nation: and as soon as you build these types of far-Right influences into a political party, it can hardly be characterised as “mainstream.”

On the other hand, were current conservative Liberal voters to be coalesced into a single organisation with those from the National Party, Family First, the Shooters and Fishers party, perhaps the Liberal Democrats, and maybe some of the more reasonable Christian Democrat-style parties floating around the place, then a solid base from which to advocate proper conservative policies might be assembled.

It would have to be mass-based; none of the personality bullshit that every lunchtime legend seems to think Australians are desperate for a slice of.

It would have to be truly democratic; no management committees to rule by decree, or state executive-type delegates to turn up to every preselection to overturn the wishes of local members in favour of predetermined outcomes; some degree of veto is always mandatory of course, as the slew of candidates who slipped through vetting processes on both sides of the political divide showed repeatedly during the election campaign that has just concluded. But the criteria for vetoing candidates would have to be codified, and things like “pissed off such-and-such an MP x years ago” or “doesn’t belong to the right bunch of mates” simply wouldn’t cut it, and existing parties which engage in some or all of this behaviour should contemplate their actions when next the issue of permanently declining membership numbers comes up.

It would have to develop policies that cater to both urban and regional conservatives; there is no point in a new party that caters to one to the exclusion of the other, and such a suite of policies would probably take the form of a series of separate measures targeted to each constituency that are complementary rather than contradictory. But good luck getting the balance right.

And whilst small government, low tax, personal responsibility, incentive for effort, reward for success and an emphasis on family and traditional values — coupled with strong national defences, strong national identity, and a strong safety net for those genuinely in need of it — are all bedrock principles of mainstream conservative governance, great care would need to be taken to ensure the agenda of any new conservative party isn’t hijacked by the “string ’em up” anti-Muslim brigade, or by others whose voices are much further to the Right of an orthodox policy platform.

I don’t know how Bernardi proposes to reconcile and resolve these problems; it is heartening to see he is casting the net to form a movement rather than a party as a first step, and apparently sounding out significant figures of conservative inclination as to whether they might be involved.

But at some point, it seems inevitable that the bullet will have to be bitten: as I said earlier, it takes little imagination to see that what Bernardi is doing is taking the first, very tentative steps to form a new conservative party (or at least to try to facilitate the formation of one by mass participation), and it’s an endeavour I will most certainly be monitoring, if nothing else.

It is a process that is far from straightforward, and throws up far more questions than Bernardi has to date volunteered any answers to. At some point I may attempt to contact him to discuss his intentions, and if I do — subject to any strictures around confidentiality upon which he might insist — I will share this with readers as well.

But I am most interested in feedback from readers: what do you think? Is there a place for a new, mass-based conservative party in Australia? What do you think it should incorporate in its platform, and who should it — and shouldn’t it — open its doors to? Or do you think, as many do, that the Liberal Party, imperfect as it is, still represents the best ongoing vehicle for the advancement of conservatism in Australia?

As we ever do, we will wait and see, but I encourage all conservatively minded readers to share their views in the comment section today; the typical comment rate for this site is 1-2% of all readers, and this totemic issue presents one occasion when the views of all — if they describe themselves as conservative, or find they align with the values I have outlined here as conservative values — really should be shared, debated, and given further thought.