Triple Whammy: New Polls Shatter Gillard Bedrock

Three new opinion polls in the past 48 hours — from Galaxy, Essential Research and Newspoll — have all recorded hefty movements away from Julia Gillard and Labor. Surely, given the poll-driven nature of the ALP, Gillard’s demise is now a simple question of when.

The first raft of multiple polls in quite some time is in tonight, and its message is damning for the Prime Minister; each of the three polls in isolation conveys bad news, but bundled and averaged — and any discrepancies thereby cancelled out — the figures spell disaster for the Labor Party under its present leadership.

Tomorrow’s Newspoll for The Australian is the worst of the three, although it should be pointed out that Newspoll researchers were still conducting fieldwork yesterday following Gillard’s pitiful attempt at shoring up her position by “jettisoning” Messrs Thomson and Slipper.

Even so, these polls are diabolical; let’s look at the figures, then talk them through.

Primary Vote

Newspoll — ALP 27% (-2%); Lib/NP 51% (+3%)

Galaxy — ALP 30% (-4%); Lib/NP 49% (+2%); Greens 13% (+1%); Others 8%

Essential — ALP 31% (unch); Lib/NP 50% (+1); Greens 11% (unch); Others 8%

Two-Party Vote

Newspoll — ALP 41% (-3%), Lib/NP 59% (+3%)

Galaxy — ALP 44% (-2%), Lib/NP 56% (+2%)

Essential — ALP 43% (-1%), Lib/NP 57% (+1%)

Preferred Prime Minister

Newspoll — Gillard 36% (-3%), Abbott 41% (unch)

Galaxy and Essential did not ask this question in their current opinion samples.

At time of writing, I do not have the approval/disapproval figures for Abbott and Gillard from Newspoll (our early source @ghostwhovotes doesn’t always publish these immediately) but what we’ve got gives a clear enough picture.

Look at the ALP primary vote; it doesn’t even average 30% across the three polls, and — bearing in mind Essential’s methodology typically produces kinder results for the ALP than do the other polls, an aggregate primary vote of 28-29% for Labor is probably about right based on these numbers.

All three polls show movement away from Labor on both the primary and the two-party measures; it is true that these movements are modest, but they continue a slow but continuous trend of movement away from the ALP that began as soon as the Rudd challenge to Gillard’s leadership was concluded.

The trend line for the two-party vote on these numbers is roughly 57.5% to the Coalition; a swing away from the ALP of 7.6% since the 2010 election, and one which if replicated at an election would see the coalition win 107 of the 150 House of Representatives seats, Labor 41, Katter 1 and Adam Bandt to retain the seat of Melbourne for the Greens.

I have scored Melbourne off to the Greens on account of the collapse in the ALP vote (much of which would transfer to the Greens in that seat) and the fact Bandt would likely be re-elected on ALP preferences.

If these figures materialised at an election, Labor would be wiped out in WA and the NT; be left with one seat only in Queensland (if Rudd held on in Griffith); and suffer heavy losses across the remainder of the country, including 13 seats in NSW alone.

Since Julia Gillard’s carbon tax announcement in March last year — breaking a solemn election promise — there have been individual opinion polls tabled that are, solus, worse for the ALP. But the “basket” of concurrent figures across these three polls represent the single worst polling position, overall, that Labor has found itself in for nearly 15 years.

The only figures on the “Preferred PM” in these surveys — from Newspoll — sees Tony Abbott consolidate a lead over Gillard, increasing from two points clear to five points clear.

The other polls did not ask this question this time around. Even so, the Newspoll figure would give Gillard pause for thought, and her backers and detractors much to think about; this, traditionally, is a very difficult measure for an opposition leader to win, and Abbott has won it more often than not for well over a year now.

Galaxy asked respondents whether they wanted Independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott to support a no-confidence vote in the Gillard government and force an election; 52% said they wanted this to occur and 38% didn’t. Significantly, more than one in five respondents identifying as Labor supporters also wanted the early election option.

Galaxy also found that 58% of its respondents thought the ALP was desperately clinging to power; 37% said Labor was doing a good job in government in difficult times but again, 25% of “Labor voters” were of the view the government is desperate to cling to power.

Essential asked about an early election now as well, with more even results; a narrow plurality of its respondents favoured the government running full term. But 42% still wanted an early election now, which is hardly a vote in favour of Gillard and her government.

Looking at these numbers from an overall perspective, the picture isn’t pretty from an ALP perspective.

All the stunts, own goals, misjudgements and everything else are now flowing into Labor’s polling numbers, with the clear indication that the bad polls recorded early in this term of government are now firming, and becoming permanent judgements.

For Gillard — whose leadership is now being called into question — these numbers may just be the difference to tip party hardheads into commencing the process of replacing her. After all, the numbers can’t get much worse before something has to happen.

But for Labor, the real risk is that Windsor and Oakeshott start behaving like the conservative independents they purport to be, and withdraw their support for the government. Were that to happen, the polling numbers here might well become reality.

My sense is that we will see more numbers like this; they are not an aberration. It will be interesting to see how they affect the goings-on in Canberra in the coming week leading up to the resumption of Parliament for the budget session.

Sham “Standards”: Panicked Gillard Dumps On Thomson And Slipper

In a frenzied fit of panic, Julia Gillard today forced Craig Thomson’s departure from the ALP, and decreed Peter Slipper to be sidelined indefinitely. She possesses neither authority nor credibility, and her role as PM — and perhaps that of Labor in government — is now untenable.

Let’s speak bluntly and candidly about a few things.

The Australian public is fed up with Julia Gillard and her government; fed up with the lies, the deception, the intrigue, the manipulation, the double standards, the incompetence, the condescension, the holier-than-thou outlook, the scandals, the crises, and the sheer chaos that goes hand in glove with this Prime Minister and this government continuing in office.

Australians, overwhelmingly, want an election; but this Prime Minister would as soon sell the country to the devil than she would listen — really listen — to anything other than a gratuitous and self-serving recipe for survival, self-preservation and clinging to the trappings of green ministerial leather.

And as symbols go, Australians are fed to the teeth with the ongoing saga of Craig Thomson and his credit cards, and latterly with the new-ish but equally despicable storm that has engulfed the government’s hand-picked but utterly unsuitable Speaker in Peter Slipper.

And on this last point, Gillard has today kicked perhaps one own goal too many.

Gillard this morning said that she “(felt) keenly that Australians are looking at this Parliament and at the moment they see a dark cloud over it,” going on to add that  “the views of the Australian public matter. I have made a judgment call that I believe is right because I want Australians to look at the Parliament and respect the Parliament.”

Claiming to be acting in the interests of “standards,” Gillard today announced that she had informed Craig Thomson that he should “no longer participate in (the Labor) Caucus;” Thomson, accordingly, will sit on the cross-bench.

Similarly, Gillard announced that she had informed Peter Slipper that she had decided it would be best if he stayed out of the Speaker’s chair “for a further period of time.”

Gillard claimed that “a line had been crossed” which made today’s developments necessary; pressed by journalists, she proved unable to say where the line was, or what constituted it being crossed.

I would argue that any “dark cloud” hanging over the Parliament is one entirely of Gillard’s own making; likewise, the indisputable and growing lack of respect many Australians feel toward Parliament and its occupants can be directly referenced back to the matters I outlined in the third paragraph of this article.

Stripping away the legalese and gobbledygook so favoured by Gillard, let’s look at what she really announced this morning as her solution to the issues she claimed to be addressing.

Firstly — Craig Thomson. Far from being kicked out of the ALP as Gillard’s message was designed to imply, Thomson has simply entered into a voluntary suspension of his membership of the Labor Party.

He hasn’t been expelled; he hasn’t even (yet) been disendorsed as the Labor candidate for Dobell; and if no charges are forthcoming from the various investigations being undertaken into Thomson and his time at the Health Services Union, he will be free to resume membership of the ALP — and to again sit in the Labor Party Caucus.

Secondly — Peter Slipper. Gillard’s announcement amounts to no more than an agreement with Slipper for him to spend an unspecified additional period of time on the cross-bench; in the meantime he remains on the salary package that goes with the job of Speaker, and he retains the benefits and perquisites that go with the role to boot.

The acting Speaker — Labor’s Anna Burke — performs the role in the interim on her salary as a backbencher.

Gillard’s announcements, therefore, are effectively nothing; a ruse, a smokescreen, smart answers designed to hoodwink people into the mistaken belief that she has acted decisively to resolve two festering and rancorous problems that have bedevilled her government.

She has done nothing of the kind.

And those announcements, delivered in Gillard’s usual patronising tone of moralising condescension, stink of the smug, righteous, too-clever-by-half approach that went a large way toward landing Gillard in the mess in which she finds herself in the first place.

In the case of Thomson, when did he cease to enjoy Gillard’s full and unqualified support? That support is something that Gillard has gone well out of her way to express for many months, and — innocent or guilty as he may be — there have been no new developments in the Thomson saga in the past few days, so why the change?

In the case of Slipper, Gillard and a coterie of her ministers have been adamant that he should return to the Speakership as soon as the latest questions surrounding his use of travel entitlements are resolved, possibly even as soon as the commencement of the budget session on 8 May. Again, there have been no new developments overnight, so why the change?

The answer to these, and all other relevant questions, is simple: Gillard’s standing with the electorate is toxic; her poll ratings continue to deteriorate; and her government is now confronting the prospect of a successful vote of no-confidence for the first time since the inconclusive election of 2010.

The other motive for today’s developments centres on the ALP leadership, and on Gillard’s weakening grip on it; as we discussed a couple of days ago, the mutterers are muttering, and having crucified Kevin Rudd as planned eight weeks ago, their gaze is now turning in the direction of their leader.

Readers will note that none of this — none — is motivated by quaint ideals like running a functional government, or delivering on election commitments, or advancing living standards for ordinary Australian people.

No, it is motivated solely by a desire to keep Labor in office, and to keep Gillard’s backside in the chair behind the Prime Minister’s desk.

An election at this time — favoured by a majority of voters — comes with all sorts of problems and drawbacks attached to it, mainly arising from problems of timing and the fact any election before next August would throw the electoral cycles for the Senate and the House of Representatives out of kilter; these are serious and complicated issues which could be resolved, but with difficulty.

Compare these considerations with Gillard’s reason as stated today for not calling an election: “We (Labor) have a superior economic plan, so I won’t be calling an election.”

Superior economic plan?” That’s another one of those stupid slogans regurgitated over and over on rote during the ALP’s 2010 election campaign (moving forward, anyone?)

But alas, glib slogans and smart answers is all Labor has to offer.

Today’s developments will be analysed and picked apart in the next few days by journalists and commentators across the country, but they point — again — to a simple and inexorable truth.

Julia Gillard is finished. She is completely unsuited to the office of Prime Minister. And the time is nigh at which either she goes, or the whole government will have to go.

It’s going to be an interesting few weeks in Australian federal politics.

 

Quirk Wins City Hall In Brisbane; ALP Survives South Brisbane By-Election

After yet another trip to the polls today for the good burghers of Brisbane, the Council result went — as expected — to Graham Quirk and the LNP in a landslide; in the by-election to replace Anna Bligh in South Brisbane, the ALP appears to have eked out a surprise narrow win.

In a stunning result, interim Lord Mayor and successor to Campbell Newman Graham Quirk has registered a thumping election win, re-elected with more than 68% of the two-party vote and crushing his Labor rival, first-time candidate Ray Smith, in the process.

In the 26 wards that comprise the Brisbane City Council, the LNP is certain to increase its tally from 15 to at least 18 ( and possibly 19, if Kim Fleisser’s 290-vote lead in Northgate is erased when pre-poll votes are counted); the ALP falls from 10 wards to 7 at most; and the LNP-turned-independent councillor for Tennyson Ward, Nicole Johnston, appears to have been re-elected.

In what would seem evidence that the Beattie name is no longer a guaranteed vote winner, Heather Beattie — wife of former Premier Peter Beattie — has been trounced, going down by a margin of nearly 60/40 against her LNP rival in Central Ward.

That result should probably also serve as a warning to Peter Beattie should he ever seriously consider contesting a federal electorate in Queensland; whether or not such a warning is heeded, only time will tell.

Cr Quirk has achieved the biggest conservative victory in the history of the City of Greater Brisbane; the two-party vote he has recorded is better than both that of Campbell Newman and of Sallyanne Atkinson at her peak; likewise, a haul of 18 (and perhaps 19) of 26 wards is better than any result achieved by a conservative Mayor of Brisbane, and eclipses the 17-9 result notched up by Atkinson in 1988.

Indeed, it is safe to say that electoral support for the conservative parties in Brisbane is at an all-time record peak; the LNP’s result in Brisbane at last month’s state election was stronger than the then-Coalition’s result in 1974, and today’s win by “Team Quirk” rounds that out even further: just as the Bjelke-Petersen government was sweeping all before it in the 1970s, Council in Brisbane remained a solid ALP bastion.

The one thing missing for the LNP — and it will come — is the additional 4-6 House of Representatives seats it is likely to win at the next federal election; this will reduce the Queensland ALP to a rump, and likely leave a couple of ALP members standing at most.

In today’s other electoral event — the South Brisbane by-election — it seems Labor has managed to hold this seat; despite a further swing of some 3-4% against it since last month’s state election, new Labor candidate Jackie Trad looks likely to succeed Anna Bligh in this electorate by the narrowest of margins, taking state Labor to 7 seats in the 89-seat state Parliament.

I am unsurprised by the result on the Brisbane City Council, although the extent of the LNP win is a little greater than I expected; I am surprised that Labor seems to have secured South Brisbane against the odds, although I would point to the not-insubstantial further swing to the LNP as firm evidence that Trad is very, very lucky to be headed off to George Street.

So what do these results mean to the respective parties, looking ahead?

For the LNP, today’s result — coupled with its state election win — represents both a great opportunity and a great threat.

The opportunity exists for the LNP to now govern Brisbane on an unfettered basis; there is no local Labor administration present to thwart and frustrate it, and the party will have no problem in implementing its policies in their entirety.

This means that everything the LNP wishes to do, it can; and with Council and the State Government working hand-in-hand, the LNP now has the opportunity to remake and modernise Brisbane in line with their own vision for the region.

The opportunity will have been grasped if the conservatives use their new-found strength in south-east Queensland to govern effectively, efficiently and competently; the deep reservoir of goodwill that the LNP has created affords it a once in a generation chance to make a real difference to its constituents, and to change the Greater Brisbane region for better, and for good.

The threat lies in the form of a fate which befalls so many democratically-elected governments: hubris, or worse, incompetence.

Given the size of the Liberals’ grasp on Brisbane across the tiers of government, they must never lose sight of the fact that the day they squabble amongst themselves, or drop the ball, or fail to deliver real and positive outcomes, will be the day their support begins to leach back to Labor, and will signal that their days in office are numbered.

Governments must never take their constituents for granted; this is true at all times, but perhaps especially so when the ascension to office has been as resounding and as emphatic as it has been for the LNP in the past few weeks.

And it should be remembered that within three to six years for the Newman government, and certainly after another four years of a Liberal council (making 8 in total, or 12 counting Newman’s initial co-habitation with Labor), voters will hold these administrations squarely to account for anything they believe has been neglected, improperly or dishonestly done, or ignored.

And for Labor?

Clearly, there is a massive task afoot for the ALP, not just in Brisbane but across Queensland; if — as seems likely — the Gillard government is defeated next year, sustaining further losses in Queensland in the process, then that task will grow exponentially larger.

I noted earlier tonight that in conceding, Ray Smith did not rule out recontesting the mayoralty in 2016; Smith is a decent fellow, but on this occasion — flying in the face of surging LNP support, saddled with the odium of the recent state election result, and hamstrung by a poor central campaign and by his own mistakes, Smith’s campaign was over almost before it began.

Perhaps if there is a “next time” for Smith, he may at least be able to create his own opportunities, and to shape his own campaign.

This is an important point. Following the state election debacle, I privately suggested to an associate who is heavily involved with the Queensland ALP that perhaps the first order of business, in any rebuild of that party, should be the dismissal of the party’s state secretary, Anthony Chisholm.

I reiterate that view tonight. Losing an election is one thing; to have presided over the state campaign he did this year — one of the dirtiest, nastiest, most dishonest campaigns in Australian history — the buck must stop somewhere, and Chisholm’s door would seem the appropriate place.

Labor’s state campaign wasn’t even the right campaign to run from a tactical or strategic perspective, putting aside its sheer repugnance for a minute; it seems clear that the occupant of the position of state ALP secretary would be responsible for this and, as such, Chisholm should resign or be sacked.

The Brisbane City Council campaign he has presided over has done little or nothing to mitigate those points.

But Labor’s problems (and this is an increasingly old story) run deeper, and are more universal, than the problems of its Queensland branch; Labor must rethink its overall approach to retail politics, from its party structures to its methods of candidate selection to its policy priorities — and, quite literally, to everything in between.

Yet those are details I wish to take no part in; whilst I’m happy to opine impartially, my own preferences offer me no inclination to give any detailed ideas on how the Labor Party might fix its act up…

…and so here we are, at the end of yet another truly remarkable day in politics in Queensland.

The Red And The Blue wishes Graham Quirk — an old friend, a gentleman and a great bloke, and a highly respected figure in Liberal circles — heartiest congratulations on his triumph today, and wishes he and his team the best of success in now executing their duties on behalf of the people of Brisbane.

And oddly enough, this column also wishes the Queensland division of the Labor Party luck: whilst it is tempting to be churlish and say “they’ll need it,” I have to emphasise that a functional opposition to any democratically elected government is crucial.

It’s not necessarily a matter of how many members the ALP has left, but rather a question of what those remaining representatives of the Labor Party do with the opportunity to move forward they have nonetheless been entrusted with.

And thus — in closing — it can only be hoped that Queensland Labor gets its act together to some extent at least, and preferably sooner rather than later.

Council Elections In Brisbane: It’s Quirk By A Landslide

Voters in the City of Brisbane go to the polls tomorrow to elect a Lord Mayor and Council to serve for the next four years; barring any major surprise, incumbent Liberal Lord Mayor Graham Quirk appears set to be re-elected in a landslide.

Of course, voters across Queensland go to the polls to vote in local government elections; the date for councils to face the ballot box was deferred on account of the timing of last month’s state election, and with that now out of the way, it is time for Queenslanders to vote in their local municipalities.

There will be many fascinating contests across the state as the votes are counted tomorrow night, and I wish it were possible to follow them all; however, the one of most significance, and interest, is the contest taking place to formalise a new administration in Brisbane, and to formalise a successor to new Queensland premier Campbell Newman as Lord Mayor.

Like all local government elections in Queensland, Brisbane’s has been overshadowed by the state election; the campaign has been relatively low-key, and little has been offered by either side by way of show-stopping initiatives.

That said, it is clear that the ALP team led by Lord Mayoral candidate Ray Smith is not up to the job of running Council.

Smith himself has committed a series of gaffes, which together add up to a recommendation for a vote against him.

He has promised to cap rate rises for Brisbane residents at the level of inflation; the problem with this is that Smith’s idea of “inflation” is a figure two to three times the current official rate of inflation.

Is this the thin edge of the wedge?

Smith also admits, candidly, that costings on his election promises are reliant on finding several hundred million dollars in savings once installed in office; standing for election on what is effectively a wish and a prayer smacks of desperation, and screams of a lack of credibility and of proper preparation to assume power.

And some of the Labor team’s promises can only be described as cack-brained: the half-baked scheme to divert superannuation monies into capital works projects, for example, is ridiculous, and any fund manager investing in this type of scheme would quite rightly be in line for the sack.

“Team Quirk” as it calls itself, by contrast, has run a steady, measured campaign, focused on continuity and on building on the achievements from the first eight years of Liberal/LNP control of the Brisbane City Council.

There is nothing in the LNP offering to frighten the horses; the Liberal administration in Brisbane has been competent and has done much to modernise Brisbane’s ageing infrastructure at a modest cost to its ratepayers, and on a sustainable basis.

There are other good reasons for the return of Graham Quirk as Lord Mayor; not least because of the synergies and efficiencies that can be realised through working with a state government of the same political persuasion.

Those of us who have lived in Brisbane at times of “co-habitation” over the years — the old Labor administrations with Bjelke-Petersen, Sallyanne Atkinson’s Liberal council with the Goss Labor government and, more recently, Campbell Newman with Anna Bligh at the state level — know too well the friction, wasted opportunities and blame games that are part and parcel of such arrangements.

And having voted LNP on such an overwhelming basis just last month in a state election, it’s inconceivable that Brisbane voters will now elect a Labor administration to City Hall — especially when the incumbent council team has run Brisbane with great ability and competence.

What little opinion polling has been conducted during the council campaign points to Graham Quirk being re-elected with some 58-59% of the mayoral vote, after preferences; my sense is that those figures will likely be accurate.

If there are to be any real surprises tomorrow, they will come from the wards; in 2008 the LNP in Newman won 16 of the 26 wards; some of these were snared by tiny margins, and there has of course been some controversy involving individual LNP councillors in the four years since.

I would expect Quirk to be re-elected tomorrow as Lord Mayor; further, I would expect the split of the wards to be more or less the same as it is now between the LNP and Labor.

One interesting contest will be in the Central ward, where Heather Beattie — wife of former Labor Premier Peter Beattie — is standing in a vacant Labor ward overlapped by state and federal electorates which have both been captured by the LNP in the past 18 months.

I will be watching the count online tomorrow night; not only do I believe Team Quirk will win in Brisbane tomorrow, but I believe they deserve to win; and should they do so, the stewardship of the City of Brisbane will be in safe hands for another four years.

 

Labor Leadership Shenanigans: Here We Go Again

Perhaps it’s only natural that an electorally terminal government such as Julia Gillard’s — mired in scandals of every hue, and anathema to the mainstream — is so hellbent on signing its own death warrant that mere weeks after the last leadership stoush, the rumblings have begun again.

More than a generation ago now, Labor’s most electorally successful Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, won one and probably two elections — in 1987 and 1990 — by campaigning in part on the slogan “if you can’t govern yourselves, you can’t govern the country.”

His reference point, of course, was the simmering hostility and bitter rivalry between Andrew Peacock and John Howard, which characterised Liberal Party politics for much of the decade following the defeat of the Fraser government in 1983, with the lunacy of the “Joh for PM” putsch of 1987 thrown into the mix for good measure.

History shows that the Liberal Party eventually learnt its lesson; largely unified under a restored Howard leadership from January 1995 until the defeat of November 2007, the Liberals governed Australia for nearly twelve years, winning four elections, falling only to the “It’s Time” factor compounded by a single overreach on policy during the final term of the Howard government — WorkChoices.

And having found the balance in its leadership in Opposition on the third attempt, it appears almost certain that the Liberal and National Parties will reclaim government within 18 months under the stable leadership of their most successful performer since Howard’s departure in Tony Abbott.

History also shows that since the defeat of the Hawke-Keating government in 1996 — and especially since Kim Beazley’s second defeat at the Tampa/September 11 election of 2001 — the ALP has forgotten the wisdom of Hawke.

Since 2001, the ALP has been led by Beazley; Simon Crean (2002-03); Mark Latham (2003-05); Beazley again (2005-06); Kevin Rudd (2006-10); and Julia Gillard (2010 – present).

In addition to six leaders in eight years, we have also witnessed unsuccessful leadership challenges by Beazley to Crean in 2003, and by Rudd to Gillard in 2012.

Clearly, changing leaders in the federal ALP is becoming something of an annual event, on average; it comes as little surprise when weighed against the track record of Labor’s NSW division, and when it is remembered the Sussex Street headquarters of NSW Labor has a large hand in the conduct of the federal parliamentary ALP these days.

And in fact, Rudd’s challenge earlier this year — brilliantly timed, as it was — not only saw him humiliated to the point where future rehabilitation into the leadership should be impossible, but also cast a dreadful pall over the Queensland ALP’s doomed re-election campaign and probably magnified the cataclysmic nature of the defeat suffered by Anna Bligh.

So it was with some disbelief — albeit with no surprise — that I noticed the trickle of well-backgrounded articles canvassing the next Labor leadership challenge begin to appear in the Murdoch press this week.

It’s almost inarguable now that the ALP is headed for certain oblivion at the next election under Julia Gillard; she is despised by the electorate at large, widely distrusted and viewed as a liar, perceived as manipulative, underhanded and treacherous, and has allowed the view to take hold that she will say or do anything to preserve what’s left of her tenuous hold on government — irrespective of the consequences, and irrespective of the best interests of the country.

Gillard has been a failure as Prime Minister; I have said many times that she is simply the wrong person for the job and the consequences of that stark reality are becoming clear.

But would a leadership change really help the ALP’s prospects?

There is now just 14 months until an election must be called; thanks to Wayne Swan’s arbitrary deadline of the coming financial year for the Commonwealth budget to return to surplus, the election can’t and won’t be delayed by more than a couple of weeks beyond the three-year anniversary of the last election in late August.

Two things make that certain: the commencement of school holidays around the country in mid-September, and the fact the final budget figures for FY 2012-13 will be published in September next year.

No government is silly enough to campaign across school holidays; and Gillard’s will want to bolt off to the polls well in advance of the final outcome of its budget, lest the figures show that it, too, has remained in deficit.

So there is 14 months for Gillard — or someone else — to turn things around.

An article in today’s Herald-Sun canvasses the prospect of Kevin Rudd launching yet another challenge to Gillard, this time in August this year.

Rudd, very simply, will never be Prime Minister again; the emphatic margin of the defeat he suffered at his last attempt in February is the simple proof of that.

If Rudd — or forces loyal to him — believe otherwise, then it betrays rank political amateurism; anyone with a passing interest can see that Gillard’s win over Rudd was not an endorsement of her, but an overwhelming rejection of him by his colleagues.

And let’s not forget that were Rudd to somehow wrest back the leadership of his party, there remains three MPs who have pledged to immediately resign from Parliament in disgust, triggering by-elections in marginal seats Labor would be certain to lose, and lose badly.

There is also the small matter of at least a half-dozen senior cabinet ministers who would immediately resign and go to the backbench, thus gutting what is left of the government in the process.

The Herald-Sun article also raises the prospect of a ticket consisting of Defence minister Stephen Smith as Prime Minister, with Workplace Relations minister Bill Shorten as his deputy.

This would seem a better idea; it would replace the electorally toxic Gillard with a reasonably popular figure widely regarded as a safe pair of hands, and it would set the ALP up with some sort of succession plan (for once) in the event it still ended up back on the Opposition benches after the election.

But this plan, too, has its faults.

I’ve made it known that I hold Smith in some degree of personal regard; his problem is that he is insecurely seated on a margin of 5.3% in his seat of Perth, and given the West shows every sign of a further heavy swing against the federal ALP, that margin alone is enough to raise questions about his tenure heading into an election campaign.

Besides, irrespective of what positives Smith might bring to the Prime Ministership, he is no Paul Keating when it comes to fighting and surviving.

This is a very relevant consideration; I’ve spoken privately to quite a few people this week who are either sympathetic to Labor or actively involved in that party, and the “Keating comparison” is a source of great frustration to these people, away from the prying eyes of journalists and from the obligatory mantra necessitated by a television camera.

It’s true that on attaining the Prime Ministership in December 1991 — on his second attempt — Keating inherited Bob Hawke’s polling numbers which, if anything, were worse overall than Gillard’s are today.

But Keating had two very important advantages: one, he was a master political tactician and strategist, a creature born of the game, with an innate and overriding instinct for survival; and two, he was faced by perhaps the most politically inept leader  the Liberal Party has produced since Billy McMahon.

Nobody in the present ALP caucus can boast political skills that are a patch on Keating’s; indeed, the smartest operator in the game today, when it comes to strategy and tactics, is leading the Liberal Party.

And Labor knows it: it’s the reason why the attacks on Abbott are so incessant, so shrill, and so divorced from reality.

It’s clear that no matter who — if anyone — the Labor Party installs as leader to replace Gillard, they face a near-impossible task even to simply be competitive.

Yet still the rumblings come…

Another report this week — this time in The Australian — suggested that Bob Carr would be offered a House of Representatives seat and the Prime Ministership in a take-it-or-leave-it package deal.

That report at least acknowledged that Carr — 65 in August — might not have the “energy” required to do the job.

But there is more to it than that: to become Prime Minister, he would first need to win a by-election, and there aren’t many ALP-held electorates in Sydney that could be considered immune to a by-election backlash.

And even were that particular hurdle to be cleared, does anybody seriously believe Carr would be leading Labor to anything other than, at best, defeat on a somewhat smaller scale than it is presently headed towards?

However this plays out in the end, readers should not be remotely surprised that having had their go two months ago, the mutterers are again muttering.

This isn’t going to stop; it will keep going, and going, and going, until either Gillard cracks and quits, or until someone musters the numbers and manages to knock her off as leader.

In the meantime, the government will lurch from crisis to crisis; the scandals will continue, as will the cover-ups to keep the lid on as many of them as possible; and the country will suffer.

In the final analysis, this government has now become so self-obsessed that nothing — nothing — now matters to it other than its own internecine warfare, run and conducted by and on behalf of its own squirming bag of toxic, conceited egos and subterranean agendas.

All I can say is roll on a federal election; Australia deserves better than this from its government, and when safely ensconced in Opposition — which is where it surely now belongs — the Labor Party can tear itself to shreds over its leadership arrangements until the sun rises in the west as far as I am concerned.

Thoughts?

Peter Slipper’s Jaundiced, Deluded World

Having posted less than 48 hours ago on Peter Slipper’s last (taxpayer-funded) ride out of the sunset, events since have given every semblance of an animal in its death throes; the subsequent antics and misadventures of Slippery Pete stink of a desperate man’s desperate measures.

Given the nature of the various allegations against Slipper, it is no surprise that opinions are hardening against him — and not least on the ALP’s own back benches, where marginal seat holders and time servers are now wondering aloud what the hell their leader has got them into by selling out the Speakership to the member for Fisher.

What is less of a surprise is that Slipper appears to want to fight; after all, he has made a career from fighting his way out of self-inflicted disasters, especially where the use and misuse of travel entitlements at public expense are concerned.

This time, however, the walls are closing in on him, and he would appear fatally trapped.

It was with one eyebrow raised this morning that I read an article in The Australian which heralded Slipper’s “meticulous” use of Cabcharge documents; it quoted Tim Conroy, owner-driver of Peter Slipper’s “favourite” limousine company, who stoutly defended the Speaker’s handling of taxpayer-funded Cabcharge dockets for travel between the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane.

“He always fills out Cabcharge dockets when he travels with us, and he takes meticulous care. He was painful…in filling them out. He did not hand blank dockets to us,” Mr Conroy was quoted as saying.

Well, quite, but myriad other accounts to the contrary appeared in other newspapers across the country today, which made for reading with both eyebrows raised.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph reported a driver with Canberra Hire Cars, Berris Crossin, as saying she had a deal with Mr Slipper regarding the use of his cab vouchers; Ms Crossin said Slipper would use four to six vouchers for a single trip so ‘‘it didn’t look as bad as one big fare.’’

Another limousine driver who has regularly driven Slipper for many years when he is in Sydney, Antwan Kaikaty, spoke to the Murdoch press, claiming Slipper would supply multiple Cabcharge dockets to pay for travel.

Bizarrely, Kaikaty disputed claims that Slipper would hand over blank documents, but did admit that Slipper, who had been “(his) client” for years, and would nonetheless provide him with a “few vouchers” at the end of a trip.

Is this again to try to disguise the overall total of the expenses being racked up by Slipper? Or is there more to it than that? Either way, it is clear that despite Slippery Pete’s protestations, some folk at least are prepared to blow the whistle on his dodgy practices.

And it begs the question: if the total value of a journey is so great as to attract scrutiny, doesn’t the problem begin there? And if the use of multiple Cabcharge dockets is required to try to disguise the amount of public money Slipper has been spending, isn’t that a rort in and of itself?

Meanwhile, it has come to light today that Archbishop John Hepworth — the head of the Traditional Anglican Communion, the ultra-conservative breakaway Anglican church Slipper is a member of — has asked Slipper to stand aside as an ordained priest and legal officer of the church.

Even so — in an exercise reeking of Slipper attempting to marshal cronies — the Archbishop attempted to make a spirited defence of Slippery Pete, saying he was “shattered” by everything that had occurred, and opining that there are “a number of Peter Slippers” — and cited examples of Slipper the devoted husband and Slipper the arrogant drunk.

It’s not a very convincing defence, and to my mind if Slipper suffers from multiple personality disorder it merely underscores his unfitness for elected office.

Archbishop Hepworth claimed, in relation to the various allegations currently levelled at Slipper, that he has “…pursued some of these rumours…and (has) been satisfied that there was no proof existing.”

Indeed.

I have no doubt Hepworth is an honourable man, but a properly constituted court and/or a forensic legal practitioner under Australian law, he isn’t; and rather than trying to defend the indefensible, it might be better if the Archbishop allowed the legal processes currently underway in relation to Slippery Pete run their course.

Archbishop Hepworth added that he was having “an exchange of texts” with Slipper on account of the fact Slipper and his wife “both actually have ‘flu at the moment.”

Well…if Slipper is sick, it hasn’t stopped him from taking to Twitter to protest about this and that, maintain his protestations of innocence, and go on the general attack; at time of writing, Slipper has tweeted no fewer than 16 times in the past 24 hours — hardly the work of someone bedridden with influenza.

Slipper complains about the media infringing his privacy; whilst I don’t condone such things if they have indeed occurred, perhaps ol’ Slippery should give consideration to what he has served up to the journalistic community over long years: a history of questionable conduct, proven through repeated repayment of wrongly claimed monies; all the “interesting stories” floating around that are a potential goldfield for journalists seeking to make a name to mine; and the latest round of allegations, soon to be tested in court, of which Slipper may or may not be guilty.

There’s a small amount of Anzac Day noise from Slipper of the “Lest We Forget” variety — only a skerrick, mind; there is also a handful of tweets which, on face value, appear to be Slipper corresponding with friends/well-wishers/favourably disposed acquaintances.

I say “on face value” because nobody can see what was written in the tweets to which Slipper is responding; indeed, some time ago — outraged that he was blowing his trumpet and holding court with someone, making himself out as a world authority on Parliamentary procedure — I tweeted to him, accusing him of being a “damned traitor” who should be ashamed of himself, and that I looked forward to him being crushed at next year’s election “if he had the balls to stand.”

The response was an excited-looking tweet thanking me for my support; I tell this story because a look at Slippery Pete’s Twitter feed suggests everybody is his friend, when in fact, so many people are nothing of the sort.

I don’t support Peter Slipper. End of story. If he thinks otherwise, he’s delusional.

But the real nugget in what he has had to say on Twitter in the past couple of days centres on Tony Abbott, the relationship between the two men, and Slipper’s “role” in Abbott’s ascension to the Liberal leadership in late 2010.

Claiming to have been a friend to Tony Abbott when the latter “had very few friends left,” Slipper references Abbott’s attendance at his second wedding in 2006.

Now, to be fair, whether Abbott and Slipper are or were friends is a private matter; but whether they are or were or not, it has no bearing on current events. More to the point, a personal friendship with the leader of the Liberal Party does not engender some automatic right of entitlement — as the tweets appear to suggest.

It has been reported in the press in the past couple of days that Slipper claims to have cast “the crucial decisive vote” in making Abbott Liberal leader; his ramblings on Twitter bear this out, especially a remark saying “…if I had voted another way, then he wouldn’t have become Leader.”

I should get my violin out. Pack your bags everyone, Slippery is sending you on a guilt trip!

It is true that Abbott won the Liberal leadership by a single vote, 41 votes to 40, with one absentee (former MP Fran Bailey was ill the day of the ballot).

Yet Slipper is no kingmaker; nor is he any more responsible for making Abbott leader than any of the 40 of his then colleagues who also voted against Turnbull. And — crucially — none of them knew how close the vote would be; nobody, least of all Slippery Pete, was a conscious kingmaker. Indeed, this sort of proclamation simply marks Slipper out as the grandstanding imbecile he really is.

There’s a lot more detail around Slipper’s movements in cars paid for by the Commonwealth that I could cover; beyond what has already been said, I don’t see the need.

The point here is that Slipper is throwing up markers to his own little world this week; some parallel universe in which he is blameless, but in which everyone else is out to get him and of course, Slipper has been grievously wronged.

In other words, it’s OK for Slipper to carry on like a law unto himself, but the millisecond his actions catch him up, it’s everyone else’s fault, and Slipper himself is the sweetly innocent victim of God-knows-what.

Excrement.

I think all interested parties — the parliamentary ALP, other MPs, the press corps and the voting public — should allow the latest round of inquiries to run their course; if Slipper really has gone too far this time and is caught, then the consequences of his actions will follow.

In the meantime, Peter Slipper should simply be ignored. His utterances are crafted to mislead, to manipulate, and to cultivate sympathy where none is deserved or warranted.

Let the grub sit in his own jaundiced, deluded, caustically self-obsessed little world, and let the rest of us get on with the business of the real world.

A high-order business item in the real world is the sifting and testing of allegations and accusations against Slippery Pete; and if he is to be damned for those, the repercussions will ensue — for Slipper himself, and for the amoral Labor government that has hitched its fortunes to his dubious, and waning, star.

 

The Final Coming Of Peter Slipper

For many years now, it’s been the same; fast moves and even faster talking have allowed Peter Slipper to stay one step ahead of trouble. This time the game appears to be up, and Slippery Pete returns to Australia from his latest overseas jaunt a hunted man.

Of course, we must be careful not to say anything that might prejudice investigations into the latest round of alleged expenses fraud by Slipper, nor into the explosive and sensational allegations of sexual harassment levelled at him this weekend by an employee.

Nonetheless, that caveat still leaves plenty of scope to comment on the latest episode in the life of a scoundrel, a treacherous dog, and a pretty poor specimen to boot.

I’ve known Peter Slipper for 20 years, and he always put a shudder down my spine; I’ve never known what it was, but the guy used to give me the creeps. Fortunately it has been a long time since I have seen him, and I hope I don’t see him again.

A parliamentarian once told me in the mid-1990s that “Peter’s a good guy” — an observation that made me more, not less, wary of Slipper whenever I saw him thenceforth.

There have always been a lot of interesting stories floating around about Peter Slipper; some of these have become common knowledge — the loose interpretations of travel entitlements, the flights via Sydney to maximise frequent flyer points, questions over ComCar usage and frequent late-night visits to Kings Cross, Fortitude Valley and St Kilda are a mere few.

And other of those stories have never — publicly — seen the light of day for various reasons, but interesting stories they remain.

And so it is a curious development this weekend that an employee of Slipper in his role of Speaker of the House of Representatives has made public an official sexual harassment complaint against him.

A lot of the allegations contained in this are pretty tawdry stuff; suggestions Slipper asked about such things as homosexual partner preferences and…er…bodily ejaculation locations…are, if true, completely unbecoming of a member of Parliament, and especially in terms of one acting as the boss of an employee.

The problem Slippery Pete has is that according to the court documents extensively leaked and published in the Murdoch press over the weekend, the allegations are backed by SMS text messages and emails purportedly from Slipper to the employee in question.

If those communications do exist, and if they are able to be conclusively linked to Peter Slipper as the author and sender, then the erstwhile member for Fisher might be staring down the barrel of a gun.

On the other side of the ledger, it comes as little surprise that the allegations of sexual misconduct are accompanied by a fresh round of allegations concerning travel expenditure, this time involving fraudulent use of Cabcharge vouchers; after all, if there is one thing Peter Slipper has repeatedly found himself embroiled in over the years, it is arguments over his misuse of travel entitlements.

I note for the record that in years past, Slipper has repaid tens of thousands of dollars worth of incorrectly claimed entitlement monies; his excuses generally boil down to each incident being “a misunderstanding.”

Like anyone, Slipper is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, but I just wonder what his “misunderstanding” might be in terms of the sex charges he now faces. That it was all a joke? That he, Slipper is the real victim? Or that the whole thing is an elaborate set-up? We will see; time will tell.

Having said all of that, the response from the Labor Party (and from Prime Minister Gillard especially) has been shockingly inept.

All weekend, out trundled the trusty ALP figures; they couldn’t pre-empt the coming legal cases, but Slipper had done a very good job as speaker; they weren’t buying in to the discussion but they wouldn’t be taking any action to remove him from the Speakership, either.

Gillard, for her part, said nothing.

Nothing, that is, until Slipper voluntarily stood aside from his post; after that, she welcomed him taking that course of action…but couldn’t say any more until the legal matters on foot had been resolved.

In other words, a greater volume of nothing.

Not that Slipper had any alternative to standing aside, mind you; at the minimum, he faced a vote when Parliament resumes to strip him of the Speakership that was almost guaranteed to be carried; beyond that, he risked a no-confidence motion being moved against the government on the basis of his continued presence, the outcome of which would have been impossible to predict.

I would make the point that having recruited Slipper for reasons of pure political expediency — in the full knowledge of what he is like, his past conduct, and of the probability of skeletons lurking in his closet — Gillard and her colleagues do themselves no end of residual damage in refusing to cut adrift such a liability.

It tarnishes them, it tarnishes the Labor Party, and it sends the unmistakable signal that political survival at any cost is preferable to the ALP than is decency, the upholding of standards, and the accountability of politicians in the eyes of the law.

Don’t forget, Gillard’s government is a shelter to not one, but two iffy characters facing criminal investigations and possible charges: just as Peter Slipper enjoys its patronage, so too does Craig Thomson.

At some point Gillard’s sycophantic refusal to distance herself and her party from these gentlemen (and I use the term loosely) is going to permanently stain the Labor Party as an organisation that turns a blind eye to official misconduct and criminal behaviour; or to put it bluntly, she is turning a once-proud and principled party into a degenerate cesspool of amoral nihilism.

It should ring alarm bells to Gillard and Labor that Tony Windsor is now canvassing the possibility of supporting a no-confidence vote moved by Tony Abbott in certain circumstances; Wilkie’s support for such a measure would seem a no-brainer.

Add Bob Katter Jr and Tony Crook to the 71 Coalition votes in the House as well, and there are the 75 votes to 74 on the floor of the House to remove Gillard from office and force an election.

Support from Rob Oakeshott would merely seal the deal.

It’s now as close as that; indeed, a fresh election would increasingly seem the only way out of this mess once and for all.

And with Slipper now back on the cross-bench and Labor’s Anna Bourke assuming duties as Speaker, Gillard is once again wholly wedded to the support of Independents for her survival.

This story obviously has some way to run and we will follow it as it develops.

But I return to where I started: for many years, through a combination of fast moves and quick talking, Slippery Pete has managed to stay the half-step in front of trouble he’s needed to in order to survive.

Today he came back to Australia, after yet another overseas junket; flying headlong into controversy as usual, and flying straight into the most serious allegations officially levelled at him thus far.

I think Houdini Pete has come to the end of the line; only a miracle will save him now.

This time, the clouds of fire into which he has leapt would seem that bit too hot for comfort.

What do you think?