Victoria: In Any Other Job, ALP MPs Would Be Prosecuted

TWO ALP MPs caught misusing an allowance for rural members to maintain second residences in Melbourne are lucky they don’t work in the private sector; a blatant collective rort of $140,000 would, in other circumstances, expose them to prosecution for theft, fraud, conspiracy, and God knows what else. The episode is further proof of a rotten Labor regime presided over by a pusillanimous Premier, operated solely to benefit militant union thugs.

Lest any smarty utter the words “Bronwyn Bishop” in a comment, I note at the outset that not only was this column scathing about her flagrant waste of some $5,500 on a helicopter trip at the time — an amount repaid in full, however grudgingly — but that the episode (rightly) cost Mrs Bishop her position as Speaker of the House of Representatives, her Liberal Party endorsement for her electorate on Sydney’s North Shore, and her political career.

And I say this because once again, members from the ALP — this time, specimens from the contemptible, union-controlled junta that infests the Treasury benches in Spring Street — have shown that when it comes to the blatant rip-off of public monies for personal benefit, any outrage perpetrated by a Liberal MP invariably pales in comparison to the kind of rorting the self-entitled minions of the Labor Party seem to engage in until or unless they are caught.

Most readers will have by now heard that Andrews government Speaker Telmo Languiller has been forced to resign, and make restitution, over $40,000 he improperly claimed for maintaining a second residence outside his electorate, which wasn’t in Melbourne at all; this development yesterday was swiftly followed by the deputy Speaker, Don Nardella, also falling on his sword over a $100,000 claim against exactly the same allowance — when neither his primary residence, nor the secondary address he made the claims for, were anywhere near his electorate at all.

For those out of the loop, and particularly interstate readers, some coverage may be accessed here and here.

I’m not going to comment at great length today — I will be back later this afternoon to belatedly discuss some of what has happened this past week in the federal political arena — but whichever way you cut it, these developments are (or at least, should be) disastrous for Daniel Andrews and the government we also said, at the time it was elected, was likely to turn out to be a fiasco.

How right we were: and how lucky for Andrews, for now at least, that the state Liberals seem unable to land a telling blow against his government.

Perhaps — after the terrible loss of life on Bourke Street last month, and now this — that might finally start to change.

To fully appreciate the scope of this latest outrage (and again, for the benefit of readers interstate), a little geographical orientation is indicated.

Languiller — the member for Tarneit, about 25km west of the Melbourne CBD — has been claiming for a second residence so he could live in Queenscliff, on the surf coast about 80km from Melbourne on the Bellarine Peninsula, despite maintaining a “primary residence” in Footscray about 6km from the CBD: it goes without saying that any second residence Mr Languiller wished to maintain at Queenscliff should have been of the “holiday house” variety funded solely from his own pocket.

Nardella, by contrast, represents the electorate of Melton, a dreadful and thoroughly awful speck of Melbourne’s outer western suburbs about a third of the way to Ballarat; even so, Nardella doesn’t even pretend to deign to dwell among those whose votes he takes for granted every four years — his primary residence is in the Bayside suburb of Mordialloc, about 25km south of the CBD (and about 10-15 minutes further out from the city than where I live), and the “secondary residence” he has saddled taxpayers with a six-figure bill for is in Ocean Grove, almost literally a stone’s throw from Languiller’s joint at Queenscliff.

In other words, the “secondary residences” these gentlemen have pocketed money from the taxpayer to fund — under an allowance always intended to help rural and regional MPs maintain accommodation in Melbourne for use during parliamentary sitting weeks — were a total violation of the intention of the allowance. Apparently, the defence was initially offered that as guidelines did not stipulate a “second residence” had to be in Melbourne, no wrongdoing had occurred.

Closing that loophole should be the first item on the notice paper when Parliament next sits.

In Nardella’s case, it is hard to see how any sane or rational individual could have conjured up even the most remotely plausible justification for his actions — even if solely for the benefit of the voices in his head — for his case is arguably the worse of the two misdemeanours, and impossible to validate on any realistic basis.

But to suggest the amounts of $40,000 and $100,000 respectively were at best fraudulently procured, and worst a blatant case of theft from the public purse, is no overstatement at all.

Had Languiller and Nardella been employed in the private sector and stolen those amounts from their bosses, they could and probably would be facing a string of charges including theft, fraud, conspiracy, embezzlement, and hefty jail terms to boot.

As it is, they will likely face no consequences at all, save for the loss of the ministerial component of their salaries; nobody should feel sympathy or compunction over the fact both will repay the monies illicitly taken, and nobody should think they have been unfairly dealt with or that their feeble justifications are in any way adequate. If repaying the money they should never have taken causes either or both hardship, nobody should care less; if they find the ridicule and embarrassment they now deservedly suffer to be too hard to handle, they should thank their lucky stars nobody is likely to institute criminal proceedings against them.

Frankly, they ought to be thrown out of Parliament for their trouble: and for a Premier who made so much of the Liberals’ predicament prior to the 2014 election, when the vote of miscreant Liberal-turned-Independent Geoff Shaw was the difference between a functional Victorian Parliament and a gridlocked quagmire, Daniel Andrews owes it to the people of Victoria — based on his own purported standards and “principles” — to lead the charge against two of his own, and move the expulsion motions himself.

He won’t, for one thing Andrews truly lacks is a spine. Another is a sense of decency, wherever actions rather than words are called for.

Coming so soon after another disgraced Andrews government minister “resigned” after it emerged he had been using a taxpayer-funded chauffeured car to transport his dogs between his two houses, this is a terrible look for Victorian Labor, and one compounded by the fact that Police minister Lisa Neville was allowed to survive in her post by Andrews after the grotesque tragedy on Bourke Street just weeks ago when she should have been sacked on the spot.

When you add in the bullying of another minister out of her post for refusing to kowtow to the line dictated to Andrews by the militant, hard-Left United Firefighters Union, as it sought to take over the Country Fire Authority, this government is looking very grubby indeed; and when it is further recognised that the common thread through all of the arrivals, departures, lack of action and vacillating over getting rid of people is a constant of union webs and links, it makes Andrews look weak, pusillanimous, and pathetic.

The loss of two more ministers (if you count the Speaker and his deputy as such) for what boils down to common theft in anyone else’s language means the Andrews government has, in a little over two years, lost three Cabinet ministers, the Speaker and his deputy, for the total loss of five ministers from a starting line-up of 25: 20% of the Andrews government wiped out in less than two-thirds of its four-year term.

As I predicted it would the day after it was elected, this state Labor government has proven to be rotten to the core, and sometimes in ways nobody could have expected.

With more than 18 months to go, and with “interesting stories” circulating about the activities of some of Andrews’ other closest cohorts, it remains to be seen just how far the rot can spread — and how long before opposition leader Matthew Guy can turn what should be a political slam-dunk into any kind of lead in reputable opinion polling, let alone one that might win him the next state election.

 

Get Your Hand Off It: Queensland Redistribution An Embarrassment

HAD Annastacia Palaszczuk wished to signal Queensland’s resumption of its status as a laughing stock, no better way could be found than the idiotic redivision of state boundaries; not content with rigging the electoral system, Palaszczuk has now seen fit to leave a lasting, and embarrassing, mark. Her electoral commissioners should, to put it crudely, get their hands off it — and give place names to electorates, not slogans or jingoistic rubbish.

It is the end of a long week and I’m tired, and there are weightier matters than this that we will canvass over the weekend: that much I promise.

But in a break between work and a meeting I had last night, a quick scan of the Murdoch mastheads over a hurried dinner revealed a nugget of excrement from the Sunshine State that made me shake my head in disbelief.

And worst of all, it is apparently serious.

It is always a bad sign when supposedly independent electoral commissions trumpet the pending release of a redistribution of boundaries in whatever jurisdiction they are located in; for days there has been a steady stream of (what I gather was intended as) suspense-building pronouncements about a release today by the Queensland Redistribution Commission of a redraw of that state’s electorates.

The only problem? Some bastard leaked it to the Fairfax press, and in turn, it’s been published everywhere else in the past 24 hours, including in the Courier Mail, from which you can read some coverage here and here.

And as the Courier Mail bluntly noted, the Commissioners haven’t just rejigged the boundaries — they’ve smashed and reshaped the electoral map.

The addition of four new electorates to what had since 1985 been an 89-seat unicameral Parliament is, on its own, no particular cause for outrage or ridicule; provided these — called for by the LNP as a way of gently scaling down vast rural electorates that have grown in size due to population drift toward the coast and cities — adhered to the principle of “one vote, one value” enshrined after the Fitzgerald Inquiry, with a small weighting for a handful of the largest rural electorates, nobody would have cause to quibble.

But as the bill to establish them came before Parliament, Labor rammed through an amendment to discard the optional preferential voting system (again, a direct legacy of the Fitzgerald probity reforms) and instead restore compulsory preferential voting — for no other reason than to guarantee itself a much higher flow of Communist Greens preferences, and thus substantially rig the entire system in its own favour.

Happily, the growing likelihood that the emergence of One Nation will, thanks to that change, also guarantee the Queensland LNP a much higher flow of preferences too will probably negate that ill-gotten advantage altogether: this is the problem with cynical rorting of political processes — one day, it will rebound on you altogether if you are stupid enough to try it on.

Even so — and undaunted — word is going around that Palaszczuk is about to call a snap election to avoid having to fight on the new boundaries; and so, idiosyncratically, Queenslanders are likely to head to the polls on the boundaries as they stand today — but not on the existing optional preferential voting system, which Labor has trashed in the brazen interests of self-advantage without consultation or debate.

Confused? You’d have every right to be. It isn’t a good look, and with One Nation thrown into the mix for good measure, Queensland politics is about to better resemble a lottery than a serious exercise in ascertaining who is most fit to govern the state.

At the very minimum, Palaszczuk and her cohorts are merrily turning Queensland back into the national laughing stock it was lampooned as for decades during the Bjelke-Petersen years — albeit without the tangible, commensurate legacy of state development and economic growth that accompanied the former National Party strongman’s tenure during what was a rotten regime to boot.

It’s some achievement, to be sure, and a dubious one indeed.

Yet it’s often the little things that really make a bad change stink, and the thing that leapt out at me — as I perused the proposed new boundaries over a mouthful of salmon last night — was the unfathomably idiotic and in some cases downright ridiculous names the Queensland Redistribution Commission has seen fit to allocate to some of the heavily redrawn state electorates.

A new electorate of “Bonney” on the Gold Coast. Where in hell is that? Glass House being renamed “Tibrogargan” makes a crumb of sense, given the mountain there, but the change smells dangerously of some smartarse thinking a trendy and puerile idea ought to be enacted. Calling what was Mount Isa “Traegar” is laughable. An electorate centred on Taringa, St Lucia and Mount Coot-tha, called “Maigar,” is ridiculous.

Yes, Coopers Camp Road runs obliquely through what was Ashgrove, and Cooper himself is probably a minor local historical figure of mild note, but to rename the electorate after him?

Brisbane Central — which does exactly what it says on the packet — is going to be far less obvious to the outsider and the local alike once it becomes “McConnell.”

And in the silly politician-speak phrase that begins “The people of…,” what subterranean point is there in having an electorate called “Hill” south of Cairns?

Some of these electorate names appear to have an indirect link to roads and topographical features they contain; some seem to be a tokenistic sop to Aboriginal culture, as has become all too fashionable these days; and some are just impermeable in terms of any rational person being likely to be able to ascertain just what the hell the Commissioners were thinking.

The practice of naming electorates after people of note has never sat all that well with me; it is hokey and jingoistic. “The people of Burt,” an electorate created in WA at the last federal redistribution was, I thought, the ultimate piece of electoral crassness, but I think “the people of Hill” have them covered now, or at least soon will.

Even if it takes another electoral cycle for “Hill” to exist at all, if only as a dumb name for a state seat.

Now, Queensland is set to have a state littered with such monuments to the stupidity of people too busy trying to look important and far less deserving of their salaries than their job titles would otherwise suggest.

Bancroft. Oodgeroo. Jordan. Ninderry. Miller. Toohey. I’m pretty sure the last two aren’t describing beer brands, but who in hell would know?

Seriously, these electorates — and the massive changes they inflict on the political landscape in Queensland — will have profound ramifications for all parties to coming electoral contests, with the radically redrawn boundaries likely to unleash a colossal degree of brawling and internal warfare across the political divide, as factions and vested interests set out to seize and protect as much turf as they can, and to protect MPs at high risk of defeat in seats some retain little connection to on their reformed configurations.

But taken in aggregate with the Palaszczuk’s rigging of the electoral system, the opacity of whether the next election will be fought on the old boundaries or the new, and the cringeworthy (and frankly imbecilic) names some of these seats have been given, it isn’t unfair to say that Palaszczuk has directly and indirectly turned Queensland into a joke — and not the kind run out of illicit brothels and casinos in Fortitude Valley under the benign gaze of corrupt Police during the Bjelke-Petersen era, who in any case were far shrewder and more astute than anyone sitting in the ALP party room today, even if they did deploy those attributes toward such improper ends.

Irrespective of who wins the next election in Queensland — whenever that is, and whichever boundaries it is conducted on — the new boundaries themselves have been created through a process that is entirely proper and in accordance with the legislative framework set out in Tony Fitzgerald’s recommendations: that much we do not dispute.

They will not be redrawn again until three elections, or eight years (whichever comes first) have been held or passed: this, too, is entirely appropriate.

But the minute Palaszczuk is thrown out of office and forcibly ejected from the Premier’s suite — hopefully, the day her cynical snap election is held in the near future — the LNP should rename all of the “interesting” electorates the process has created, and resume the system that has always applied in Queensland, whereby electorate names actually describe the places they cover and in terms normal people recognise and understand.

And in the meantime — not to put too fine a point on it — the Queensland Redistribution Commission should get its collective hand off it.

For a state that pompously declares itself to be the “smart” state, this is just dumb, dumb, dumb. And a bit too smart by half.

Quick Wrap: Attack Is Great, But Useless Without A Plan

TONIGHT’S POST is a short piece to reconfirm yet again that I have not disappeared, but merely continue to operate at a million miles per hour; even so, there is a Newspoll due out later this evening (and I will get to it if I can), but a vicious and brilliant attack against ALP “leader” Bill Shorten by the PM will count for nowt if not followed with proper policies — and other things have been afoot that we will allow to percolate a little further.

I am heartily sorry for the break over the past week and a half, but revenue-generating activities (and the airport) have intervened to thwart us; after a lightning in-out trip to Canberra on Thursday to attend to an urgent business matter — in a week bookended by weekends during which I worked almost the full four days on a project I’m launching with one of my other hats on — I’m now contemplating three interstate trips over the next nine days, beginning with an in-out run to Sydney tomorrow, and scarily enough that tally of return flights is likely to grow. So whilst I apologise for the absence, I ask regular readers to bear with me.

Indeed, there is a Newspoll due for publication in The Australian later tonight, and if I can get to it before I head out to Tullamarine by 6am tomorrow I will; if you don’t see it, you’ll know the clock has beaten me.

But it will be interesting to see the picture this survey paints in terms of the Turnbull government’s fortunes, for last fortnight’s offering was (as readers could probably tell) very close to the point in my view at which Turnbull, and possibly the Coalition in this phase of holding office, passed the point of political and electoral no return.

It was cheering (and I mean this sincerely, given my trenchant criticism of Malcolm Turnbull) to see the PM rip into Labor’s alleged “leader” last week in brutal and uncompromising terms; Bill Shorten isn’t merely the least appropriate figure ever fielded by either major party as a candidate for the Prime Ministership, but is a vindictive, lying and downright obsequious piece of work to boot.

I don’t go along with the school of thought that has found its way into mainstream press analysis that “the troops” should take heart from this one-off piece of vitriolic savagery from Turnbull; the fact is that the “sycophantic parasite” Turnbull painted Shorten as should have been torn into so many pieces by the Coalition over the past four years that even a sparrow should be having trouble filling its beak with one peck.

In other words, Turnbull merely did what he should have been doing for the past 18 months — and what Tony Abbott should have been doing for two and a half years beforehand.

Whether the onslaught against Shorten continues remains to be seen; Parliament sits again next week, and it’s the way of these things that such attacks are invariably made from the safety of parliamentary privilege. But whilst destroying Shorten might amount to a case of “be careful what you wish for” — he could be replaced by someone more adept at selling a convincing, and honest-style, message — nobody on either side of politics can claim with credibility that Shorten adds any value whatsoever to Australian politics.

Leave him where he is and his opportunistic, hypocritical, populist style wreaks pandemonium on the ability of the government to govern; permit him to win an election, and the sum total of his behaviour to date adds up to the highest-taxing, highest spending, highest debt government Australia will have ever seen in which violent, militant union thugs run roughshod over democracy and the general public. A Shorten government would burn through the economy like a nuclear blast, with the likely impact of tax rises and ill-considered changes like abolishing negative gearing contributing to a hefty recession, and so even if it makes the next election even more winnable for the ALP, it is in the national interest for Bill Shorten to be driven out of the Labor leadership (and, preferably, Parliament too) at any and all costs.

Credit where it is due though: Turnbull has finally laid a glove on the imbecilic opposition “leader.” More of the same, hopefully, will follow.

A surer bet is the apparent decision by the government, from Turnbull down, to suddenly champion the consumer where essential services are concerned; what one British MP once described as “all this Greens bullshit” has led to the farcical situation whereby electricity and gas are now almost priced beyond the reach of ordinary households to afford — and what there is available to them to consume isn’t even a reliable supply, as the uselessness and unfitness for purpose of renewables to generate constant baseload power has been laid bare after a summer in which much of the country has experienced extreme heatwaves for months.

Perhaps the penny has finally dropped — perhaps — that government in Australia is not a vocation in prosecuting the trendy crusades of the smug left on climate change, Muslim immigration and “gender fluidity” (whatever the hell that is), but is in fact an obligation to govern for the people who live here in order to improve, and maintain, the standard of living they are accustomed to enjoying.

I have been blunt over the years that with Australia accounting for less than 1% of global emissions, the moves to price cheap, inexhaustible coal out of the energy mix in this country is tantamount to a criminal negligence against its citizens; even if you accept human emissions are responsible for climate change — and I don’t, for I think it’s puerile to use 150 years or so of data to make ridiculous pronouncements over millions of years of history — there is literally no difference Australia can make to the overall global emissions load.

Yes, clean up industry and yes, wherever possible, make smoke stacks belching shit into the air a thing of the past, but not at the cost of ordinary families being slugged with $500 bills every three months to turn the lights on.

Even here, I think the safest bet is to simply wait and see.

For whilst I have been implacable in my insistence over the years that Turnbull isn’t, wasn’t and won’t be the ideal candidate for the Prime Ministership, my personal view of him is very high indeed (even if I don’t hold some of his mates in the same warm esteem); if there is some way Malcolm can not only deal himself back into the game, but carry the millions of lost conservative votes back into the Coalition tent with him, nobody will cheer him on more loudly than I.

I do think such a storyline, however, remains improbable in the extreme.

But now experimenting with hard policy as a way to cut the cost of living on utility prices, maybe a flutter of success (and a flicker of cognisance in the opinion polls) might finally induce Malcolm to do what this column has been calling for over a period of months: to outline a program of comprehensive reform (however difficult the Senate might render its execution) on taxation, industrial relations, welfare and education reform, along with a sweeping program of cuts to Rudd-Gillard era spending programs and a severe cull of federal public servants, and — most importantly of all — a hard-hitting and efficacious communications and political strategy with which to sell it — not the festering, pustulent crap with which the Coalition has approached matters of mass communication in office for far, far too long now.

Of course, a poor Newspoll result might render any talk of tentative upswings entirely redundant. We will see.

I am off to watch the ghastly ABC talkfest that is #QandA, which tonight features Attorney-General George Brandis as the chief token Liberal amid the usual stacked panel of pinko sycophants and Australia-hating left-wing filth.

It should at least prove a more edifying spectacle than last week’s all-out brawl between the cringeworthy Jacqui Lambie — whose credentials, based on her performance last week, as the stupidest person ever elected to an Australian House of Parliament are well and truly intact — and Muslim activist Yassmin Abdel-Magied.

For once Lambie was right, although her apparent bogan tic of terminating every sentence with “that’s BOOLSHITT!” wore very thin by the end of the show: even so, the suggestion by Abdel-Magied that Islam is a “feminist” religion, and that criticisms of Sharia law are based “in ignorance” when women, children and babies are routinely raped and slaughtered under regimes predicated solely on the strictest possible interpretation of Sharia law, well and truly deserved the tsunami of condemnation it elicited in the mainstream press and in social media this week.

I’m the first to draw the distinction between moderate Muslims and Islamic extremists — something the far Right refuses to acknowledge even exists, and which the Left roundly dismisses as “racism” and bigotry” — but the simple truth is that graphic videos of women being raped and/or beheaded by Muslim men, in some cases apparently with the sanction of the Islamic states involved, are readily available online and are more than enough proof that if anyone is delusional, it’s the young Abdel-Magied who has had the benefit of a free life in Australia, not the sisters she dishonours with talk of “feminist” Islam.

After all, if her words contained a grain of truth, there would be no women from Muslim backgrounds in Australia (or any other free country) at all: life would be too good where they came from to abandon.

So let’s dispense with the nonsense that the ABC is in any way impartial or factual by providing a platform for such views, and condemn whomever approved the expenditure at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for the taxpayer-funded field trip to Muslim countries for Abdel-Magied that was — and let’s call it for what it was — an attempt to curry favour with yet another minority group whilst the interests of the majority, who largely pay for such ridiculous trifles, are ignored.

 

Bernardi Can Kill The Liberals, Non-Labor Government, And Himself

ANY GUTLESS FOOL, knowing they can’t win a lower house seat, can “start a party” by standing in the Senate and rustling preferences to bolster single-digit support, but it takes a special kind of cowardice to do it by deserting a party that six months ago delivered up a six-year term. If Cory Bernardi leaves the Liberals to do just that, he stands to kill off the Liberal Party, the prospects for non-Labor government in Australia and, eventually, himself.

It’s a short post from me this morning: I suspect we will be returning to this theme very soon, and possibly as soon as tonight.

But the apparent putsch by Cory Bernardi to desert the Liberal Party to set up his “Australian Conservatives” party — fortified with cash from mining billionaire Gina Rinehart, if media reports are to be believed — seems set to occur very shortly, and as much as readers know I despair the inability of conservative forces in Australia to get their shit together, this is simply not the way to go about it.

(I emphasise, conservative forces: not whack-job right wing garbage almost exclusively focused on Muslim immigration, abortion, and vilifying homosexuals en route to stopping gay marriage — a measure I don’t support either).

Thanks to the endlessly updating speculation that filled large portions of yesterday’s press, we know Bernardi will likely stand alone if he walks out on the Liberals: the likeliest fellow travellers in any defection — Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz and Queensland MP George Christensen — have both ruled out joining their colleague on the crossbenches, for now at any rate.

Anyone seeking their five minutes in the limelight can try to start a new “party” by running for a Senate berth, armed with the knowledge they could never assemble a majority in a lower house electorate, and using a strategy of preference harvesting to bolster single-digit direct support; we’ve seen it time, and time, and time again.

But it takes a special kind of cowardice to use the money, resources and manpower of another party to secure a fresh six-year Senate term, and then “start a party” by biting the hand that fed you and walking out.

Bernardi, to be clear, is a creature of the Liberal Party, whatever he suggests to the contrary: he has been the president of the SA division, a vice-president federally and, of course, a Senator in SA for some years.

And the idea that walking out on the party that gave him a profile and a career will somehow empower the millions of frustrated voters looking for genuine action on mainstream conservative policies is fatuous, to say the least.

The Liberal Party has its problems — and we have explored them at great length in this column — but nothing a change of leader, a sweeping cleanout of the ranks of its advisers, a few astute preselection changes and some backbone wouldn’t fix.

To make those changes would take great effort, hard work, the making of enemies and the termination of the careers of many vested interests; the reward, however, would be to restore the Liberal Party to its role as the mainstream conduit for conservative sentiment that I passionately believe informs the outlook of a majority of the Australian electorate.

In recent years, this connection between party and base has certainly become strained, to put it most kindly; the present occupant of the federal leadership wears a heavy share of the responsibility, but he is not alone: the risk-averse advisors, the state Liberal Parties filled with deadwood and/or factional hacks, and the perennial desire to offer all things to all people — meaning the party actually ends up pleasing nobody, with the leaching of its support the most tangible consequence — have all played a part.

I note that Bernardi, despite his position on the backbench, has remained largely mute in terms of mass communication where any cogent conservative agenda is concerned; it’s hardly a state secret to advocate for a proper slate of conservative policies in government, and the inevitable conclusion is that no such platform is in the offing.

And it is dubious as to how many of the 50,000 people he has “signed up” will follow him if he walks out on the Liberals: as I noted some time ago, I too signed up — to keep an eye on what Bernardi was up to — and no doubt a fair slab of that 50,000 bloc was doing the same thing. Continue reading

Newspoll 54-46 To Labor: Early Days, But Turnbull Is Doomed

THE stupidest of many ill-advised statements by Malcolm Turnbull is the excuse of “30 losing Newspolls” he gave to justify knifing his predecessor; today’s is the seventh straight “losing” Newspoll, featuring awful numbers for the government on almost every line, and Turnbull’s abysmal ratings stuck where they dwelt for much of his first hapless stint as Liberal leader: in the toilet. It is early in the day, but this poll makes it clear. Turnbull is finished.

You know there is something very, very wrong when a Prime Minister whose personal approval rating increases by a solitary point — despite two-thirds of the respondents to a reputable poll declining to express approval — and leading a government on track for an electoral belting has a pack of sycophants in tow disseminating the message that he’s roaring back into contention because he “stood up” to Donald Trump: never mind the fact that the rest of the world almost unanimously recognises that the PM was badly humiliated, and in front of a global audience to boot.

Yes, Malcolm Turnbull’s approval rating in Newspoll increased this week, from 32% to 33%. Truly.

But sarcasm aside, the first Newspoll for 2017 (published in The Australian, which you can access here) might be easier for the Turnbull camp to spin its way out of if not for the fact that it lands squarely in the middle of ReachTel and Essential Media findings that have been posted over the last month; the headline finding that the Coalition trails Labor by eight points after preferences is now disturbingly consistent across all of the polls that have been in the field so far this year.

The fact Newspoll is generally the most accurate makes this result even worse.

And with the 4.4% swing to the ALP this poll represents from the July election — handing 20 seats to Labor if replicated at an election and with them, government with a majority of 24 seats — it is obvious that Malcolm Turnbull has a very big problem indeed.

There are some interesting messages coming out of this poll, and Turnbull isn’t the only one who ought to be contemplating his next move in life, but more on that shortly.

But at a time of year that is often the friendliest for governments — the silly season, when most people switch off politics, and re-emerge feeling pretty good about themselves and the state of the world* — it does rather appear that for the second year in a row, Turnbull has blown the easiest opportunity on offer to get a bit of momentum going before the business of government cranks back up to top gear.

Another travel expenses scandal, another disgraced minister, another reshuffle that may or may not turn out to have been astutely crafted (for once), the embarrassment of the leaks about the Trump call, the botched disclosure of Turnbull’s personal $1.75m donation to the Liberal Party: it’s getting to be a fairly tired old story, and there is every indication — and not just from the polls, if you talk to enough people on the street, well away from the surrealistic bubble politicians occupy — that the electorate has completely switched off from Malcolm Turnbull.

The personal approval numbers — for both Turnbull and opposition “leader” Bill Shorten — are abjectly pathetic, to the point anyone on either side who crows about them has a psychiatric problem; Turnbull elicited approval from 33% of Newspoll respondents; Shorten, 32%. It doesn’t really matter that Turnbull picked up a point, or that Shorten dropped a couple. There are no trends here aside from the fact voters generally want to throw the Turnbull government out of power. More than half of Newspoll’s respondents disapproved of both.

Similarly, the fact Turnbull continues to lead Shorten on the “preferred PM” measure — by 42% (+1%) to 30% (-2%) — has all the excitement about it of a mildew colony growing spores. A friend of mine (a fellow Carlton Football Club fanatic) has a habit at Carlton games, when we trail the opposition by 50 or 60 points, of sarcastically yelling “Charge!” when the team kicks a behind for a miserable extra point after missing a goal; the anecdote neatly reflects Turnbull’s “progress” on this measure in this survey: negligible to the point of useless.

But aside from the headline 54-46 finding — which is damning for a government re-elected seven months ago that hasn’t really actually done anything — it is on the primary vote findings in this Newspoll that the real story lies.

With the Coalition registering just 35% (-4% since December), the magnitude of the hole Turnbull has adroitly steered the government into over the past 15 months becomes starkly apparent. No government has ever won an election with 35% of the vote; even Julia Gillard in 2010 — at an election Labor technically lost — managed a sliver better than 37%.

Those votes appear to have gone to One Nation and the “Others” pile (which register 8% and 11% respectively) and, by virtue of Labor’s two-party figure increasing two points to 54%, it is clear that these nominally conservative voters are disinclined to back Turnbull on any basis: the now well-known phenomenon of right-wing electors preferring to banish the Coalition to opposition and endure a term of Labor in office rather than vote for Turnbull at all.

Yet the ALP vote, at 36%, has not increased in this poll, sitting just a solitary point above its level at last year’s election and two points above the belting it suffered at the hands of Tony Abbott in September 2013. Labor is simply not an attractive option for anyone beyond its bare core base.

There are three things that can readily be extrapolated from these figures: one, the support lost to the Coalition may or may not be retrievable, given the ALP has singularly failed to make direct inroads; two, that the problem emanates almost exclusively from Turnbull (and to a lesser extent, the non-performing ministers who hold their posts because they voted for him against Abbott, rather than fielding the best team the Coalition might offer); and three, if the ALP is serious about a return to office, it is going to have to get rid of Bill Shorten and replace him with somebody more attractive to the broader electorate.

Had Mal Brough — a Turnbull appointment that quickly proved very foolish indeed, given the lightning speed with which federal Police raided his house after his return to the ministry — remained on the backbench, it is likely Shorten would have been junked by Labor in late 2015; bereft of credibility and reeling from the Royal Commission into the union movement, ALP hardheads were readying to dump him if he didn’t go quietly. But the Brough raid gave Shorten breathing room, and he survived.

Just as a week can be a long time in politics, it often turns on a dime; and had Brough not been promoted as a reward for his work putting the numbers together for Turnbull’s leadership challenge, or had Turnbull done as this column advised and called a December 2015 election, then the Coalition’s thumping 2013 majority would likely still be intact today — and the government equipped with a lot more insurance against the parlous situation it now contemplates.

I have said many times, including in this column, that a leadership change at the ALP should be interpreted as a sign it is serious about winning an election, and confident it is able to do so. In this sense, there is little for Shorten to be satisfied with in these numbers even though they show Labor comfortably ahead on the two-party measure.

But that’s the point: and however the 54% ALP number is arrived at — low primary vote notwithstanding — it is impossible to crunch these numbers and get any other outcome from them but a crushing election defeat for the Coalition.

I’d never vote for it, but the last thing the Coalition would want is to allow an ALP duumvirate of Tanya Plibersek as leader and Chris Bowen as deputy to get ensconced with a soaring lead in the polls before doing something about its own dire predicament: by that stage, a Labor win would be almost inevitable irrespective of what the Liberals belatedly did about Turnbull.

And this is why a change in the Liberal leadership is likely in the top half of 2017: by Easter or at latest before the budget is what I have been hearing.

The Liberals have been here before with Turnbull: in 2009, in the aftermath of his injudicious “Utegate” own goal, which raised permanent questions of his political nous and judgement. Malcolm’s personal numbers are now no better than they were following that event. The Coalition’s two-party number, having hit 53% soon after he rolled Abbott and at the time he should have called an election but didn’t, has traversed a gentle but almost ceaseless downward path ever since.

During his first stint as Liberal leader, the Coalition’s average two-party result was a 44-56 deficit. On today’s numbers, which are a deadly reconfirmation of that downward slide, Turnbull has almost returned the Coalition to the sorry state in which he left it more than seven years ago.

The frustrating thing — as I have published numerous times, including in several articles so far this year — is that the solutions to the government’s problems, whilst difficult to implement, are blindingly obvious: proper conservative policy, sounder strategy and tactics, and far more effective communications. It is clear that the Coalition in its present guise does not possess the requisite smarts on any of these measures. Today’s Newspoll is proof of it, corroborating to vicious effect other polls that have recorded almost identical findings.

I think we have reached the point that it doesn’t really matter what Turnbull says or does now: out in Voterland, nobody is listening. People couldn’t care less. The Liberal Party needs a new leader. It might be early in the day, with two years or so until an election is due, but the bell is tolling. Turnbull is doomed.

I might not be one of Malcolm Turnbull’s greatest (political) admirers, as readers well know; but as I said to one rusted-on Turnbull insider a week or so ago, I don’t actually want to see the Liberal Party pushed out of government, either.

The only way that outcome can be avoided is by a change of leadership: the transaction risks and costs now easily outweigh the political risks of leaving Turnbull in his post.

But with question marks hanging over almost all of the feasible contenders to replace him, and a karma bus with Turnbull’s name on it seemingly packed and ready to hit the road, the party simply cannot afford to make another mistake if it goes down that track, and whilst I have declined at this stage  to endorse anyone to replace Turnbull, whoever it is that steps up to the challenge is going to have their work cut out if the Coalition’s electoral position is to be retrieved.

Today’s Newspoll is highly unlikely to trigger any kind of leadership challenge when MPs return to Canberra this week.

But it almost certainly represents the point at which the ambit muttering that has been going on and the disparate groups resolving to “do something” about the Liberal leadership are galvanised into more concerted activity aimed at getting rid of their dud leader.

And it might prove to be the trigger for Cory Bernardi to walk out of the Liberal Party to set up his new “conservative” party, if that is what he actually intends to do…who knows on that front? But were it to happen, then the government would probably be dead in the water anyway.

The stupidest thing any political leader can do is to give his or her opponents a poll-driven yardstick with which to beat the living shit out of them if they flounder; Turnbull did precisely that 17 months ago when he nominated a consecutive sequence of “30 losing Newspolls” as his pretext for shafting Tony Abbott.

Today is Malcolm’s very own “losing” Newspoll #7. In a row. If there is one thing that is certain, he won’t get to 30 — or anything remotely approaching it.

Turnbull is finished. Anyone with a different reading of today’s Newspoll numbers should enrol in a remedial English class.

 

*The “state of the world” is an expression…with an eye to the new occupant at 1,600 Pennsylvania Drive, it is not intended to be taken literally today…

Just Mad: Pauline Hanson’s Garbled, Incoherent “Plan” For Australia

FOR someone who’s had years to get her story straight — if, that is, she was ever serious about solving problems she whips up fear and discord around — the agenda Pauline Hanson has unveiled to fix Australia’s alleged ills is a garbled mishmash of contradictory, populist thought bubbles that would do untold damage to this country. It underlines the fact that on matters of consequence, One Nation is just mad, bad, and downright dangerous.

Today’s article deals with a subject — Pauline Hanson — that is a perennial headache, an enigma, and a national embarrassment sprinkled with tiny kernels of justification; that said, the position of this column is (and always will be) that Hanson and her One Nation party, which attracts extremists, nutcases and ordinary folk who are fed up with mainstream politics in equal measure, must be neutralised and defeated at all costs.

Regular readers know that one of the central criticisms I have levelled at Hanson (who I know personally) is that she has always been adept at identifying “problems” — Aborigines, Asians, Muslims, single mothers, dole bludgers — but when it comes to offering “solutions,” Hanson has traditionally had nothing meaningful to say.

Until now.

I have read the rather generous profile piece being run in the state-based Murdoch mastheads today (and one in The Australian, too), in which Hanson outlines a manifesto (for want of a more suitable term) to “fix” Australia that — to be completely blunt — is a recipe for laying waste to it rather than rendering any remotely beneficial change.

Perhaps we should have been content to let her rail on about “problems,” and forget about seeking the “solutions” that might have spared her the criticism of being just another empty-handed troublemaker, content to foment paranoia and discord, whilst selling little more than snake oil and baseless prejudice.

Either way, the onus is now on the major parties — and the Liberal Party in particular — to systematically dismantle Hanson’s program and to show, unequivocally, that far from saving Australia it would, in fact, virtually destroy it.

Before we get started, I should remind readers that this column did in fact call for the Queensland LNP to strike a preference deal with One Nation for the looming state election (see here and here); whilst I stand by that call, it should be in no way construed or misrepresented as an endorsement.

Whether you like it or not, a disproportionate number of Coalition votes are fuelling the rise of One Nation, in the same way a disproportionate number of Labor votes fuelled the growth of the Communist Party Greens; whilst One Nation is a very different creature to the Liberal Party, the two are closer than One Nation is to the ALP, in the way Labor and the Greens are similarly closer than the Greens to the Liberals. It is high time the Coalition focused on discrediting the relationship between Labor and the Greens, ensuring as many One Nation votes as possible return to it on preferences, instead of self-immolating over the issue and becoming paralysed by inertia as a consequence.

But let’s be fair: Pauline Hanson has apparently done as this column has demanded, for the first time in almost 20 years of milking votes and electoral funding from a brazen dog whistle to every redneck idiot in the country, and put some policies on the table.

Let’s see how they stack up.

The 2% EzyTax proposal she apparently pins her economic credibility on is a stinker that has been doing the rounds of those looking for something jingoistic and idiot-simple to flaunt as “tax reform” for decades; I’ve seen it surface, for example, at the fringes of the Liberal Party repeatedly during 27 years as a member.

This silly notion — that literally every transaction of money should attract a 2% tax impost — may or may not lead to a zero-sum equation where total government revenue is concerned, or even yield more revenue; I’m not an economist and even if I was, I don’t have access to the kind of modelling that would provide a ready answer.

But some of the consequences are so blindingly obvious that anyone with a skerrick of understanding of economics — which Ms Hanson and her cohorts clearly do not possess — could foresee them.

In the short term, the effect of this policy would be to convey the appearance to consumers that their disposable incomes had rocketed; after all, income tax would fall to 2%, and GST would be abolished.

This would fuel a boom in imports and a steep hike in the inflation rate, as consumption ballooned; as consequent price growth accelerated to facilitate profit growth, wages would follow suit, locking in the kind of prices-wages spiral that afflicted the Australian economy during the Whitlam years and arguably took a decade to unpick.

In turn, this would leave the Reserve Bank with no choice but to start moving official interest rates steeply higher in a desperate attempt to choke the life out of an unsustainable price-wage-consumption bubble; and the effect of that would be to trigger a vicious contraction in the property market — perhaps inducing a recession — which would see potentially hundreds of thousands of jobs (to say nothing of the hard-earned wealth of Australian workers) lost.

Higher interest rates would also send the Australian dollar sharply higher, again mitigating against economic growth, this time by making Australian exports much more expensive.

Eventually, the adjustment — one way or the other — would be carried through.

But the permanent effects of this policy would be to devalue the savings of the ordinary people Hanson claims to want to help: every time they took money out of the bank, 2% would be added to the withdrawal; every time they deposited money, 2% of it would disappear. Whilst I support GST being extended to everything except healthcare, education, retail banking and housing, it is a paradox that most of those cheering Ms Hanson on are typically opposed to these basic services (and food) being taxed: under her policy, they would be.

With GST abolished, 2% EzyTax would make the states more reliant on Commonwealth handouts, not less, which in turn would make Commonwealth-state relations even more confrontational, and render the two tiers of government more inclined to playing each other off for partisan gain than they already are.

And all of this is merely represents the most obvious adverse effects of 2% EzyTax. There are bound to be countless others. Is this the kind of tax policy a modern, advanced, first-world economy should countenance? I suggest the answer, resoundingly, is “no.”

For a politician purporting to want to roll back the role of the state, Hanson offers other policies that are oxymoronic, to say the least.

She wants couples to be forced to lodge pre-nuptial agreements with the Family Court before they can marry: a ridiculous, unjustifiable imposition that in any case will cause the marriage rate to drop like a stone, in turn fuelling even greater burdens to befall the Court and the welfare system as de facto relationships are easier for people to walk away from, leading to a potential spike in single parent payments, protracted family law litigation, and the like.

(Speaking of children, these agreements are supposed to cover, in advance, arrangements for managing children that result from marriages. Just shake your head and invest in a pack of tarot cards: the reading will have as much chance as any other mechanism of getting that particular piece of silliness right).

She would unapologetically mire Australia in a reputation for sovereign risk, forcing foreign companies who have bought infrastructure assets into compulsory divestiture; it is unknown what Ms Hanson proposes to pay these companies to acquire them, but it’s a fair bet it would be a discount to their fair market value — compounding the dreadful reputation as a place to do business she openly advocates shackling Australia with.

In any case, government debt — another Hanson priority — would need to blow out exponentially in order to fund an acquisition program that would likely run to trillions of dollars.

With no sense of irony, Hanson claims she would offer a taxpayer-funded program to get young Australians into apprenticeships, apparently ignorant of the fact such schemes have existed for many years.

There is no detail offered around the notion of offering manufacturers tax incentives “to create Aussie jobs (sic),” but I would note that a) jobs presently filled by immigrants on 457 visas are typically jobs that others refuse to take, and that more to the point, b) the deleterious effects of Ms Hanson’s broader economic “vision” are likely to be so dire as to substantially reduce the base of potential employers in the first place.

Hanson says she would cull the number of politicians in Australia. How? As “Prime Minister” she would have no jurisdiction over state or local governments, and there isn’t a syllable in her announcement advocating, say, the removal of state governments and a streamlined two-tier system of governance.

Readers know I have advocated a referendum to abolish the “nexus” imposed by S24 of the Constitution (which dictates the House of Representatives be roughly double the size of the Senate) in order to reduce the number of Senators and increase the number of electorates in the lower house to enable better representation of a growing population, but this kind of complex argument appears beyond the capacity and/or inclination of Ms Hanson and her cohorts to attempt.

In other words, any move to implement this one-liner of populist nonsense is likely to bog down in constitutional litigation, a constitutional crisis, or both.

Limiting immigration is a classic calling card of far-Right entities appealing to base prejudices on the fringe of the electorate that raise more problems than they solve. With an ageing population (and fewer people to pay the taxes that support government expenditure), Australia relies on its immigration program for its viability. We do not have the critical mass of the 320 million people of the United States, or even of the 65 million people in the United Kingdom, but we do have a population that is rapidly becoming top-heavy with old people. A more credible proposal would be to alter the immigration mix to achieve a heavier emphasis on skills and less emphasis on family reunion, but even this straightforward distinction appears to be too much for Hanson and her party to draw.

And of course — as a token sop to racists (yes, racists) — full head coverings (read: the burqa or niqab) would be banned. I don’t like the sight of people covered from head to toe either. But this pledge, rather than ranking well down the pecking order of One Nation’s priorities, is in fact a headline act near the very top of the bill.

Ms Hanson wants a Royal Commission to determine whether “Islam” is a political ideology or a religion; this half-arsed suggestion is perhaps the greatest attempt to hoodwink the gullible and the stupid in this country in some time.

It fails to draw the distinction between militant, radical Islam (which aims to destroy the liberal democratic societies of the West) and more moderate, orthodox strains of Muslim doctrine (whose adherents don’t want to hurt anyone, and simply want to be left alone). Yet once again, the idiot-simple appeal to bigoted lunatics appears to hold more sway at One Nation than any attempt to prosecute a nuanced, finely argued case, separating extreme elements from the harmless, and coming up with constructive ways to deal with the former whilst leaving the latter well enough alone.

Hanson says she would introduce an identity card to end welfare fraud: not to stamp out identity fraud, which costs Australia billions of dollars per year, but to single out welfare recipients and to brand them all as bludgers and criminals who are on the take. In practical terms, this means those doing the wrong thing will simply have more hoops to jump through to get their welfare cheques (and as surely as night follows day, they will be prepared to jump through them).

There are indeed those who are rorting the welfare system to the cost of both working Australians and of those genuinely needy people who can’t help themselves, who might get more assistance if the Commonwealth wasn’t also supporting the indolent and the unmotivated. But this measure will not make a shred of difference (aside from adding to compliance costs) and, as I said, the real scourge of identity fraud would be relegated to an afterthought.

Apparently, One Nation wants to build more dams, railways, and ports. With what? After its compulsory asset acquisition program bankrupts the federal government, and sources of private sector capital flee Australia in panic, there won’t be any need for railways and ports because the country’s trade relationships will have been destroyed.

As for dams, which I support, good luck with that. After all, if One Nation can’t make a sensible case for anything else Hanson says it is advocating, there is no foreseeable way it can engage the Greens in a fight over damming rivers and come out on top.

On and on it goes; we could be here all day, if the blowtorch was applied to every aspect of this mad, bad, dangerous “vision” for Australia’s future, which in any case is nothing more than a step-by-step recipe to destroy the country Ms Hanson claims she wants to “save.”

Her adherents will lash out at my remarks, claiming they are just a manifestation of the “panic” sweeping major parties that are scared of her; I simply say that the points I have made are merely the tip of the iceberg in any concerted, rational, fact-based smackdown of an agenda that is lunatic in nature and a guaranteed way to wreck anything in its path.

And of course, the articles I’ve linked from the press today contain a healthy dose of the victim mentality on which Ms Hanson invariably trades; she’s had knockdowns. She’s been in prison. They haven’t beaten her. She’s got up again. They can throw everything at her. Blah, blah, blah. The irony is that nobody has ever really subjected Ms Hanson to the full force of a frontal assault over everything she stands for because until now, there has rarely (if ever) been a package of “solutions” put forward by her to take aim at.

Now, however, she has presented a much bigger target for her opponents to attack, and attack it they must: for these ideas are nothing short of ridiculous, and constitute a very dangerous delusion indeed about how this country works — and how the issues that face it can be managed.

It is true that Australia has problems, and readers have seen me repeatedly advocate a program for moderate, mainstream conservative solutions that would be difficult enough for a proper conservative government to implement in the face of irresponsible populism and blather from the likes of Bill Shorten and Labor, but which in any case are vastly more realistic and practicable than anything included in Pauline Hanson’s plan.

I have said before and will say again that Hanson herself isn’t a bad person; I genuinely think she means well. But she is very limited in both her ability to grasp critical issues and comprehend the ramifications of what she proposes, and whether she likes it or not, her voice — and the message of One Nation — are forces of destruction and conflict, rather than agents of anything positive or useful.

The agenda she has unveiled is nothing more than a garbled mishmash of contradictory, populist thought bubbles that would inflict great damage on Australia’s institutions of governance, its economy, its standing in the world, and on Australian society itself.

Hanson has had decades to get her story straight, and if this is the best she can come up with, perhaps it would be better for all concerned if she slunk off into retirement like so many people of her age are doing.

Certainly, the very supporters looking to anyone who will listen to them would be best served if she and her party simply disappeared. It is just one more irony among many that her own supporters stand to be the hardest hit by the policies she now says she will pursue if ever (God forbid) she is elected to a position from which to implement them.

In the final analysis, One Nation is just mad: the Hanson announcement this weekend sounds a clarion call to all parties to tackle this menace once and for all, and to drive from Australian politics a scourge that has been permitted to fester and ensconce itself as a legitimate offering for far too long.

“Sorry” Or Not, Trump Was Justified In Reaming Turnbull

AS YOU SOW, so shall you reap: these words should ring in Malcolm Turnbull’s ears like a klaxon siren after his entirely justified international humiliation by Donald Trump; having barracked for Hillary Clinton and made no secret of his disgust at her defeat, Turnbull’s refugee deal with Barack Obama, after that defeat, was tantamount to a poke in the eye of the new US President. “Sorry” he may now be, but Trump was within his rights to lash out.

There is one angle to the fracas over Malcolm Turnbull’s fraught telephone call with Donald Trump this week — over the equally contentious prospect of carting asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island off to the United States for resettlement — that every mainstream media commentator I’ve seen or read has missed, and it is an instructive one.

I should apologise to readers for my disappearance over the past few days; three days interstate and a heavy day yesterday back in Melbourne conspired to disrupt the renewed conversation we have been having here, and whilst I have stayed abreast of political goings-on, it has been a little frustrating to be unable to find the time to comment.

But I have followed, with interest, the increasingly embarrassing debacle that was Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s first telephone conversation with the new US President; to say Turnbull has come off second best is something of an understatement, and whilst some — like Daily Telegraph columnist Laurie Oakes — are trying to pump up Turnbull’s tyres, suggesting the PM “stood up” to the President and showed him his “mettle” — the reality is that being made to look a fool to a global audience by willing media is something Turnbull could (and should) have avoided.

First, a little history.

Back in 1992, the Conservative government of UK Prime Minister John Major — itself freshly re-elected in a result that probably owed more to the thumping majority won by Margaret Thatcher in 1987 it was defending, and to the fact its Labour opponent was Neil Kinnock, than it did to any great enthusiasm within the British electorate — leapt into the fray during that year’s presidential election in the US, making no secret of the fact it wanted George H. Bush re-elected, and going to great lengths to ensure that that message received extensive coverage by the US press.

The outcome, as everyone knows, was nothing of the sort; Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton beat the elder President Bush handsomely (thanks, in part, to the votes drained off by billionaire Independent candidate Ross Perot). Clinton went on to serve eight years as President — in a reign many credit his wife, Hillary, as the “real brain” behind — and during which controversy and scandal were never far from the surface.

(It is during this period that my own deep contempt and dislike for the Clintons developed; not because they were from the Left, but because they gave every appearance of being a law unto themselves: an entitled mentality that remained evident up to and beyond Hillary Clinton’s own failed presidential bid last year).

Even so, in 1997 — as Major again faced British voters, this time against a resurgent “New” Labour Party led by the telegenic but vapid Tony Blair — the Clinton administration, always happy to hold a grudge and to act on it, returned fire at the Conservative Party in a concerted endeavour to make sure it got the British government it wanted to work with. Labour would have convincingly won the 1997 election in Britain even without the endorsement and star power Clinton showered upon its campaign, but it hardly takes a rocket scientist to deduce that Clinton’s opinion counted for more in the UK than Major’s did in the US, and Major and the Tories were trounced.

This story is instructive, for it contains a sentiment that I think has changed very little in decades, if not centuries: nobody tells Uncle Sam what to do, or not do; from the War of Independence to the two World Wars — the second of which America was dragged into by the ambush attack at Pearl Harbour in 1941 — and to the Cuban Missile Crisis and more recently, its domestic politics, the bottom line always ends up being the same. America makes up its own mind.

What many people forget, too, is that prior to 1941, the US was quite content to dwell in splendid isolation, and leave the rest of the world largely to itself: this could offer a clue to why, after decades of global military activity over the past 75 years and being co-opted by most of the free world to act as its guarantor, the independent, isolationist message of the Trump platform resonated as strongly as it did. In short, it was a pitch for America to return to a more traditional view of itself.

The reason I relate both the Major-Clinton anecdote and the nature of pre-1941 America is because I think Malcolm Turnbull has probably emulated the former, and been complicit in an attempt to disrupt the latter.

Before last year’s US elections, Turnbull made it clear — crystal clear — whose side he was on; Hillary Clinton was “an old, personal friend” who “Lucy and I” looked forward to welcoming to Australia “as President.” Turnbull anticipated that “President Clinton” would be “a very good friend for Australia.” He was less vocal than some about his distaste for Trump before the election, but as the result became clear, the saccharine acknowledgement Turnbull gave of Trump’s victory failed to mask his obvious and real disgust that his “friend” had lost.

In an age of ceaseless, instant media coverage (and in a time political bunkers across the world receive news in real time, analysing and studying it to determine precise intelligence conclusions) Turnbull’s unabashed rah-rah antics on Clinton’s behalf were never going to escape the attention of the Trump team.

And in turn, the deal for 1,250 processed refugees to be resettled in the United States — formalised with Barack Obama, after the result of the election was beyond doubt — was only ever going to be interpreted by the Trump machine as a poke in the eye: an arrogantly mischievous attempt to lob a grenade into the incoming administrations’s plans that would explode in the new President’s face.

Turnbull himself might not have thought of the deal in such terms, but it beggars belief that Obama (and the Clinton team, which was reportedly involved with planning it) would have regarded it as anything else.

It was, to use the vernacular, the action of a smartarse.

There has of course been a tremendous amount of reportage over what was said and what was not said in the course of the conversation on Thursday between Trump and Turnbull.

What has not been contradicted by either side, despite wild accusations of “fake news” informing some of this coverage, is that a) Trump regarded the refugee settlement arrangements as a “dumb deal;” b) that Trump claimed that countries across the world were “taking advantage” of the USA, and that this had to stop; c) that Trump berated Turnbull, saying (among other things) that the call was the “worst” of his four calls with world leaders that day, including Russian leader Vladimir Putin; and d) that the call abruptly ended 35 minutes short of hour scheduled for it almost immediately after the refugee deal had been discussed.

As an incidental observation, characteristically fatuous remarks by opposition “leader” Bill Shorten — that Trump should have shown Turnbull more “respect,” and that he shared Australians’ sentiments that “petty playground bickering” and political point scoring must stop — deserve to be contemptuously dismissed as the hypocritical and opportunistic blather that they are.

And some readers of this column (and others who follow me on Twitter) may accuse me of hypocrisy in going down this track, too, for I was trenchantly critical of Hillary Clinton during the election campaign, and whilst not a Trump supporter, was resolute that the only result her candidacy merited was defeat. To those people I simply note that this is an opinion column, not a news service; the bulk of the opinions here are guided by my knowledge of and instinct for electoral behaviour. My sense was that beyond the Democratic Party’s citadels of California and New York, there was little appetite for Clinton among Americans. Once the votes were counted, that judgement proved correct.

But Turnbull is the elected head of government in a country very closely allied to the United States, and — like Major in 1992 — had drawn attention to himself for making it very clear to the Americans who he wanted to work with, and who he didn’t.

In this sense, what happened on that phone call should surprise nobody, but if ever there was a time one of Trump’s increasingly famous outbursts of belligerence was justified, this was it.

I tend to think that if it plays its cards correctly, the Turnbull government will find “better weather” in henceforth dealing with Trump: the President has vented, as they say these days, and there is a sense that having blown off a head of steam, the heat in the issue has been dissipated — whatever the eventual fate of the refugee resettlement deal turns out to be.

Indeed, there are some conciliatory overtures emanating from the Trump camp now the dust has settled a little. If Turnbull seriously wants to work Trump, now would be the time to draw a line under the refugee deal once and for all, for it never looked like anything more than a cynical stunt cooked up with a lame duck in Obama that was more about causing trouble for Trump than with achieving anything particularly noble or constructive.

But the fallout from the Thursday telephone call closes the circle on yet another in a long line of spectacularly inept political judgements on Turnbull’s part: having campaigned for Trump’s nemesis relentlessly and given every appearance of deeming her defeat despicable, the Obama refugee deal episode simply meant that the reaming he got from Trump by telephone was inevitable, entirely to be expected, and completely justified.

The real damage to Turnbull will be in the eyes of the Australian public, which already holds the PM in dim regard and will interpret what they have seen and heard of his discussion with Trump as weak, subservient, and a failure.

In this sense, I think Denis Atkins from the Courier Mail has it about right, saying that the Trump call will prove to be the curtain-raiser on a very, very difficult year for Turnbull.

That sentiment, however accurate, is probably the understatement of the year, although we canvassed the same point here last week.

I’ve heard whispers from different places (places, plural) that Turnbull’s papers are stamped, and that the push is on to get rid of him by Easter, or before the budget in May at the latest. The sticking point seems to be who to replace him with. If Turnbull even wants to see the year out, the time it takes the forces lining up against him to coalesce around a candidate represents the amount of sand that remains in the hourglass.

The first Newspoll for the year is imminent. It will find the Turnbull government faring badly, registering the seventh of “30 losing Newspolls” Turnbull used to justify knifing Tony Abbott. I don’t think Turnbull will last the year, or anything approaching it. But more fiascos like the Trump call will simply hasten what is now almost inevitable.