A Perspective On Julia Gillard And The AWU Scandal

This week, the scandal enveloping Julia Gillard, centred on her conduct as a lawyer in the early-mid 1990s and involving Slater and Gordon client the AWU and figures linked to it, has become the number one story in politics; tonight, I share a perspective on the week’s developments.

 Like everyone else with an interest in the national polity, I have followed the events of the past few days with great interest, and readers of The Red And The Blue will be pleased to know that over the weekend, I will be publishing analysis and comment on these.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading some excellent coverage of these events as time has permitted me to do, and I am posting a link to an excellent comment piece that appeared in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph today.

It’s by the Tele‘s resident commentator and blogger Piers Akerman, and I strongly encourage readers — irrespective of whether they nominally sit in the blue corner or the red corner — to take the time to check it out.

I’ll be back to my own comment pieces during the weekend, covering both the Gillard/AWU saga, and also to look further on what’s going on with the LNP in Queensland.

Here’s A Challenge For Julia Gillard

By now, most readers will know of the meaningless charade played out by Julia Gillard today, first at a press conference to “deal” with the AWU scandal that persists at present, and subsequently in Parliament where she simply referred to answers she gave at that press conference.

In some respects, it actually doesn’t matter any more whether she is as innocent as the clear blue sky in relation to what (for expediency) I will simply refer to as the AWU scandal, or whether she’s as guilty as sin of God only knows what; either way, the Prime Minister’s conduct leaves an awful lot to be desired.

I watched today’s press conference in the expectation that nothing at all would be clarified, and I wasn’t disappointed. But it occurs to me that the AWU scandal, in many ways, has become a metaphor for just about everything that is wrong with Gillard as Prime Minister and with the ALP generally as the present party of government.

Readers will know that I have made much of the modus operandi of the Labor Party; simply stated, it is to fling as much shit at opponents as possible, as hard as possible, with the objective that some of it sticks.

To smear political rivals and to seek to destroy reputations and careers on false premises is standard ALP practice nowadays; lest there be any doubt, the way it fought the recent Queensland state election with allegations of corrupt and unlawful conduct against Campbell Newman that were baseless is an excellent case in point.

To operate in a moral vacuum, free of the constraints of any meaningful system of ethical conduct, is a concept utterly synonymous with the Labor Party of today. The ALP is a party that seeks to win and retain office through slogans, stunts, jingoism and smart answers to legitimate questions.

To lie — and if not lie outright, to conduct itself with overt dishonesty at a basic level — is another defining characteristic of modern Labor; its carbon tax promise, arguably the difference between a technical and an outright loss at the last election and quickly discarded in subservience to the Greens, is a good example. Its utilisation and betrayal of Andrew Wilkie is another.

Gillard’s defence to any questions she has thus far faced over the AWU scandal have largely been predicated on a) the amount of time that has elapsed since the events in question; b) the quality (or otherwise) of the recollections she has of those events; c) the notion that, in the early 1990s and aged in her early 30s, she was “young and naive;” d) the absence of specific allegations of illegality against her (or, at least, the absence of any people are prepared to place on the record based on current available evidence); and e) free character assessments of other key figures implicated in the events of the AWU scandal, like this on Ralph Blewitt: “Mr Blewitt, according to people who know him, has been described as a complete imbecile, an idiot, a stooge, a sexist pig, a liar and his sister has said he’s a crook, and rotten to the core.”

I would add that it makes no difference whatsoever that Gillard’s ex-boyfriend from the time, former AWU official Bruce Wilson, declares she knew nothing: maybe she doesn’t, but in the circumstances his should be the last word anyone should take on it.

I disagree with Michelle Grattan, who writes in The Age today that by virtue of her press conference performance, Gillard has narrowed the target for her critics and their opportunity to generate fresh momentum; she did nothing of the sort.

Instead, she has focused their resolve to find a smoking gun, if it exists, to link Gillard to corrupt and fraudulent misconduct in her time at Slater and Gordon over the AWU scandal — again if, and only if, that proves to be the case.

Some commentators in the mainstream press — including many privately sympathetic to Labor — have gone to great lengths to convey the impression that Gillard is home and dry, or at the very least to give the view that on the balance of probabilities it is the opponents of Labor and/or those asking questions of Gillard (which is not, on the whole, necessarily the Coalition) who are on the flimsiest of ground.

But whether you vote Liberal, Labor or otherwise, once again — as has so often been the case with this government and this Prime Minister — it is, simply, the facts of the matter that must be established.

And so, in issuing a challenge to Gillard, my remarks cover not just this latest flare-up in the AWU scandal, but really reach across the character and conduct of her government as a whole; I pity the genuinely good people in the ALP whose work is besmirched by the standard way of their party’s operation nowadays.

These are the questions I ask of Julia Gillard, and in so doing pose my challenge; some deal with the AWU scandal and others are more concerned with her government as a whole.

1. Julia Gillard staged a press conference today to field and answer questions on the AWU scandal; this was a tactical move specifically aimed at deflating the AWU issue before facing opposition questioning. If she could provide answers to questions at a press conference, why couldn’t she do so inside the House of Representatives? Was there a fear of misleading Parliament if she did so?

2. At her press conference, Gillard repeatedly stated, in effect, that she couldn’t be questioned at length on matters pertaining to the AWU scandal by virtue of the passage of time, statements she made at the time, the unavailability of some records (e.g. her banking records) due to an expiry of time limits, and the questionable accuracy of the recollections of both herself and other key people in the events of 1995 that cannot be relied on. Will she therefore agree that the same standards should now be applied to the pursuit, by herself and by her goons, of Tony Abbott over events that occurred in 1977 whilst he was a university student?

3. During today’s press conference, Gillard asserted several times that she has been repeatedly defamed in the process of others attempting to get to the bottom of this matter; she even spelt out the purported slur (and no, I am not going to print it here). In light of that and in consideration of the repeated defamation that she claims, why has there been only one defamation action instituted by the Prime Minister to date — a proceeding against The Age that was eventually abandoned?

4. The most telling aspect of Gillard’s defence of herself is that any question raised about her involvement in these matters is part of a systematic and sustained campaign of smear and innuendo against her. If she believes that smear and innuendo constitutes such disgraceful conduct as she claims, will she and her cronies now concede that their campaign against Tony Abbott (he’s a misogynist, a woman-hater, etc) is one similarly rooted in smear and innuendo?

You see, people, Gillard may indeed be completely innocent of any wrongdoing in relation to the AWU scandal, just as she claims. She may, alternatively, be in it up to her neck. But whether she is or not, one thing she certainly is is a hypocrite.

I wrote last week that the Prime Minister has a problem, and indeed she does: irrespective of the rights or wrongs of any involvement Gillard has (or has had) in the events of the AWU scandal, her conduct as Prime Minister and that of her government puts her on pretty shaky ground to mount a defence of any credibility — be it accurate or otherwise.

Very few people believe her, and even fewer people trust her, and if Gillard wants to know why her inquisitors won’t stop until they find the smoking gun, she would be well advised to consider that smart answers, economies of honesty and ethics, clever stunts and semantic games might be a good idea at the time, but ultimately, they have a consequence.

For Gillard, that means scrutiny — of those events she least of all wishes to be scrutinised.

Misogyny And The AWU: Julia Gillard Has A Problem

Based purely on current polls, if an election were held tomorrow the ALP might — might — be re-elected. Julia Gillard’s five minutes in the sunshine of voter favour, however, will fade as the memory of her hypocritical “misogyny” speech subsides, and — in any case — real trouble is brewing.

It’s all been very impressive, in a perverse way.

Starting with a savage, blistering and brutal attack on Tony Abbott in Parliament — an attack, mind, made without a shred of evidence of “misogyny” on Abbott’s part, and made on the dubious pretext of defending a man on the record as describing bottled mussels as “salty c*nts in brine” — Gillard has seen her ratings as Prime Minister improve to the point of near-acceptability, Abbott’s plummet, and the Labor vote improve to the point the party appears to be in striking distance of the Coalition.

Cheered on by sections of the media — and aided and abetted by attack dogs such as the odious Nicola Roxon — Gillard inflicted substantial damage on both Abbott’s image and his reputation.

As usual in matters pertaining to Gillard, there was the requisite lack of honesty: Abbott is no misogynist, and Gillard knows it; yet the current Labor way of throwing as much shit as possible, as hard as possible, at an enemy to ensure some sticks is a stronger instinct for the Labor beast than are any niceties of a grounding in fact.

And, as usual in matters pertaining to Gillard, there was the requisite degree of hypocrisy: for after all, tearing Abbott to shreds on a whim and without basis might be well and good in the absence of any ethics or scruples, but to do so in defence of Peter Slipper and his revolting views on women — now firmly and publicly etched into Australia’s political yearbook — is grotesque, but broadly in line with what I suspect most Australians have come to expect from her.

I would wager, though, that the Prime Minister regrets not rushing off to an early election a month ago when her polling numbers began to improve, and if she doesn’t, she will shortly have cause to do so.

Already, the rise in Labor’s and Gillard’s polling numbers has tapered off; indeed, the ALP’s voting figures are beginning to slide again, e’er slowly, and it stands to reason that Gillard’s ratings must soon follow.

And in the absence of any other issues, the great and dishonest misogyny speech delivered by Gillard under the coward’s veil of parliamentary privilege, for the little that it is worth, is already fading from the collective conscience of the electorate.

Of course, the ruse of “Abbott the Misogynist” is simply the latest in a long line of smokescreens perpetuated and/or pursued by the Prime Minister and some of her cronies in the name of keeping their arses in ministerial leather and/or smearing and throwing shit at opponents in the name of providing governance to Australia.

The deceit of Andrew Wilkie over poker machine reform, the disgraceful race-related riot on Australia Day with its genesis in the Prime Minister’s office, the stolid defence of Craig Thomson, the recruitment of Peter Slipper as Speaker, and now the baseless accusation of Abbott as a woman-hater, to recount a mere few, all point to a Prime Minister and a government operating in a spirit of moral nihilism entirely innocent of any hint of decency, or principle, or propriety.

Speaking of Craig Thomson, he has already been hit with dozens of civil charges arising from his time at the head of the Health Services Union; indeed, investigations by Police into he and his mates at the HSU have resulted in criminal charges being laid against Michael Williamson with more to follow, and whilst it would be wrong to pre-empt the identity of the two people Police have foreshadowed charging soon, it’s hard not to guess that one, in likelihood, must be Thomson.

And so — in the last flushes of the success of her disgusting campaign against Abbott — the weather for Gillard is already beginning to sour; her numbers are beginning to falter, and as they resume their fall, so does the last realistic prospect of the Labor Party winning the election that is now almost certain to occur on schedule in August or September.

Enter the AWU, and the scandal brewing around Gillard’s time as a lawyer at Slater and Gordon in the 1990s.

I still intend to be very circumspect on this matter, but it is now directly relevant both to Gillard’s viability as Prime Minister and to the point I am making here.

No longer the preserve of “nut jobs” — Gillard’s own term — on the Internet, figures directly connected to the events of the 1990s and the scandal involving misappropriated AWU monies are now coming forward, publicly, and on the record.

Former self-confessed AWU bagman Ralph Blewitt has returned to Australia from Malaysia and is helping Fraud and Extortion Squad Police with their inquiries in relation to the allegations surrounding Gillard’s involvement in setting up a “slush fund” using AWU money.

Nick Styant-Browne, a former partner at Slater and Gordon at the time the alleged events occurred, has gone public in recent days to fill in what he says are significant gaps in the public account of these matters provided by Slater and Gordon.

He has released into the public domain a document — an insurance certificate of currency, which was required for approval of a mortgage provided by Slater and Gordon to Blewitt — which directly ties Gillard to the mortgage despite repeated denials she knew nothing about it.

Readers will see I am listing only a few examples in relation to these matters (for reasons I have previously stated) but the point is that there is now a great deal of material, including documentation and testimony, forthcoming in relation to the scandal and to Gillard’s role in the alleged events it concerns.

Significantly, there is no rash of lawsuits, no media outlets being injuncted, no websites being closed down, no journalists being fired…

We have reached the point, on the AWU issue, where it is no longer sufficient for Gillard to claim to know nothing and to protest her innocence.

With the emergence of the document relating to the mortgage provided by Slater and Gordon, she is now in a position that demands an explanation of her role in the alleged events now receiving public scrutiny in the mainstream press.

And with the emergence of numerous individuals directly involved in these events in one way or another, it’s a sure bet there will be a lot more material coming that will need to be addressed.

Typically — in the face of being repeatedly connected to the events of the AWU scandal and questioned on her conduct as a lawyer at the centre of those events — Gillard’s response is to hit out and to accuse others of smearing her. Which, at the end of the day, is a nice hypocrisy, given her own form on the same score.

But the allegations and accusations will not abate, and nor will the scandal; and as useful or as expedient as Gillard and her cronies may have found the likes of Slipper and Thomson and Wilkie, there isn’t a half-baked stunt to escape the fact that now, over issues that have haunted the Prime Minister for nearly 20 years, the walls are closing in on her.

The Prime Minister has a problem.

To See A One-Term Government, Look North Of The Tweed River

Shenanigans in Queensland in the LNP and its new-ish government are a one-way ticket to oblivion; if nothing changes, Labor is two years from a stunning return to power in the Sunshine State, and the LNP’s antics, left unchecked, cast a pall over the prospects of the Coalition federally.

It seems an age ago now, but in reality it is little more than six months since Campbell Newman led the LNP — a merged, hybrid Liberal-National Party — to an historic and awe-inspiring win in Queensland, virtually wiping the ALP out of the state Parliament after the dirtiest and nastiest election campaign in recent Australian political history.

The conservatives had won Queensland outright for the first time since 1986, and it seemed that for the LNP — if it played its cards correctly — a generation in government beckoned.

How quickly things change in politics.

The Newman government in Queensland was already feeling the heat on the back of public sector job cuts and other fiscal measures designed to begin the torturous process of rebuilding Queensland’s public finances and paying down its debt.

These measures, whilst painful and (understandably) unpopular, are entirely consistent with the LNP’s election manifesto and, I believe, no less than the difficult job Queenslanders quite knowingly saddled the LNP with when they overwhelmingly endorsed it to form government back in March.

More recently, however, the LNP appears to have embarked on a deliberate program of self-immolation that can, if allowed to continue, only end in tears.

And in opposition.

There had already been a minister sacked before he was even sworn in; a scandal around LNP figure and Newman government departmental Director-General Michael Caltabiano; and some early rumblings from the Clive Palmer direction that, at that stage, were quickly papered over.

But now…billionaire mining magnate and major LNP donor, Clive Palmer — sometime candidate for LNP preselection, and no stranger to controversy this year — launched an extraordinary tirade against Treasurer Tim Nicholls, accusing him of “cooking the books” and misrepresenting Queensland’s net debt at $65 billion (Palmer claims it is $11 billion).

Unbelievably, Palmer filed a complaint in conjunction with the wife of a LNP MP with the LNP organisational wing to have Nicholls stripped of his job.

Palmer has also opined, of the LNP government, that “never have such a bunch of crooks held office in Queensland.”

Palmer’s LNP membership has been suspended in the wake of his outburst, pending further consideration — normally a euphemism for expulsion — and in retaliation, he’s threatening to sue.

Clearly aggrieved and believing he had been denied due process, Palmer likened the LNP’s actions to Nazi tactics.

For good measure, Palmer also asserted publicly that deputy Premier Jeff Seeney was “a thug and a bully.”

Housing minister Bruce Flegg’s son — who works for a lobbying firm in Queensland — has been stood down from his job over unauthorised liaison with his father’s office on business matters.

Flegg, meanwhile, has sacked a longtime Liberal Party adviser, Graeme Hallett, who in turn called a press conference to accuse Flegg of being unfit for office, and to demand Flegg either resign or be sacked.

Liberal identity and powerbroker — and one-time Queensland government minister and  Senator — Santo Santoro has been referred to Police by the LNP organisation over alleged internal party matters.

And despite the bickering, petty fiefdoms and tinpot brawls, from a general perspective the LNP’s organisational wing is largely estranged from its parliamentary wing.

These are just some of the goings-on being served up in Queensland in the full glare of public scrutiny by the LNP itself.

And they potentially reopen the door to a discredited state Labor Party that, by rights, should be studying its navel for decades.

It’s not a difficult ask, if the present political environment persists until the next state election in Queensland is due: recycle those defeated MPs who either had their promising careers chopped off (Cameron Dick, Andrew Fraser etc) and/or those relatively untainted by the death throes of the Beattie/Bligh years — and hold them up as an experienced team-in-waiting, ready to return to Parliament.

The political quality of the Labor leader would pose a problem; still, as Newman showed, it’s not implausible for an outside figure (like Dick) to fight an election as leader from the outside.

And speaking of Campbell Newman, his chances of facing Kate Jones in Ashgrove have to be nearing 100% the longer all of this internal fighting continues.

I’m not going to comment on the rights or wrongs of the various battles being played out in and around the LNP at present; the merits or otherwise of the positions of the various combatants is for others to judge.

But as one of the thousands of Liberal Party members in Queensland who unswervingly gave a lot of time over many years to doomed election campaigns during that state division’s darkest years before I moved south in 1998, it is frustrating — to say the least — to sit in Melbourne and watch what my northern brethren seem determined to piss away their opportunity in government over.

And right now — standing on the outside, looking in — Newman’s government has the distinct look of a one-term government about it.

Were all this nonsense to continue unchecked, I see four possible courses for the LNP:

1. The party brings its disputes and vendettas and grievances behind closed doors, closes ranks publicly, and gets on with the job of governing;

2. Things continue as they are, with the likely end result the LNP splinters into Liberals and Nationals, but with the business of government largely relegated to the backburner whilst the current internecine warfare increases in intensity and the present Premier, in all likelihood, quits;

3. The LNP nominally remains in place, but a sizeable number of disaffected members and MP deserts it, either throwing their lot in with the likes of Bob Katter’s mad crowd, or setting up a similar protest party of their own;

4. Campbell Newman and those of his MPs who are ex-Liberals (believed, depending on who you talk to, to be between 46 and 49 of the LNP’s 78 MPs) exit the LNP, re-establish the Queensland Division of the Liberal Party in Parliament and govern in their own right — for now, at least — in the face of an official Opposition composed chiefly of National Party MPs and in a climate of absolute and unbridled hatred.

Clearly, anything less than the first of these four scenarios risks inflicting colossal damage on the conservative political forces in Queensland, to the point the Labor Party becomes a real chance to win the next state election, presently due in March 2015.

Yet as things stand, it is difficult to see the LNP getting its act together.

Having gone through the process of a merger, the LNP has, for some years, been at pains to prove the naysayers (like me) wrong; discipline has been rock-solid, indiscretions pounced on, and the veneer of unity maintained in order to realise the ultimate objective: the winning of a state election in Queensland.

With that event now out of the way, there is every indication that the Liberal-National rift some (like me) foresaw prior to the merger was always latently present and has now been rent asunder: it seems to be no coincidence that the combatants in the various battles and fracas being played out in the LNP are facing off, broadly, across Liberal-National lines.

This isn’t like it was in the 1970s, when Joh Bjelke-Petersen slaughtered Labor in 1974, with the ensuing decade of warfare between the Nationals and the Liberals giving little lift to the ALP’s political prospects.

For one thing, Joh had the ever-present spectre of Whitlam and his government to point to; for another, Labor at the time was too badly damaged by its 1974 experience to pose any serious electoral threat.

Since then, of course, the Hawke-Keating government, with its modernising reforms and its modernisation of Labor, has come and gone.

Since then, too, the Labor Party — having heeded most of the lessons of its internal splits and of the disastrous experiment that Whitlam’s government was — is a far more professional and relevant outfit today than it was 30 or 40 years ago.

And at the state level, Labor has now held office for periods of at least a decade in every Australian state since the Queensland Coalition government split in 1983 — in some cases, such as in SA and Victoria, it has done so twice — and with the possible exception of Victoria, it is in Queensland that the ALP has enjoyed the most success of any state since that time.

My point is that whilst Labor governments still can’t manage money (and are generally wreckers of economies), when it comes to the hard and actual politics of it, Labor today is no easybeat.

So as I said, this isn’t like the aftermath of the 1974 election, when it was safe for conservatives to fight publicly with each other over the spoils of government.

To do so now would be to facilitate the early return of a discredited state Labor machine, under what increasingly appears to be an ineffectual and ineffective alternative Premier in Palaszczuk, well before the electoral cycle and the weight of public opinion might otherwise conspire to do.

Readers may recall that prior to the March election, I hinted at a potential election strategy which, if employed by the ALP, might have seen Bligh scrape across the line: and now the election is in the past, I’ll share my thoughts.

The strategy called for a campaign based almost exclusively on simmering tension between Liberals and Nationals in the LNP; firstly, to abandon Kate Jones in Ashgrove (Jones could have been promised anything for her participation in the strategy), withdrawing every conceivable resource from the Ashgrove Labor campaign, even to the extent of running dummy independent candidates in that electorate to direct preferences to Newman. It was, in this scenario, in the very best interests of the wider Labor cause to maroon Newman in Parliament as leader of the opposition.

That done, Bligh and Labor should have fought on one issue and one issue only: the capacity of the LNP, riven with irreconcilable internal factional differences, to effectively govern Queensland. The unwillingness of bush Nationals, who had kneecapped the conservative cause for years in their determination to retain the upper hand over the Liberals, to be led by a moderate city Liberal. The history of infighting between the traditional Coalition partners. Bruce Flegg’s effective termination of the Coalition campaign on day one in 2006 over his answer to a question about who would be Premier if the Coalition won. And so on.

The end objective would have been to engineer a Labor victory, however narrow, on the back of the one great gift historic Liberal-National relations offered the ALP, and to strand Newman as Opposition Leader in the process to face the recriminations: a come-down and humiliation indeed from the lofty heights of the Brisbane Lord Mayoralty.

As readers might expect — and despite my genuine outrage at the time — I couldn’t believe it when Bligh went down the “Newman’s a crook” path without a scrap of evidence to back the contention. Aside from proving what a complete shitbag she really is, she threw away a winnable election.

I relate these details now partly because it is too late for the strategy to damage the conservative cause (and if it’s used in 2015, the current crop of combatants can only blame themselves) but also partly because, based on its current behaviour, the LNP is showing that such a scare campaign would have been no ruse.

And should the LNP persist along its present course, it runs a great risk of jeopardising the electoral prospects of the Coalition federally next year: as Peter Brent (of Mumble fame) pointed out in his column in The Australian today, every five-point improvement in the federal voting numbers for Labor in Queensland equates to a one-point improvement in its overall federal numbers.

The Labor federal vote in Queensland has already increased by well over five percentage points in the last couple of months: and to put it into perspective, yesterday’s 51-49 lead to the Coalition in Newspoll would be 53-47 if the state LNP weren’t letting the ALP back into the game federally in Queensland.

As Bob Hawke once said: “if you can’t govern yourselves, you can’t govern the country.” The irony that the disunity to which those remarks referred, in 1987, emanated from Queensland is distinct.

The ALP will, of course, return to government in Queensland one day. But it shouldn’t be in 2015, and it most certainly shouldn’t occur on the receiving end of a gold-plated gift like this.

Royal Commission: Child Abuse Inquiry A Blast Of Good Sense

The announcement today by Prime Minister Julia Gillard of a Royal Commission into child sex abuse is a long-overdue blast of good common sense; The Red And The Blue wholeheartedly endorses its establishment, and trusts no stone will be left unturned by its eventual Commissioner.

At the time of writing, the exact specifics of the pending Royal Commission remain uncertain; as is so often the case in politics — or in issues and/or events connected to it — the situation seems very fluid and developing.

Nonetheless, this column is happy to throw the weight of its support behind the initiative — which is essentially bipartisan, as Tony Abbott has committed the Coalition to support it without qualification — as Australia makes one seriously big attempt to deal with an issue that is a social and moral pox upon the national house.

Indeed, that pox — and the culture of silence it festers and fosters — is a disgrace, and today’s announcement is a triumph and just reward for childhood advocates such as veteran Melbourne broadcaster Derryn Hinch, and Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston.

It pleases me greatly that the terms of reference for the inquiry appear to be very broad: focusing not just on the Catholic Church (although God knows that house is far from clean) but on a wide range of organisations and sectors, from “state services” to the Scouts to school sporting groups and so forth.

I hope it includes past and present parliamentarians; the judiciary; and also that it takes seriously the issue of child abuse in the home, whether by a parent, sibling, family member or friend.

In other words, absolutely no holds barred.

And it is also highly satisfactory that those who have covered up instances of child abuse or otherwise obscured the rendering of justice upon the perpetrators of sick crimes against kids will also be hauled before the Commission.

The Commission will integrate and align with various state-based inquiries, and will not impede police investigations or compensation claims. It is to be hoped, also, that a Special Prosecutor (or similar) is assigned to the Commission, giving it the power to prosecute individuals or groups found to have cases to answer arising from its business.

The only real qualifications I have on my support are that a) it isn’t simply a merry free-for-all witch hunt, in which people are baselessly accused out of malice; and that b) in cases where ambit and baseless accusations are made, Commonwealth support is available to wrongly accused persons to pay the costs associated with defamation actions against their accusers.

I think these are two eminently sensible considerations, and hardly those of a naysayer.

Ominously, though, the first words of dissent have come from surprising — and unsurprising — quarters.

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was quoted from a statement to Fairfax Media as saying that there would be a case for a Royal Commission if present inquiries found ”institutional resistance” by the Catholic Church or if more resources were needed to deal with these matters.

Sorry Kevin — “institutional resistance” is the game the church has been playing on this issue for decades. Simply stated, for the Catholic Church, time is up.

The Age also quoted Professor of Law at the Australian Catholic University and prominent Jesuit priest Father Frank Brennan, who cast doubts on the Commission, saying ”It’s so broad that it risks being counterproductive,” and claiming it could take three years for the Commission to report.

I say, as doubtlessly do many, many others, that if it takes three years to do the job properly and thoroughly (and to get it right the first time), then it takes three years.

The Murdoch press in Melbourne featured a survivor of child abuse in a Catholic school, Peter Blenkiron, who hit out at claims by Catholic Cardinal George Pell that victims received justice when the church apologised to them, saying simply that no victim he knew ever felt like they got justice from the Church.

Pell, for his part, has made the welcome declaration that “We shall co-operate fully with the Royal Commission.”

Overwhelmingly, however, the response around the community has been supportive, almost ecstatic — as it rightly should be.

I was never subjected to sexual abuse as a child, although I do know people who were; quite aside from the fact I find the entire concept morally abhorrent (to the point I can almost justify kiddie molesters being subjected to a more informal smack around if the Courts won’t oblige), it is these people, along with the stories one hears of so very many others, that make it just as personal an issue for me as it is for them.

And not least because I’m a dad too — I have one little girl and another child coming soon, and if anyone touched them, it wouldn’t make it as far as Court.

I do not intend to talk through the actual political implications of today’s events, other than to reiterate my support for Gillard’s announcement and to reiterate recognition of Tony Abbott’s immediate and unqualified support for it.

Today’s announcement belongs to the victims — past and present — of the sexual abuse of children, to the families and friends who have supported them, and to the ceaseless fighters like Hinch and Johnston who have fought valiantly and for many years to see precisely this outcome.

But I will say this: to the paedophiles out there — and, unfortunately, there are a few of them around — I hope you’re all absolutely frightened shitless now.

There isn’t anywhere left to run and hide.

And that’s how it should be.

Obama Wins. But At What Cost?

In a disturbing result bearing ominous portents for the economic, social and military stability of the United States — and, to an extent, the rest of the Western world — President Barack Obama has been re-elected by the narrowest of margins. His new four-year term promises to be a rough ride.

Is this a legitimate win by Obama? Of course it is; he won the popular vote, the votes in most of the so-called “swing states,” and he won the electoral college.

There is a saying in Australia that Australians get the governments they deserve; I’d imagine many Americans would be saying the same thing right about now. But enough of them voted for Obama to re-elect him and so, for the next four years, the rest of them are stuck with him.

Aren’t we all?

The Red And The Blue, whilst heartily disappointed that Obama remains as President, nevertheless wishes to extend congratulations to him on his election win today; at the very minimum, we can at least say it is the last time such pleasantries will be required.

Because whilst Obama is a good and decent man, his ideas leave everything to be desired, and with the mess the United States is in at present it is to be hoped the honourable gentleman deploys a rather different approach to the next four years to the last four.

This election really mattered; the US economy is in the toilet, for starters.

For all the talk of auto industry bailouts in Ohio, the wider economic problem persists: stubbornly high unemployment, sluggish economic growth, negligible domestic consumer confidence, the obscene practice of printing dollars to artificially deflate the US economy, and federal debt running at 107% of GDP.

In turn — to a country like Australia — these measures translate to an overvalued currency that hurts Australian businesses (whilst nonetheless failing to effect the intended correction in the US), softening export markets, sagging inbound tourism numbers, and an increased cost of capital for businesses and banks operating in this country. Just to name a few of the ill-effects of President Obama.

Are there other partners of the US on whom this administration has not adversely impacted? I doubt it.

It is true that Obama inherited an economy from George W. Bush in a disparate state, partly on account of the so-called GFC, which in turn was partly the result of poor prudential regulation in the USA by administrations of both political stripes stretching over decades.

In short, after four years, Obama should have made a difference.

The fact that his administration has failed to do so has nothing to do with George W. Bush, or the Republican Party, or the GFC.

But it has much to do with the fact Obama isn’t a leader’s bootlace: even in the first part of his term, with control of Congress, he enacted nothing which has proven to be of economic benefit in the latter.

Rather, it has been more important to play games, blame Republicans, reject negotiated outcomes and consensus measures, and engage in the rhetoric of utopian left-wing social nirvana.

The rhetoric, mind; aside from the detested so-called Obamacare package, Obama has achieved little in terms of meaningful outcomes.

This is an administration that has failed to pass a budget in almost four years; never mind the fact the US Constitution says it will be done once per year.

This is an administration under whose watch government debt has ballooned to US$16 trillion, or 107% of GDP.

This is an administration which has overlooked its traditional allies in favour of currying sympathy with the regimes of murderous despots in the hope appeasement will simply make them disappear from the radar.

And this is an administration which has actively hacked away at the US defence capability and the budget that underpins it, and this includes the strategic forces — at a time when emerging and resurgent rivals in China and Russia are expanding or modernising their capabilities, and at a time when the US and its allies face unprecedented security threats from a range of malevolent entities across the world.

And the snub of Israel — and, by extension, of the Jewish people generally — is despicable.

Yet this has been the face of government in the US for four years, and so it will be for another four.

We believe that Mitt Romney was a flawed yet worthy candidate; whether he was or not, however, is immaterial, on one consideration: after the past four years, anyone could have done better than Obama has.

And so the buck stops with Obama — again.

We hope that in the coming four years, Obama embraces the spirit of bipartisanship, because if he doesn’t, nothing will get done in Washington.

Unlike other democracies, Obama does not have the option of early elections to fall back on.

And in any case, an insistence on his way or the highway — when the US really isn’t in good shape anyway — simply won’t cut it.

Obama might be President, but he also has a responsibility to uphold his country’s constitution, and to govern for all of its citizens — not simply a select few.

And if that means working with his enemies in Congress, so be it: the buck stops with Obama.

It is to be hoped that the left-wing social agenda is to be put aside in deference to four years of grinding, orthodox, dour government delivering services, policy outcomes and tangible results.

And it needs to be pointed out that the black and Latino and other communities which have voted for Mr Obama — and which experience disproportionately extreme levels of poverty and unemployment compared to the national average — now have Obama and his Democratic Party to blame for their continuing plight, and not the white establishment historically held out as responsible for their misfortune.

For if Obama is their “saviour” then save them he must — and to fail them is to commit a flagrant moral breach of trust with those who have entrusted him with helping them to improve their lot as citizens of the American republic.

Mitt Romney — accepting his party’s nomination for the Presidency back in September, pointed out that

“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans…and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”

For everybody’s sake, Obama would be well advised to forget about this ridiculous and undeliverable mantra of contemporary socialist posturing, and get on with helping the families of his countrymen.

There are plenty of inherent risks in the continuation of this Presidency. None of us really wants to see them played out. But unless he changes tack now, Obama is doomed to fail. The consequences could be disastrous.

So much for a triumph.

Secretly, perhaps Obama wishes this was the election he might have lost.

Congratulations again, Mr President.

US Election: Mitt Romney For President Of The United States

Counting will shortly commence in the United States to determine whether Barack Obama will be re-elected, or whether Mitt Romney will become the 45th President of the United States. And whilst The Red And The Blue endorses the Republican Romney, we also believe he is likely to be elected.

Had Hillary Clinton edged out Barack Obama in the knife-edged contest for the Democratic nomination to contest the presidency in 2008 — and gone on to preside over the same administration Obama has — this column believes that Clinton would, today, be staring down the barrel of a 50-state landslide defeat at the hands of Romney.

The fact today’s election is competitive at all has everything to do with the “star quality,” or the “magic,” of Barack Obama, and little to do with the record of his administration.

Obama — elected four years ago, in the depths of the worst recession to hit the US since the 1930s — has been a serial underperformer, and a disappointment; overall unemployment figures in the US are only fractionally lower than they were in 2008, and only then because millions of Americans have given up looking for work.

The once-mighty American economy is growing at a snail’s pace; and US prestige abroad, on Obama’s watch, is undergoing its most serious decline since that country’s humiliation in the fiasco of its Vietnam war effort.

US debt has increased by 60% in four years, to US$16 trillion, at the same time as Obama has been preoccupied with “Obamacare” and other grand gestures of the socialist Left, whose bona fides as ideals are beyond reproach, but which lack utterly any meaningful or practical import when implemented as actual measures.

And Obama has been a risk to international relations and to world stability; his persistent snub to Israel — whilst courting the fundamentalist regimes in its backyard — are a good example. His apparent determination to resume the policy of “splendid isolation” practised by the USA prior to the second world war is another.

There is also ample evidence that Obama has refused — or is simply unable — to work with a hostile Congress to achieve meaningful legislative outcomes, or at least since his Democratic Party lost control of the House of Representatives two years ago.

Yet there is little — if any — evidence that Clinton would have done any better; indeed, with what Obama lacks in terms of a slate of real achievement to point to, he at least resonates on a personal level with ordinary Americans.

The abrasive Clinton — whilst highly respected for her abilities, and rightly so — can’t even claim that, and as a standard-bearer the same left-wing agenda as Obama, it is fair to say that a Clinton presidency over the past four years would have been an unmitigated disaster.

That said, Republican challenger Mitt Romney arrives at today’s moment of reckoning as something of an enigma in spite of the campaign, and as something of an unknown despite his record as a former Governor of Massachusetts.

On one level, Romney (or any other Republican challenger) should, by rights, arrive at the 2012 election with little if any entitlement to expect to win, given the mess the USA was in at the conclusion of the Presidency of George W. Bush four years ago.

Then again, the Republican message that the four years Obama has had is long enough to expect to see results is actually absolutely correct.

As I said at the outset, the fact today’s election is competitive at all has everything to do with Barack Obama personally, and were it a simple referendum on the results or otherwise of his administration, the Republicans would be in line to romp home.

Simply stated, the election is more about the two candidates; even many on the Left — in the US, here in Australia and elsewhere in the world — concede, to varying degrees, that Obama’s administration has underperformed.

Readers will know that this column originally backed former Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich to contest this election against Obama, and whilst we believe Mitt Romney has fought the best campaign possible by a Republican candidate, his candidacy will be one of many subjects covered in a post-mortem review should Obama be re-elected today, especially if by a narrow margin.

Yet in endorsing Romney in a straight contest with Obama, it is his policy focuses on families, business and reordering US military priorities, backed by his expertise in business and his success as a Republican governor in Democratic-controlled Massachusetts, that we believe deserving of support from the US public.

And in regard to Barack Obama, we would make the simple observation that “social agendas” are well and good, but with the country teetering on the brink of bankruptcy — with government debt running at 107% of GDP, in large part the result of his own Presidency — “social agendas” are simply not the priority the Left, the world over, present them to be.

Little has been made during this campaign of Romney’s religious status as the first Mormon to contest the US presidency, and rightly so; we believe this to be irrelevant.

Similarly, and in spite of the best efforts of the likes of businessman Donald Trump, the so-called birther conspiracy surrounding Barack Obama has been the non-event it should be.

We endorse Mitt Romney to be elected today as the 45th President of the United States, and expect that he will be, although we agree with the conventional wisdom that the contest, as it plays out with actual votes rather than opinion poll results and whichever way resolved, will be exceedingly close.

Polls close progressively during the day, commencing on the east coast and including states such as New York at 7pm ET (10am AEDT), with results coming through over the ensuing hours.

We look forward to following the count as the day unfolds, and will comment again once the overall results become known and the outcome of the contest becomes clear.