Massacre: Syrian Diplomats Kicked Out Of Australia

In the wake of the disgusting massacre of at least 110 people in Syria, most of them women and children, it is pleasing to see Foreign minister Bob Carr move quickly to expel Syrian diplomats from Australia; this type of senseless slaughter cannot and will not be tolerated.

It’s quite a quick post this evening, despite the gravity of the situation that has unfolded; I am irretrievably bogged down in work tonight, and this post is basically my cigarette-and-cup-of-tea time.

The Syrian Chargé d’affaires, Mr Jawdat Ali, was this afternoon given 72 hours to leave Australia by Foreign minister Bob Carr; also expelled was another — unnamed — Syrian diplomat.

The move is in response to the brutal slaughter of scores of Syrian civilians in Houla; a move that has mostly caused worldwide outrage, but typically elicited a splitting of the blame by Syria’s chief ally, Russia.

We have briefly mentioned Russia in the past week or so, with its posturing over mooted military strikes in Iran by Israel and its allies, and its veiled threats of nuclear war if such actions in Iran (or similar actions in Syria) are undertaken by Russia’s strategic rivals.

It is heartening, therefore, to see swift action being taken, here and abroad, despite whatever bellicose rhetoric and threats the Russians see fit to employ.

Our own government has now expelled the peak Syrian diplomatic Corp in this country; somewhat encouragingly, new French President Francoise Hollande has taken the same action in France.

Other nations have similarly responded; meanwhile, the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, is in Russia and pressing his hosts to intervene in the situation in Syria and to take action to stop the bloodshed.

Not least, no doubt, because the Russians are being so belligerent about anyone else going in and doing it.

Former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan — now an ambassador-at-large for the UN — is in Syria, desperately trying to salvage a peace process he was the architect of designed to stop the bloodshed in Syria and bring the troubled country to some semblance of peace.

I wish I had time to say more tonight, but I don’t; I will however include here a couple of links to coverage in the Australian and overseas press. We may return to this subject tomorrow or later in the week — it depends on how thorough the general media coverage is. At the minimum, however, I think it safe to say that the bloody episode is an outrage — a morally bankrupt, nihilistic outrage.

Clearly, this is not a political issue for analysis and debate; there may well be time for that, but I do think now is the time for strong responses for what can only be described as an unmitigated tragedy.

49 children and 34 women, many blown to bits or shot dead at point-blank range. For fuck’s sake…as brutal as it is, it’s a reminder that there are barbarians in the world; and that once there are people who no longer value life, there are people who no longer value anything.

And that should always be a sobering thought.

I hope the following links are of use/interest to those wishing to read further.

http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/political-news/bob-carr-expels-syrias-man-20120529-1zgwp.html

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/houla-massacre-consequences-profound-says-un-arab-envoy-kofi-annan/story-e6frg6so-1226371019181

http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/323201/UN-Syria-victims-were-executed

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/29/syrian-ambassadors-expelled-britain-france

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/30/world/middleeast/kofi-annan-meets-with-bashar-al-assad.html?_r=1&hp

 

Labor’s Mixed Bag: A Slight Rise, A Slight Fall, And A Plot Growing Thicker To Boot

Tonight’s opinion polls are out, and the picture is less than clear; Newspoll finds the ALP gaining, whilst Essential shows the opposite. And behind the scenes, a deal may have been hammered out to toss Julia Gillard overboard irrespective.

After the hype in the mainstream media — and, at least, a mention in anticipation in this column — the Newspoll to appear in The Australian tomorrow doesn’t answer all that many questions about the recent goings-on in Canberra; and to the extent it does, its findings are largely cancelled out by this week’s Essential Research findings.

Newspoll finds the ALP primary vote up two points, to 32%; the Coalition also rising, by a point to 46%; the Greens unchanged on 10%, and “Others” on 12%. On the two-party vote Newspoll sees the Coalition lead narrow to 54-46, from 55-45 two weeks ago.

By contrast, Essential has the Coalition primary vote at 50% (+1%), Labor on 33% (unch), Greens on 7% (unch) and “Others” on 10%. Two-party preferred, Essential places the Coalition lead two points wider from last week at 57-43.

Essential did not ask the leaders’ approval and “preferred PM” questions; those fortnightly items will come in its survey next week.

Newspoll, however, did, and finds approval with Gillard up three points to 30% and disapproval down by the same amount to 60%. Abbott’s figures are 31% (-3%) and 60% (+4%) respectively.

On the “preferred PM” measure, Newspoll finds Gillard (40%, +4%) ahead of Abbott (37%, -3%) for the first time in some months.

So what are we to make of all of this?

The first thing I would say is that readers should treat these figures with caution; for a start, the parties’ support levels after preferences are headed in different directions in the two polls.

It is interesting that both polls record an increase in the Liberal vote, despite the Coalition falling slightly in Newspoll after preferences; and Newspoll, incidentally, has recorded rises in support for the ALP in consecutive surveys for the first time since late last year.

The most obvious observation to make is that Craig Thomson’s explanatory speech in parliament last Monday has had little, if any, impact; were it the political game changer he and some in the Labor Party thought and hoped, the increase in ALP support would have been much stronger than it is, as would the small increase in Gillard’s net satisfaction rating from -36% to -30%.

It has been said, here and elsewhere, at various times over the past eighteen months that there is a lot of flutter in the polls, as clearly there is. I would suggest these results are inconclusive, and probably become even more so when it is considered that the most recent polling prior to this — a Nielsen poll a fortnight ago, showing the Coalition ahead 58-42 — is now too old to corroborate either of these findings.

Mainstream columnists and those to the left of politics will make much of Abbott’s slightly diminished approval ratings, but I would point out that right now — at this exact point in time, with an election-winning lead in hand — it isn’t Abbott who has the problem.

And this brings us neatly to the issue of renewed leadership rumblings inside the ALP.

ALP backroom types have seen this “false dawn” pattern so many times since the 2010 election that they’d be having bets on how much the Coalition’s lead will grow by next fortnight; in short, the party’s performance under Gillard is such that it’s simply a question of how much Labor loses by next year unless something drastic happens.

This Newspoll still has Labor on course to suffer a hefty defeat; not the wipeout its MPs most fear, but something in the order of what happened to Paul Keating in 1996 remains on the cards on these figures.

Under normal circumstances — and certainly if Newspoll is the bible of polling results, which for Labor, it basically is — the conclusion to draw from those numbers would be that Gillard should at least be given a reprieve to see if the improvements continue on a sustained basis.

But these are not normal circumstances.

In any case, Gillard’s history with Newspoll isn’t encouraging; as I have already mentioned, this is the first time she has strung consecutive increases together since October last year.

Which is why I think it will do nothing to stymie the plot, reported today, that factional heavies were close to a deal to ditch Gillard late next month in favour of a return to Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister, with Bill Shorten as his deputy.

Whilst I don’t think a leadership change will make much difference to Labor’s electoral prospects — and it seems inevitable now that a change will occur — it still remains to be seen when and to whom that switch is made.

Indeed, changing to Kevin Rudd could trigger an automatic election, forced on the floor of Parliament, by the resignation of one or more MPs still too incensed by the way Rudd has treated them in the past to be prepared to serve under him.

Either way — be it to Rudd or someone else — it seems the issue of timing has been settled, if chatter around the ALP and leaks to journalists are a guide: Gillard will be asked to step down at the end of the next parliamentary session (late next month), and if she won’t go voluntarily, she’ll be blasted out in a ballot.

I guess the plotters have some homework to do in the next few weeks to ensure they have their sums right.

Make no mistake, a change is highly unlikely to restore the ALP’s fortunes. But that party is now so desperately panic-stricken that any move that may save an extra five or ten seats, heading into opposition, becomes irresistible in many respects.

Irrespective of one small rise in Newspoll’s recorded support for Labor.

It’s going to be a long week in politics…we will see what we will see.

The Mutterers Mutter: Labor Party Leadership Brawl, Round 2

“People don’t like her; they don’t trust her; they don’t believe anything she has to say; and they certainly don’t support her.” These were my comments on Julia Gillard, after the first ALP leadership brawl in February. It now seems the second is about to start.

It was only a matter of time; in the three months since Julia Gillard decisively beat Kevin Rudd by 71 votes to 31 the ALP has lurched from crisis to crisis, with opinion polls stubbornly pointing to a landslide Coalition win at the looming election, and the Prime Minister either unwilling or unable to deal with even the simplest of the multitude of problems and scandals affecting her government.

Reports have appeared this weekend — across the mainstream media — that government whip Joel Fitzgibbon is openly canvassing his caucus colleagues for a return by Kevin Rudd to the Labor leadership.

At the time of her win in February, I wrote that the caucus vote was not an endorsement of Gillard, but an emphatic rejection of Rudd; I still believe that to be the case, and this opens some interesting possibilities. But more on those later.

Despite the lengthy list of the Labor Party’s woes in just the three months since the last caucus ballot, it seems the catalyst for the renewed outbreak of tension centres on a decision — authorising mining magnate Gina Rinehart to import 1700 foreign workers, made by Immigration minister Chris Bowen and Resources minister Martin Ferguson — which has elicited outrage from the union movement.

Gillard was purportedly unaware of the aware of the decision prior to its announcement, and is believed to have further inflamed tensions by publicly saying so in an attempt to mollify union leaders with an assurance Australians will be offered the jobs first.

In so doing, the perception is that the two ministers — who both voted for Rudd in February — have been hung out to dry.

And in what can be seen partially as a defence of the government and partially as a defence of the arrangement with Rinehart, Climate Change minister Greg Combet was quoted in today’s Herald Sun, in Melbourne, urging colleagues to “stay calm” about the plan, thus:

“Have a look at the facts…we have unemployment under 5% nationally. The labour market is fairly tight…particularly in WA. Interest rates are coming down, inflation is under control. We’re delivering budget surpluses, the economy is very strong.”

Combet is right — insofar as Western Australia is concerned. But the rest of his analysis doesn’t stack up.

Interest rates are falling simply because the overall economy is at a near-standstill, and rates had been kept too high for too long in an economy that is near stall point rather than “very strong;” overall inflation may be low but cost of living items are rocketing; and it is already accepted that the pencil-thin surplus announced in this month’s budget will be a further deficit of at least $5 billion.

His analysis unwittingly sums up one of the key problems facing this government: the economy is actually in the toilet. Take away the mining sector — as we have discussed many times now — and what is left it heavily in recession and haemorrhaging money to the point foreign borrowings by government are running at $100 million per day.

Add in the scandals that simply won’t go away, Julia Gillard’s inability to get a grip on anything or to sell a message, the horrific opinion polls and the overall perception of dishonesty, unaccountability and so forth, and there is a tinderbox sitting right there, waiting for a spark.

Now it has arrived; the Rinehart announcement and the predictable response from union types has given dissident forces in the ALP the pretext to strike the match.

Fitzgibbon — in his role, nominally a spearhead for support of, and a barrier to moves against, a party leader — was also Defence minister under Rudd who was sacked early in the government’s first term; a Gillard supporter in the last ballot, he is believed to have recently shifted his allegiance away from her.

Fitzgibbon is reported to be quite open in his pitch for change in the Labor leadership, telling colleagues that “We need to make the switch. This chaos is killing us” and proffering the opinion that the government needed to move to “an election footing.”

Yet when the story broke, Fitzgibbon responded cryptically via Twitter, saying “I thank my colleagues for the publicity but no one does more to support the PM and the Government than me!”

This, of course, can be interpreted in one of two ways.

Gillard — publicly at least — has chosen to accept it as a reiteration of support, saying Fitzgibbon’s words “speak for themselves” and suggesting that “I’ll be happily leading Labor to the next election.”

But happily — or otherwise — Fitzgibbon’s tweet denies nothing; and crucially, it does not rule out the counting of the numbers, canvassing of colleagues, or any of the other subterranean activities normally associated with the planning of a leadership coup.

Rudd and the people around him are, unsurprisingly, keeping their heads down and themselves out of sight, which is to be expected after the bollocking he received in the February ballot, and the undertakings he was obliged to provide in the aftermath of that event.

Rudd won’t put his head above the parapet until a) he is certain it is safe to do so, and b) he stands a realistic chance of regaining the leadership.

And there is apparently a timeframe on all of this: unnamed sources have said that just prior to the commencement of the winter recess — late next month — would be ideal, as it would give a new leader time to get established, make changes to the government, and begin the process of winning back public support.

And, presumably, to have a couple of months’ clear air without the threat of an immediate election being forced on him: even if someone spits the dummy and resigns from Parliament, such a leader would still be safe in office until Parliament reconvenes.

So what does all of this mean in practical terms?

For starters, it means that in addition to the daily and residual crises that have consumed this government for so long and rendered it dysfunctional, there will henceforth be constant leadership tension, bickering and infighting for the foreseeable future.

Whether the activities ascribed to Fitzgibbon in the media are being undertaken or not, the effect of these developments will be, at the minimum, to set in train within the ALP caucus a more concerted attempt by the Prime Minister’s detractors to get rid of her.

If and when those activities come to pass, and if and when they bear fruit, it is by no means certain that Kevin Rudd will be the candidate around whom they coalesce; despite the popularity he enjoys with sections of the electorate and in spite of a small number of caucus votes switching to him from Gillard, the fact remains that a large number of his colleagues simply refuse to deal with him on any level whatsoever.

Despite the public bravado, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that inside the government the mood is one of near-panic, with many MPs fearful that almost all of them face the prospect of wipeout at an election — even those in “safe” seats — and that election, now, is just over a year away from being called if on schedule.

So, here we go again: don’t expect anything to happen too quickly, but it will happen; in the meantime, the undignified spectacle of the Labor Party tearing itself apart is about to recommence with gusto.

A first pointer will be tomorrow night’s Newspoll for The Australian; the last Newspoll showed a slight improvement for Labor, but over the past 18 months every slight improvement in the ALP vote in Newspoll has been swiftly followed by a further collapse in support.

And that is where we will reconvene tomorrow night — assuming Monday’s events don’t throw up something else more worthy of discussion in the interim.

 

Fee-Free ATMs For Aborigines: Wayne Swan Gets It Wrong Yet Again

He’s done it again…Wayne Swan has provided more evidence, were any required, of how out of touch he is with community values; 76 ATMs in remote aboriginal communities will — from December — no longer charge transaction fees. The rest of the country, of course, will just keep paying.

An article appeared in the Fairfax press today, outlining the plan in which the 76 machines — spread across three states and the NT — will no longer charge customers for making withdrawals, balance enquiries, or other ATM transactions that otherwise would attract a fee.

These machines are located in some of the remotest aboriginal communities; often the inhabitants are poor, and have no choice of ATM provider when checking balances and whether benefits have been deposited and, if so, accessing those funds.

The plan sounds great: I’m sure it will make a great difference to aborigines in these towns who are more or less cut off from society.

And for the record, I am very happy for aborigines to have the benefit of this arrangement; it will save them a little money, and give them the sense of having a small win over the banks.

Yet this sort of thing makes me really angry; egotistical bubble of self-importance and Treasurer Wayne Swan — not content with his recent achievements in slugging it to “the rich” in the federal budget — is hailing this as a win for consumers. The scheme is being implemented by the banking sector on the recommendation of a joint Treasury and Reserve Bank task force.

Commenting on the scheme with Indigenous Affairs minister Jenny Macklin, Swan said: ‘‘Indigenous people and residents living in very remote communities often rely on a single ATM located in a community store owned by an independent ATM company to access their cash and check their account balance.’’

And The Age reports that thirteen banks and two independent ATM companies would do away with ATM transaction fees for their customers in “identified remote indigenous communities.”

I reiterate that I think it’s great that aborigines have got this deal; with some luck it will save them some inconvenience and a little money as they go about their lives.

The thing that incenses me about this announcement is that for tens of millions of Australians, this delivers nothing at a time of economic uncertainty and rocketing cost of living pressures; and it confirms Swan’s status — in the words of mining magnate Clive Palmer — as an economic pygmy when it comes to Swan’s dealings with the major banks on behalf of consumers.

Australia’s banks are raking in billions and billions of dollars in profits every year, and much of this comes directly out of the pockets of ordinary domestic consumers.

Many of these people are sensitive to movements in official interest rates, and the impact this has on their residential mortgages.

Over the past couple of years, they have grown accustomed to a few stern words being directed by Swan at the banks whenever they keep part of a cut, or pass on more than an official rise; but never more than that, and certainly never any action.

Now Swan comes out, all smiles, with a deal to abolish all ATM fees — for a few outback towns with perhaps, sight unseen, ten or twenty thousand people between them.

You see, the fact that it is aboriginal communities getting this deal — set up and brokered by Swan and his department — is unimportant on one level; it still leaves millions of people who will be slugged for using an ATM of any provider other than their own bank.

And can I just make the very obvious point that at times, even in urban areas, and even in places like here in inner Melbourne, people are often forced to pay ATM fees for the same reason — there is only one machine located within a reasonable distance.

Try getting money out at the MCG if you’re a Westpac customer — and try avoiding NAB’s withdrawal fee. There is no other machine within a 20 minute walk. It’s just an example, but by no means irrelevant or specious.

But on another level, the fact that it is aborigines receiving this deal is significant: it’s significant in the conceited little story the Labor government, through Swan where money is concerned, is attempting to construct, tell, and sell.

If you’re aboriginal; disabled; on welfare; a migrant; or from any other minority and/or disadvantaged group, this government is good at telling stories.

And as Swan proved in his recent budget, he too is adept at telling such stories.

There was a lot of fanfare about the ALP’s National Disability Insurance Scheme, with an impressive-sounding $1 billion aimed at the 400,000 Australians with permanent disabilities; the only catch is that in two years’ time — halfway through the period to which that money applies — just 5% of those 400,000 people are expected to have access to it.

So it is with this equally impressive-sounding, but similarly empty gesture aimed at aborigines; there are many, many indigenous people in this country who don’t live anywhere near 26 towns flung across three states and a territory who will get nothing from this, and a large number of those people have far more urgent needs of assistance than saving $2 at the local ATM.

You only have to get in a car and drive less than a mile or so from the centre of major regional towns like Broome, and Dubbo, and Kalgoorlie, to see aboriginal kids with their empty spirit bottles and petrol cans, passed out on the side of the road, to know that $2 at an ATM is the last thing they need.

These are just two examples among many that Swan and his colleagues have notched up in four and a half years in government.

And whilst a very small number of people will get some limited benefit from this latest initiative — just like the so-called NDIS — I would say to people in those groups and in those communities that far from helping you, this government is exploiting you; far from championing your issues and your causes, this government is tokenising them.

To the rest of the people who live in this country — who are being gouged at one end with usurious fees and charges, and ripped off at the other by the rocketing price of everyday essentials — a Treasurer who can’t stand up to the banking sector over interest rate rises, when it is pocketing billions of dollars in exactly the type of transaction fees he is trumpeting the waiver of in the initiative outlined here, is a joke.

Sadly, the fee-free ATMs for the rural communities involved present just another photo opportunity, just a little more spin and empty media space, and just another reason to send a press release; the official story is that the government is “helping,” but the reality is rather different.

And if anyone wants to defend Swan, or the government, over this latest half-baked initiative — saying “at least it’s a start” or something similar — I would respond very strongly that this is not “a start:” it’s just a stunt.

But then again, with this government and this Treasurer, it’s always just a stunt.

 

Comments must keep to the point; anything racist will be deleted as soon as I see it.

67-33 To LNP: Queensland Galaxy Poll Another Portent Of Labor’s Looming Extermination

Just when things couldn’t get much worse for the Labor Party, a new Galaxy poll in Queensland has that state’s LNP government leading the ALP by a 67-33 margin after preferences. This isn’t just any state poll. This is a sign of the putrefaction that will soon kill federal Labor.

Two months after scoring the most emphatic election win in Australian political history, the LNP government of new Premier Campbell Newman is gaining support; a Galaxy poll published today in the Courier-Mail shows a swing of nearly 4% to the conservatives since the election in March.

Whilst it is customary for governments to race ahead in the early opinion polls following an election win, this is a little different in that Newman’s election results represented the highest levels of support ever achieved.

It makes me think that whilst there is obviously a very deep reservoir of good will — and hope — invested in Newman and his team, their increasing support numbers are being fuelled by something else. It doesn’t take much to guess what that might be.

Primary support for the LNP in Queensland is now running at 54% (up 4.3% since the March election); support for the ALP has dwindled to a meagre 23% (-3.7%); Greens are up 2.5% to 10%; Bob Katter’s crowd has fallen 4.5% to 7%; and “Others” are on 6%.

After preferences are allocated, this represents a whopping 34-point lead on the two-party measure with the LNP ahead, 67% (+3.9%) to 33% (-3.9%). It is the only time — in more than 25 years of following this stuff — that I have ever seen a party whose lead on the two-party support index is bigger than the actual support figure registered by its opponent.

And in a world now far, far away from the one sullied by Anna Bligh and her Labor machine’s filthy campaign and despicably dishonest slurs against Newman, he leads his opponent — new Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk — by 72% to 15% on the “better Premier” measure.

Newman’s figures are as good — if not better — than those recorded by former Labor Premier Wayne Goss in his heyday in the early 1990s.

In terms of individual support, Newman is favoured by 64% of voters, with just 19% disapproving; Palaszczuk has carded a reasonable result in her first outing, with 38% of respondents approving of her early performance, 18% disapproving, and 46% undecided.

Again, now the air has cleared over the cesspool of a campaign conducted by the Queensland ALP, Newman’s figures on this score too have recovered as voters finally mark him solely on his own merits, and as presented.

Palaszczuk’s score is one she should take mild encouragement from, but no more; the undecided column is always bloated when a new leader is polled, but the 46% figure she records on this measure is probably also in part the result of Queensland voters being very wary of Labor Party offerings on any level at present.

Indeed, just as her approval rating may grow, these undecideds can just as easily flow the other way; and Palaszczuk could find herself with a negative net approval rating — and a colossal problem of her own — in the space of a few months.

It’s a salient point, because I don’t actually think this poll has terribly much to do with Queensland politics at all. Obviously those north of the Tweed River remain satisfied with their choice of nine weeks ago, and the figures are all pretty much exactly where I would expect them to be at this early stage of the three-year cycle in the Sunshine State.

All of the figures, that is, except the two-party measure and — to a lesser degree — the primary vote figures.

A 67% two-party support level (even remembering this is just a poll, not an actual election result) is unheard of; even the biggest election win on this measure prior to Campbell Newman’s triumph — coincidentally also in Queensland, under Joh Bjelke-Petersen in 1974 — saw a 63-37 split that Newman’s LNP fractionally bettered.

The ALP has done what any heavily beaten party that is new to opposition could be expected to do, which is next to nothing; and whilst Newman has been a ball of energy, his headline achievements — axing a literary competition and pruning the public service, balanced by the abolition of some government hospitality perks and a mothballing of the state’s private jet — hardly warrant such a large swing so soon on the back of such a thumping victory.

I think that what this poll is picking up is an early whiff of the public mindset now being directed at federal Labor in light of the events of the past week or so in Canberra.

Sure, Queensland was bad for the federal ALP in 2010, and has long promised to be a catastrophe for it at the next election; the ALP has been consistently on track to record a result of about 38% in Queensland federally, and a 33% figure — if translated to a federal election — would see it lose every seat it holds in Queensland.

It wouldn’t just lose those seats, either; the most marginal of them after such an election, if the swing were uniform, would be Kevin Rudd’s current seat of Griffith, which would go to the LNP on a new margin of about 5%. Seats like Treasurer Wayne Swan’s electorate of Lilley would be safely held by the LNP on margins above 10%.

Obviously, no federal election is going to be won by Abbott’s Coalition on a 67-33 margin. But extrapolating the additional swing to the LNP in this state-based poll to a federal result would see a movement of about 4% to the Coalition after preferences from its medium-term polling averages, which in turn translates to a 61-39 result for Abbott.

On those numbers — a 10.9% swing to the Liberals on the 2010 result — Labor would win just 31 seats, with its vote so weak that Green Adan Bandt and Independent Andrew Wilkie would likely be re-elected in Melbourne and Denison respectively. The Liberals and Nationals would win the remaining 117 seats, and an overall majority of 84.

It would be a bloodbath that would make the trouncing Gough Whitlam experienced in 1975 look like a fairly solid result.

We will see what the coming weeks and months bring; after all, there is still some way to go until the next scheduled election, and of course — proverbially speaking — literally anything can happen in the meantime.

But that 4% swing to the state LNP in Galaxy’s findings bothers me…it’s not as if Newman’s government isn’t doing a good job, or what it was elected to do, because it is; rather, I just think that inflation of support is being coloured by events elsewhere, and the obvious place to point the finger is at an emerging new trend away from the Gillard government and the various woes and disasters it represents.

If that trend is confirmed, then Labor isn’t just headed for defeat, but toward near-extermination; and Queenslanders will have been the first to show the way.

What do you think?

“Please Leave Me Alone:” Craig Thomson Just Doesn’t Get It

Hot on the heels of his reprehensible speech to Parliament this week — which may bring more self-inflicted trouble than anything — Craig Thomson played the misery card again today, begging the opposition and media commentators to leave him alone. They shouldn’t, and they won’t.

There are people in this world who genuinely believe themselves to be beyond scrutiny or reproach; people who think they can do whatever they like, to whomever they like, at whatever cost, and that they should walk away scot-free if their travails are ever uncovered, with neither consequences nor responsibility, and with ultimate accountability to nobody.

It increasingly appears, and not least by the man’s own words and deeds, that Craig Thomson is such a specimen.

In what is (for Thomson) a rare media appearance indeed, he conducted a doorstop interview in Canberra today, imploring those in pursuit of him over scandals at the HSU, his alleged use of prostitutes at union expense and the misappropriation of $500,000 of HSU monies to back off.

Thomson went on, identifying nine different inquiries, investigations and legal proceedings against him that are underway involving the courts, Parliament and Police.

“Enough is enough, really,” he said. “Is this about trying to push someone to the brink?”

Really? Really?

We’re going to see exactly why Thomson should not be “left alone” under any circumstances; but I would first make the observation that his remarks today are an insult to those in the community who really are suffering depression, feeling suicidally miserable, and so forth.

People on the brink of self-harm — or worse — tend not to prate of it; they simply go ahead and do it, rather than looking for attention, sympathy or, in this case, a reprieve from scrutiny.

Ever since Thomson started to talk a couple of weeks ago — and even then, it was only to evade censure in the House of Representatives — the “woe is me” theme has been prevalent in his utterings; the clear impression is that Thomson wants everyone to feel sorry for him, and that his alleged misdemeanours should be quietly dropped and forgotten.

The general message is that Thomson should be able to skip off into the sunset, and that anyone standing in his way is, quite simply, a bastard.

Well, I have a message for Craig Thomson: this column won’t leave you alone until either you satisfactorily and credibly explain your purported innocence of the allegations you face, or you are prosecuted.

And I have a small inkling that the Liberal and National parties, the vast majority of those in the mainstream media, a similar proportion of commentators here in the new media space, and maybe — just maybe — the odd federal Independent who has been “solid” for Thomson until now don’t intend to leave him alone either.

Collectively, we can’t — Thomson must be held to account.

Here’s a little rap sheet, and some reasons why the scrutiny Thomson clearly despises is not going to go away — and nor should it.

What was supposed to be a watertight explanation of all allegations against him in his speech to Parliament was nothing of the sort; at first glance, those passages dealing with the allegations seem guided by saying something — anything — against each accusation in turn rather than by any requirement for a credible or even cogent overall account.

And defences to specific allegations — such as inviting investigators to secure CCTV footage from escort agencies that only provide outcall services — fool nobody.

In point of fact, they merely make Thomson appear like the idiot he seems determined to play everyone else for.

In the past 72 hours Thomson has smeared several people both under parliamentary privilege and, through a leak to the Murdoch press, outside Parliament; those people consequently may not have recourse against Thomson, even if they can show they were defamed. But Thomson — having tried to settle scores by throwing stones from a glass house — expects and believes his address to be a repercussion-free exercise.

Thomson, in rattling off the details of the various inquiries and investigations into his conduct that are currently underway, claimed that “these (investigations) are the appropriate places for these matters to be dealt with.”

Yet he has repeatedly frustrated or otherwise refused to co-operate with them, especially two current inquiries (and one that lapsed as a result of his failure to co-operate) being undertaken by the NSW and Victorian Police.

The headkickers of the ALP are lining up behind Thomson to do his bidding; Leader of the House of Representatives Anthony Albanese, in particular, seems determined to terminate any further scrutiny of Thomson and to protect him, and the government, from any further fallout from the scandal.

Indeed, Thomson can’t even be said to have made a credible stand in his own defence; until last week, his security of tenure has largely rested on the refusal of the Prime Minister to do anything other than to reaffirm her full confidence in him.

Whenever challenged on the ethical or legal implications of allegations surrounding Thomson, Gillard has attempted to talk about Tony Abbott, or to ignore the question.

More recently, she has simply walked away — be it to an overseas conference, or out of question time when the subject matter of the discussion is not to her liking.

All this comes as the Nine network prepares to air a segment on its A Current Affair programme; Nine says it has located and interviewed one of the prostitutes who allegedly slept with Thomson, and who claims to have details of credit cards and other incriminating material to prove that Thomson was with her.

The programme’s executive producer, Grant Williams, visited Thomson in Canberra yesterday and offered to allow Thomson the opportunity to view the ACA segment and to respond if he saw fit.

Oddly — and, I would have thought, unbelievably — Thomson declined.

For the record, Nine has emphasised that it did not pay the prostitute to appear; and this also comes as Melbourne’s Herald Sun reports that Police have been told to look into whether Thomson used American Express cards on escorts:

“Detectives in NSW are believed to have referred to Victoria Police fraud squad detectives information about an American Express card allegedly linked to Thomson…sex industry sources in Victoria have (also) told police to look into Thomson’s use of that card, and not only (other) records checked by Fair Work Australia.”

It was also reported today in the Murdoch press that a payment account linked to a Sydney sex industry supremo appears to have allegedly had funds deposited to it by Thomson during his time in charge of the Health Services Union, and that when asked specific questions about payments to that account, Thomson refused to answer.

I could go on…but what would be the point?

Aside from sympathy, why would anyone back off Thomson when he can’t give a straight and honest answer to questions about matters in which he is implicated?

Why should he be let off the hook, when not a word of what he has said remotely excuses him from even one of the myriad of allegations against him?

Indeed, why would anyone have any sympathy for him at all?

Liberal backbencher and retiring MP, Mal Washer — a doctor of medicine — has attempted to intervene this week, on account of his genuine concern for Thomson’s wellbeing and general health.

Such an intervention is not unwelcome; I actually think Dr Washer should be commended for coming forward despite the fraught, charged political atmosphere and the highly partisan nature of the events that are playing out.

But Thomson must face scrutiny; until or unless he is either exonerated or prosecuted, the matters in which he is alleged to have engaged in misconduct must be rigorously pursued.

I note — near the end of my remarks tonight — that the opposition’s focus is now turning more sharply towards Julia Gillard — as it should.

The conduct of a Prime Minister in office should always be unimpeachable; in the current circumstances of minority government, the need to uphold standards is ever-more critical, with parliamentary numbers so finely balanced and the overriding requirement for the country to remain governable.

Yet Gillard — with her selective honesty, smart answers, glib slogans, questionable ethics and deceptive manipulations — has directly facilitated the trashing of the reputation of Parliament as an institution, and in so doing has provided a grub like Thomson with a safety house in which to shelter, free from the repercussions of his alleged actions.

I’m not a brute; simply a plain, no-nonsense Tory. I think it of paramount importance that any and all legitimate methods of investigation in the Thomson matters required to establish the truth — once and for all — must be utilised.

I am not insensitive to any health issues that may afflict Thomson and I really don’t think the likes of Abbott and his MPs or the media community are either, but I would point out that Dr Washer’s idea to offer care and observation can easily be carried out simultaneously with ongoing investigations, and that both should proceed.

But if Thomson wants people to back off him, I will make this offer:

  • Immediately submit to full co-operation with all outstanding Police inquiries;
  • Provide any and all material and intellectual evidence as demanded by such inquiries, including under oath as reasonably required;
  • Seek to make a personal explanation (or similar) to Parliament, on the next available sitting day, substantially retracting in full the speech made on Tuesday;
  • Utilise whatever options are available to have the Hansard record of the speech struck out; and
  • Citing the irreconcilable incompatibility of ongoing, protracted allegations and investigations with the effective representation of a federal electorate — and irrespective of any potential political ramifications — announce the resignation of the seat of Dobell in the House of Representatives, effective from 6pm on Friday 1 July, 2012.

If Thomson is prepared to do all of those things — effectively turning his back on the ALP protection racket whose favour he has enjoyed, throwing himself on the mercy or the law and proper process, and leaving the Parliament, albeit in disgrace — then this column will make no further critical comment of him.

It seems fair: with so many questions to answer, and the apparent weight of evidence against him almost overwhelming, if Thomson wants a break then he’s going to have to give something for it.

Of course, this won’t happen; Thomson wants everyone to know exactly who the bastards are and why they’re such evil people, and he wants the world to lavish him with pity and sympathy and “understanding;” but he refuses to take responsibility for his actions — either as determined by Fair Work Australia, or otherwise alleged.

I’m sorry, this bozo simply doesn’t get it.

Contrary to what he and others in the ALP might think, this is not a game.

Standards of governance in this country are lower than at any time since 1975, or perhaps ever; there is a great deal at risk the longer this goes on.

And hypothetical questions about what Tony Abbott might do if the shoe were on the other foot are — irrespective of their merit or otherwise — irrelevant.

Craig Thomson is an utter disgrace to this country; the sooner he leaves Parliament — one way or the other — the better off Australia will be for it.

Enough is enough, all right, Mr Thomson. It is time for you to go; your legitimacy as a member of Parliament has long since expired.

And if your departure results in the fall of the government and an election, then so be it.

Stalemate: Thomson Saga Rolls On…But To Where?

It’s like being in the eye of a storm; Craig Thomson fired his bullets in Parliament on Monday, and despite a lot of rough, tough talk — and the requisite Question Time ruckus — there doesn’t seem to be a great deal happening. Or is there?

Whilst political commentators are at one that the Craig Thomson scandal will now drag in indefinitely, and most — including me — agree that the government will suffer ongoing damage as a result, some have opined that the process of dealing with Thomson has reached a stalemate.

In fact, whilst there has been a lot of noise and chatter in the past couple of days, a number of small, seemingly unrelated events tend to suggest there are more turns in the road ahead in the context of this story.

I want to look at just a few of these; in and of themselves they offer nothing conclusive, but in them is sown the seeds of determining where the federal polity tracks for the next 12-15 months.

Since the melodramatic, accusatory and insult-laden twaddle that passed for the member for Dobell’s grand statement of explanation was delivered to the House of Representatives on Monday, a subtle yet significant split has opened in the ranks of the so-called Independents.

On the one hand, Tony Windsor and Andrew Wilkie reaffirmed their support for the Gillard government in Parliament, ruling out supporting a suspension motion against Craig Thomson and guaranteeing the government’s survival in the immediate term.

Both have made a lot of noise about not being judges, juries and executioners, and both have insisted the allegations against Thomson be tested in Court. Neither has proposed any meaningful way for that objective to be advanced; in fact, neither of them have proposed or done anything meaningful whatsoever.

Indeed, whilst they have opted to prop Labor up in government, they have as a result revealed themselves to be interested in no more than the retention of their seats in parliament for as long as possible: were they committed to integrity and probity in practice, as opposed to the form of words both have adhered to, there would at least be substantive, constructive ideas coming from them as to how to proceed.

Instead, there is nothing.

And on the other hand, there is the “Third Independent,” Rob Oakeshott.

It is generally agreed outside Labor circles that of the Independents who agreed to support Gillard after the 2010 election, Oakeshott was the most politically damaged by the act; in the past week it has become known that Oakeshott is deeply angered by the Thomson saga, and specifically with the length of time it has taken the Thomson to explain himself and with the time it is taking for these matters to be dealt with.

Oakeshott at least proposed to move a censure motion against Thomson, a move since abandoned upon confirmation that Windsor and Wilkie refused to support it. And as consistently critical as I have been of Rob Oakeshott in this column, I think it appropriate to note he was, at the minimum, prepared to do something.

It’s true Oakeshott’s motion, if moved and carried, would not have brought down the government and would not have called for Thomson’s suspension from Parliament. Even so, it remains to be seen whether this display of discord among the Independents is a precursor to them acting alone rather than as a bloc in the future.

An interesting sub-plot has been the referral of Thomson to Parliament’s Privileges Committee to face allegations his speech on Monday misled Parliament, and the route taken to get him there; for reasons of strategic insurance, the Coalition initially asked Peter Slipper — who remains Speaker despite having stepped aside from presiding over the House of Representatives on a daily basis — to refer Thomson, as Slipper is empowered to do.

Slipper refused.

The stench is already emanating from that on streets and in backyards and kitchens well-removed from Canberra; one MP accused of multiple transgressions and possible criminal offences has been seen to shelter another MP also accused of multiple transgressions and possible criminal offences from scrutiny.

It’s not difficult to see what Coalition was up to, but I think we’ll let that one rot and fester on the vine for a while before we revisit it in a later column.

Yet somewhat surprisingly, the government announced it would support a Coalition motion in the House to refer Thomson to the Privileges Committee: my guess is that Labor thinking is that it was the least they could do; to refuse would send a dreadful, dreadful message in light of its already shattered credibility and reputation for sleaze.

Perhaps ALP types are taking solace in the fact that the committee is controlled by the government; of its 10 members, 6 are Labor Party MPs.

This reality has not been lost on the Coalition leadership; the means are there by which Labor can clear Thomson of misleading the House but to do so the government may well be walking into a fatal trap.

To that end, the Coalition has made a change to its numbers on the Privileges Committee, replacing first-term Bennelong MP John Alexander with former Liberal Attorney-General and Immigration minister Phillip Ruddock.

The change is significant: Ruddock, a 39-year veteran of Parliament, has a well-deserved reputation as a tactician and strategist, and remains a wily old political bird; and whilst his presence on the committee will in no way alter the balance of its numbers, it will add an additional layer of forensic investigation and hawk-like sharpness to the Coalition’s arsenal.

Whilst all of this has been going on, a report appearing in The Australian today suggests nominations for Labor preselection in Thomson’s seat of Dobell are open, and already prospective candidates are coming forward.

In an obvious and expected move — but unpredictable insofar as any consequences are concerned — NSW Labor secretary Sam Dastyari has already declared Mr Thomson will likely be ineligible to stand on account of the probability of allegations against him being unresolved when the preselection scheduled for September occurs.

Dumping Thomson from Dobell solves one problem — how to ultimately get rid of him — but raises another for the ALP: what if Thomson himself quits Parliament? He professes to remain a “Labor Man” in spite of everything that has happened, but could  the effective termination of his career tip him to the point of resignation? If so, the government could be forced to a poll before Christmas.

But that, of course, assumes the present Parliament and the current government even make it to an election in August/September 2013; the poll-driven, focus group obsessed ALP will scrutinise the next round of polling figures even more closely than usual, and that means the simmering issue of the Labor leadership will boil over again sooner rather than later.

My tip would be that the next ALP leadership showdown is a matter of weeks away, not months, and it certainly won’t take until a scheduled election loss in August or September next year to materialise.

Irrespective, now, of whether a switch to Kevin Rudd or to another candidate such as Stephen Smith occurs, it is difficult to see how another change of Prime Minister could be anything but a lit fuse beneath the powder keg on which the ALP’s stability as a government sits.

At some point — somehow — common sense will prevail over the self-interest and self-preservation which currently drives the ALP and the equally electorally doomed Independents; if it doesn’t, and even if it takes the death or resignation of an MP through ill-health, the odds on an election sooner than later are rapidly shortening.

As I said, despite the relative lull in events, much has been happening; these few examples — and other events in Canberra — could lead anywhere insofar as the sordid mess that is the Thomson/HSU scandal is concerned. Only time will tell and we will, of course, watch with great interest.

The bottom line remains that a wide majority of the voting public (and even, it anecdotally seems, among some Labor voters tired of minority government) want a fresh election to resolve the instability and the sense of chaos and crisis — to say nothing of the dishonesty of a Labor government rotten to the core — once and for all.

And if the final result of Craig Thomson’s “five minutes of fame” on the floor of the House of Representatives on Monday is to trigger such an election, then maybe he will have effected some good out of this mess after all.

Whichever way you cut it, the stakes — and the bar for survival — just got a hell of a lot higher for Gillard, the ALP, and for the government.