Nuclear Abyss: SA Libs End 2014 At A Minute To Midnight

THE HAND OF FATE may well have been poised to strike South Australia’s Liberals from the moment 2014 began; whether destined or not, it’s been a horror year for the Liberal Party in the Festival State: knowing the electoral boundaries were fixed, it ran a poor state election campaign led by a lacklustre neophyte and paid the price. Now — after nine more months of abject humiliation — come signs the lot of the SA Liberals could yet grow far worse.

It’s difficult to know which is preferable or, I might say, less undesirable: losing an election in a catastrophic landslide resulting in a near-wipeout, or losing by the merest sliver in terms of votes and seats as part of the kind of year the Liberal Party in South Australia has endured this year.

Frankly, I’d choose the wipeout — at least from there, the only way is up.

Yet to be absolutely brutal, unless it finds some way to fix up its act in record time, the SA Liberals — having tasted the bitterest of political nectar in 2014, starting with a state election loss by a hair’s breadth — are likely to have experienced both of these unpalatable scenarios by the time the votes are counted on election night in March 2018.

In short, the SA Liberals teeter on the precipice of a nuclear abyss: the clock, rather euphemistically on this New Year’s Eve, reads one minute to midnight.

I’ve been reading the results of the final quarterly Newspoll of voter sentiment in South Australia for 2014, published in The Australian today, and to say they don’t exactly make for happy reading for the Liberals is an understatement.

Newspoll now shows the ALP leading the Liberals on primary votes and attracting a 6% swing after preferences based on the March state election result; Premier Jay Weatherill now leads Liberal leader Steven Marshall by almost 20 points on the “preferred Premier” measure, and Marshall himself is now attracting the sort of uninspiring personal approval numbers that in any other circumstances would invite a leadership challenge.

We’ll come back to that last point a little further in.

The only real surprise in the Newspoll numbers is that they aren’t worse for the Liberals. Then again, however, a uniform 6% swing to Labor at another state election would see it swept to a fifth term with 28 of the 47 lower house seats in South Australia — plus their by-election gain of Fisher if they could hold it, and plus “Independent” Geoff Brock (assuming he remained supportive).

God only knows what would happen at an election to Liberal turncoat Martin Hamilton-Smith (and on one level, who cares) but even without him 30 seats is a smashing election win, and that is where Labor in the Festival State is now tracking.

2014 has been a terrible year for the Liberal Party in South Australia.

Its tepid state election campaign (my scathing election-night analysis of which may be accessed here) already seems to have laid the foundations for another embarrassing defeat in 2018.

I know it has been fashionable to blame the Abbott government for the misadventures of the SA Liberals this year, and to some extent — with its botched federal budget and the incendiary remarks that the SA-based shipbuilding industry couldn’t be trusted “to build a canoe” by sacked Defence minister David Johnston — there may be a modicum of merit in such a view.

But the South Australian division of the Liberal Party boasts one outright state election win in 30 years; in nine elections it has won once (1993), limped into minority government after squandering a record parliamentary majority (1997), and lost the remaining seven in 1982, 1985, 1989, 2002, 2006, 2010, and this year.

With this sort of track record, looking in their own back yard might be a better idea than lashing out to sidestep responsibility: irrespective of how credible the selected scapegoat might appear, or how plausible the latest explanation as to why the SA Liberals are not responsible for their own misfortunes might sound.

Most observers of Australian politics know that South Australia’s Liberals are perhaps the most divided, faction-riven, internally conflicted political outfit in the country; its traditions of internecine blood feuding and personality-based tribal hatreds date back decades.

Every time the party makes a “fresh start” — the leadership of Isobel Redmond before the 2010 election, for example, or Marshall (for what it was worth) heading into the election in March — the old guard of its past warfare finds some way to cruel proceedings. Under Redmond, it was serial agitator Vickie Chapman failing to rule out a leadership challenge if Redmond won in 2010. This time, in a dreadful look, Chapman fought alongside Marshall as his deputy.

It’s an old story that has destroyed a plethora of Liberal leaders: for the bulk of those 30 years of mostly awful election losses, elements within the SA Liberals have been content to fight and bicker and undermine whomever happens to be at the helm. It’s hardly a recipe to inspire public confidence, let alone garner votes.

Make no mistake, when it comes to leadership prospects, the SA Liberals are bereft.

Marshall ought to be a dead man walking, and in any other circumstances, he would be; the loss of an unloseable state election in March — followed up by the loss to Labor three weeks ago of a safe Liberal seat vacant after the death of an Independent — should, in the ordinary course of events, see his papers stamped and his departure from his plush North Terrace offices all but formalised.

Marshall survives for the abhorrent reason that there is literally nobody left who is suitable to replace him; the SA Liberals’ best and most credible alternative, former leader Martin Hamilton-Smith — the bastard — defecated all over his party en route to defecting to a highly paid ministerial sinecure as a member of Weatherill’s Labor Cabinet.

Redmond, it was universally acknowledged, had reached her political use-by date after herself falling short at the 2010 state election; Chapman would love the role, of course, but the shenanigans that have characterised her time in Parliament are such that to make her leader would be to reward exactly the kind of behaviour this troubled division of the party needs to stamp out at all costs. Chapman is a waste of an ultra-safe state seat, and the sooner she relinquishes it in favour of someone with more to offer, the better.

Former leader Iain Evans — alone of the abundance of has-beens in the SA Liberals’ ranks — is doing what Redmond, Chapman, and perhaps a number of others ought to be doing, and leaving Parliament altogether: the date for the by-election in his safe-ish seat of Davenport is set down for 31 January, one month from today.

Yet even this — something that should have happened months ago, as we discussed in June — is a path fraught with political risk; to lose Fisher to Labor a few weeks ago was bad enough, but to lose a traditional Liberal stronghold like Davenport as well would be an unmitigated disaster.

And if a defeat in that seat should come to pass next month, it closes the door to any prospect of renewal during the present term of Parliament, meaning Redmond’s safe seat of Heysen and the veritable Liberal citadel of Bragg — occupied by Chapman — cannot be used to vault much-needed top-shelf talent into the party’s parliamentary ranks.

Whichever way you cut it, the SA Liberals are in a mess.

Yet a clue to just how badly they have failed to capitalise on opportunity lies in the fact that of the nine state elections I listed out earlier, including seven outright defeats, all but one of those elections saw the Liberal Party win more than 50% of the statewide vote on the two-party measure.

This year’s embarrassment, achieved with a tick more than 53% after preferences, was probably the worst result of all of them.

But it raises a pivotal question: in full and clear knowledge that the electoral boundaries are, to put it bluntly, rigged — and despite the fact a redistribution occurs every term to try to ensure “fair” boundaries exist — why are the Liberals’ election strategies in individual electorates so deficient?

Even with the 53% they scored in March, the SA Liberals needed a further uniform swing of 1.5% to snare the final two seats required to form a majority government, and any electoral system requiring in effect 55% of the two-party vote to seal victory is not “fair:” it is rigged, and no amount of explanation can hide the fact. It may be deliberate or it may be the product of defective methodology. Either way, it is flawed.

I put it thus because with so many years of electoral data to support the fact it faces barriers to winning office over and above a straight majority of the vote, the SA Liberal Party should have devised the strategies to overcome these hurdles by now.

It isn’t as if it has lacked support, given the only election won by Labor in 30 years with a majority of the two-party vote was the thumping win by Mike Rann in 2006.

But Labor in South Australia has every chance to consolidate its grip on government there; now armed with the parliamentary majority it initially relied on alleged Independents and traitors to secure, the prospect of Weatherill hitting hit straps and riding the beaten Marshall into the Adelaide dirt looms as a nightmare scenario for the Liberals that may very well materialise sooner than they think.

A loss in Davenport next month would do the trick. Were it to occur, the SA Liberals would be confronting a scenario akin to the political equivalent of nuclear Armageddon.

I haven’t even touched on the impact (if any) the Abbott government might or might not exert over the state Liberals’ fortunes over the next few years, or the further report from The Australian suggesting the Liberals could lose three of the six federal seats they hold in South Australia at the next federal election, including two — Boothby and Sturt — they have held for decades. I don’t have to. The state Liberals are in a disastrous state as it is. They don’t need any help from outside to notch up that dubious achievement.

There is the suggestion that the Liberals’ state director, Geoff Greene — one of several Liberal Party executives who has been circulated through a merry-go-round of different state divisions, a practice that has seen the orchestrators of some of the party’s worst defeats recycled and rebadged in new roles elsewhere in the country, and which must stop — is about to be given the boot.

I’m very much in favour of this, and I think too often those charged with the stewardship of the party’s fortunes have been allowed to survive or be sent somewhere to start “afresh” when the campaigns they have been responsible for have ended in ignominy; it’s a gravy train that sees few if any of them ever held to account for presiding over electoral beltings, and as good as these individuals may be as people, they should be held to account. Kicking Greene off the cart would at least signal the SA Liberals are serious when it comes to yet another fresh start.

But this is a state division in need of a root and branch overhaul — rebuilt from the ground up, not merely sacking a single staffer — and circumstance, electoral configuration and sheer incompetence have all conspired to ensure such a reconstruction job is next to impossible to complete in a timely and adequate fashion.

In the final analysis, the services of former Foreign minister Alexander Downer — championed in this column as the rightful claimant of the SA Liberal leadership prior to the March election — should have been pursued at all costs; with a decade of experience in government and another decade in Parliament beforehand, along with virtually unrivalled networks and a deep contact book, Downer would almost certainly be Premier of South Australia today had he stood, and his party would have had the opportunity to rebuild from a position of relative strength.

Instead, the heavyweight in Downer was substituted for the lightweight first-term MP Marshall, and the SA Liberals have paid one hell of a price for such an experimental indulgence.

For South Australia’s Liberals, it’s a minute to midnight. The portents for the new year are not good.

*Lots of links today. Just “because.” South Australia is home to some of my favourite places in Australia. I just wish its conservative forces could get their shit together.

“No Contraception, No Dole” Call A Symptom Of Deeper Issues

THE CALL by Keating government figure Gary Johns to make unemployment benefits conditional on compulsory contraception is an incendiary articulation of resentment toward rampant, profligate welfare by those who work; it points to a growing divide between those who pay tax and those who don’t, and intersects with questions of paternalism and the “right” of some people to have what they want without the attendant responsibility for it.

In what could be a sign of things to come, former Keating government minister Gary Johns has published an opinion piece in The Australian today that baldly declares that anyone solely reliant on unemployment benefits should have the payment of those benefits made conditional on compulsory contraception. We will come back to that pronouncement shortly.

And I say it could be a sign of things to come because the present government — elected to clean up the excesses of six years’ Labor government that encouraged an explosion of the welfare mentality and the culture of entitlement, as much as to clean up Labor’s debt and deficit disaster — has patently failed to date on both these counts.

Even taking into account its difficulties in the Senate, the burden of the Abbott government’s deficit-busting initiatives appears disproportionately targeted at its traditional constituencies of families on middle incomes and the aged, and I believe one of the (many) reasons for the government’s poor opinion numbers stems from frustration that Australia’s ballooning welfare handout regime seems quarantined from any serious attempt to rein it in: lest the vested interests get offended, or the vocal lobbies of bleeding hearts, finger-shakers and outrage pedlars really begin to strut their stuff.

I think Johns has made a fundamental strategic mistake in his article by highlighting case studies involving Aboriginal people, alcoholics and drug addicts; those cases may indeed support his argument, and they may in fact constitute instances in which — depending on your views — the parents in question probably shouldn’t be bringing children into the world based upon their personal circumstances.

But setting these considerations aside, is there anything in Johns’ position that is all that unreasonable?

As ever, it comes down to a conflict between differing systems of values, and whilst I am not unsympathetic to the position he has enunciated I can certainly see both sides of the argument. In fact, I think Johns has touched on issues far deeper than merely whether or not dole recipients should be on compulsory contraception.

I have a big problem — a big problem — with the kind of paternalistic, Orwellian, nanny-state drivel that forces government-determined behaviours on entire populations; here in Australia we live in (supposedly) a free country: and the heavy hand of Big Brother, most usually associated with the Left and its penchant for legislating against freedoms of thought and expression, is an implement with which I have no truck.

By the same token, however, I have a big problem — a very big problem — with the explosion of a handout/entitlement mentality in Australia predicated on the obscene myth that “government” will support virtually everything and anything; with 40% of all government outlays now tied up in one form of handout or another and a similar percentage of the adult population in this country now entirely dependent on these handouts as their sole or primary means of subsistence, Australia is in danger of becoming a two-tier society: a large minority that does nothing, propped up by a dwindling and resentful majority increasingly taxed to the hilt to support the largesse doled out to them.

Or — and this is becoming a familiar, if impotent, story — with the country simply plunged into an uncontrollable spiral of debt to finance the welfare binge that at some point will reap cataclysmic social and economic consequences.

Yet all the while, the welfare class burgeons, spreading an insidious disease of indolence and apathy, as it galvanises into an increasingly untreatable tumour on the national interest and welded to the political Left as its guarantor.

Is this really the kind of country we want to see in Australia?

The problem, to which Johns alludes, speaks to those addicted to the welfare/handout/entitlement culture on the one hand, and will arouse the outraged and indignantly righteous fury of the finger-shaking bleeding heart industry that this column holds (and has always held) in great contempt. Expect to hear a lot of seething rhetoric about cruelty, heartlessness, and the desire to plunge the “less fortunate” into abject poverty, ruin, and — not to put too fine a point on it — the condemnation to early death.

One of the ironies is that all those entrenched minions of welfare dependency have an entire orchestrated movement of finger-shakers to defend them at all: organisations, movements and whole industries solely devoted to the defence of the “right” of those who extract a living from the taxpayer to continue to be able to do so, and which themselves are partly or entirely dependent on the government to even engage in this advocacy by virtue of handouts, grants, and other funding available to those who want to make noise and lord their “values” over the silent majority that bankrolls them.

On the other hand are those in work and in business whose taxes fund the citadel of welfare whose walls continue to expand, seemingly unchecked.

These people are not organised; they do not have whole industries to advocate for them; they are, by and large, reasonable and decent people who do not find gratification in the needless suffering of others.

But in legislating and enforcing notions like generosity and charity, much of the goodwill associated with them is obliterated, as the creeping hand of the tax office slithering ever deeper into pay packets removes both the discretion to “give something” of one’s free volition and, equally and importantly, exactly what the money taken is expended on.

The myth that “government” picks up the tab for well over a hundred billion dollars in welfare payments each year is exactly that — a myth — and it is underpinned by those who earn an income that is taxed more and more heavily to pay for it.

Rather than finding representation in a systemised industry of vested interests and guilt merchants, these people expected the Abbott government to be their voice; a conservative government whose rhetoric about ending the “age of entitlement” was expected to see a much heavier emphasis on personal responsibility, alongside a culture of opportunity in Australian society that rewarded — rather than penalised — enterprise, success, and the fruits of good, old-fashioned hard work.

And far from representing any explicit or enthusiastic endorsement of the ALP and the Communist Party Greens, I think a very big component of the election-winning numbers these odious entities now enjoy in reputable opinion polling is comprised of Coalition voters disgusted by the unwillingness and/or inability of the government to lay so much as a glove on the entrenched welfare culture it was elected, in part, to begin to roll back.

And this brings us neatly back to Gary Johns, and his explosive call today for unemployment benefits to be made conditional on compulsory contraception.

I’m not going to bog down in details over whether the woman should take the pill or get an IUD, or whether the male should wear condoms or get “the snip” — either way, Johns’ intent is obvious without diverting down tangential routes whose only purpose in this kind of discussion is to change the focus from welfare onto (I would guess, with a glance at the outrage industry) sexism, misogyny, and “wimmin’s rights.”

For the same reasons, I’m not going to dwell on the intricacies of enforcement, the efficacy of contraceptive measures, or similar practical impediments: these, too, are obvious, and we don’t need the finger-shakers to point them out.

But I will make some allusion to what I know will inevitably be the comeback of these guilt pedlars — the regime of so-called middle class welfare introduced by the Howard government in the form of baby bonuses, family tax benefits and first home buyers’ grants — and simply observe that whilst these were all aimed at stimulating and maintaining more productive forms of economic activity, they were also the thin edge of the wedge, and probably should never have been introduced.

They have also, as it turns out, provided those who would addle ever greater numbers of lazy and greedy people with the insidious scourge of profligate welfare with something of a hook of legitimacy on which to hang their claims that flinging good money after bad on addicting people to the public teat is somehow justified.

The point — and I think we are going to see a lot more of this — is that welfare expenditure in Australia apparently knows no bounds, and the scope for its expansion is apparently limitless in the eyes of those whose livelihoods depend on its continuity, acceptability, and indeed its proliferation.

I’m not talking about the recipients themselves, and certainly not those who really need it: rather, the objectionable lobby industry that itself would not exist without the incentive-destroying presence of an expanding welfare regime in Australia, and whose efforts detract rather than add anything meaningful to the nature and character of Australian society.

I want to be explicitly clear about one point, and have been consistently both for the duration of this column and for decades beforehand: no genuinely destitute person, or anyone in legitimate need, should ever be denied some kind of assistance at the public expense; a reasonable and moderate social safety net is entirely consistent with the reasonable governance and conduct of a civilised and advanced, modern, first world country like Australia, and should always be maintained.

The problem is that there are too many noisy advocates — with their snouts in the trough to boot — finding too many new varieties of “genuine” need, advancing arguments that lower acceptable thresholds of what is “reasonable” or “moderate,” and identifying too many new groups of people who can “benefit” from the largesse that is harvested from people who work hard only to see an increasing share of the rewards of their efforts taken and given to those who refuse to lift a finger for themselves.

The vast majority of people claiming welfare in this country may well have the legitimate need to do so; the fact remains that a sizeable contingent simply refuse to get off their backsides and work.

The last thing the country should be burdened with is the cost of supporting lifestyle choices like having children.

It is about time the practitioners of public discourse in Australia — particularly those on the Right — stopped messing around with the vested interest lobby, trying to appease and mollify the stinking carcass it represents around the country’s neck by studiously avoiding saying and doing anything that might offend and/or antagonise it, and began to get serious about attempts to rein the whole mess of indolence money back in, and to get Australia’s regime of welfare expenditure back onto a more realistic and sustainable footing.

Johns may have offended many with his piece in The Australian today, although I hasten to note those most outraged will indisputably be those with the most to lose.

But unless something more plausible than the Abbott government has managed or attempted to date is done, and the spiralling culture of welfare dependency in Australia permanently curbed, far more of this kind of sentiment will follow — with the risk that much of it will be far less nuanced, or based in reason, as what Johns has said today.

There are deep problems in Australian society, and its apparent addiction to a handout mentality is one of them.

Just as problematic is what, and how, to do anything about it.

 

 

Queensland: Palmer Link Will Humiliate Bjelke-Petersen

THE ANNOUNCEMENT that John Bjelke-Petersen — son of former National Party Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen — will stand for the Palmer United Party against deputy Premier Jeff Seeney in his seat of Callide marks a point at which the damage Palmer inflicts on his conservative forebears becomes palpable. The electoral humiliation the younger Bjelke-Petersen has signed onto will be immense. It will forever stain an iconic Queensland name.

I should just reiterate at the outset, for the record, that I was never a supporter of Joh Bjelke-Petersen, nor an apologist for the excesses that occurred on his government’s watch; Queensland and especially modern Brisbane as it stands today arguably owe a great deal to the rapid development that took place during decades of Coalition and National Party rule, but that doesn’t excuse in any way those aspects of the regime — and “regime” is the correct term — that took a Royal Commission led by Tony Fitzgerald QC two years to unravel.

Even so, the announcement today that Joh’s son, John, is to assume the mantle of “state leader” of the Palmer United Party in Queensland ahead of a state election in February or March is a curious development, and one that stands to significantly tarnish what credibility — if any — remains attached to the Bjelke-Petersen name in the Sunshine State.

Several developing themes are woven together in this move, announced by Clive Palmer, and the one over which any doubt at all should now be dispelled is that Palmer will use any and all means at his disposal to wreck Queensland’s merged LNP in pursuit of “vengeance” over the fact it refused to blithely do his bidding once it had been elected to office.

Whilst he has stood under the Palmer banner once before (in a federal seat last year I actually thought he stood a slight chance of achieving an upset in), I am very surprised John Bjelke-Petersen has allowed himself to be co-opted into this, becoming a virtual cat’s paw for Palmer in the process.

There is a real prospect — its likelihood fluctuating, but real nonetheless — that Queensland’s LNP government, which scored well over 60% of the two-party vote in 2012, could be defeated early next year.

This is and should be an entirely ridiculous proposition; a government entering office in such a landslide should, in the ordinary course of events, be entitled to expect it will govern for at least two to three terms before having to face a serious electoral fight.

But as with any rule, there are exceptions, and when I have spoken about the value of the LNP’s 2012 election win in the past I have also sometimes referred readers to what happened in South Australia in 1997.

If the LNP loses in Queensland, Clive Palmer and his eponymous party will have had a big hand in engineering this outcome.

Labor, coming off an embarrassing 26.7% of the vote in 2012, was always set to face an almost insurmountable hurdle to reclaim government in one jump.

But the planets continue to align for the ALP, and Bjelke-Petersen’s ill-advised assumption of the leadership of Palmer’s party is simply the latest piece of the puzzle to fall into place.

I don’t think there are many people with knowledge of electoral politics who dispute the assertion that a very big swing against Campbell Newman and the LNP is brewing; the only argument I have encountered to date — from conservative and Labor-aligned adherents alike — is its likely eventual scope and geographic reach.

I am yet to come across any serious rebuttal of my contention that for all the talk of “fair” elections in post-Fitzgerald Queensland, the electoral boundaries in that state are biased against the LNP by somewhere between 2% and 4%.

In other words, Labor doesn’t need 50% of the statewide two-party vote to win, or anything approaching it: just as it didn’t in 1995, when it won (before the overturn of a disputed result in one seat) with 46.3%. This will become a more pertinent as we go on.

The near-certainty that Newman himself will lose his seat of Ashgrove means his government will enter the formal election campaign juggling a peculiar kind of instability it refuses to either acknowledge or to address: namely, the imperative to level with Queenslanders as to who Newman’s replacement as Premier would be if the government manages to be re-elected but its leader does not.

In turn, this opens the door to the mother of all scare campaigns from the ALP, built around deputy Premier Jeff Seeney, who — as we have discussed before — is so unpopular in south-east Queensland as to represent a virtual hate figure.

Of course, common sense dictates that Seeney will never be Premier; the likeliest — and most saleable — post-election replacement for Newman is the Treasurer, Tim Nicholls.

But that won’t stop Labor making merry hell over the prospect of “Premier Seeney,” and it is here that Palmer and his newest cunning plot, involving Bjelke-Petersen, comes into play.

I have said before that the primary vote of 49% achieved by the LNP in 2012 was, in likelihood, depressed by the presence of candidates from the Katter Australia Party: three years ago, it was Katter — not Palmer — offering Queenslanders an “alternative” to voting for the ALP if they didn’t want to make the full stretch to supporting the LNP outright.

This time, it is Palmer filling that role, and whilst Katter’s party arguably drew votes from both the LNP and Labor, a key difference is that Katter sought to come through the middle as a third force. Palmer, by contrast, has operated a stated policy of attempting to destroy the LNP electorally (and its present leader personally) ever since the day he announced the formation of his own God-forsaken outfit.

My point is that Palmer’s party will continue to draw votes away from the LNP as Katter’s did three years ago, even as outright support for the LNP recedes from its 2012 high.

Factor in Queensland’s optional preferential voting (OPV) system — and perhaps a refusal by Palmer to allocate any preferences, especially in favour of the LNP — and the potential for his party to wreak havoc on the LNP’s prospects becomes obvious.

(If the LNP polled 37%, Labor 33% and Palmer 15% — with the Greens on about 12%, almost all of which would find its way to Labor — it’s easy to see that without most of Palmer’s vote going to the LNP on preferences, the LNP loses. It is a very crude and rudimentary illustration of the point, but I think it makes it fairly concisely).

Where all of this becomes convoluted in terms of Bjelke-Petersen’s presence lies in the fact that whilst his famous surname might attract a higher vote across the state than Palmer might otherwise have been able to generate, it is unlikely to translate into any seats.

In Seeney’s seat of Callide specifically, I don’t think Bjelke-Petersen stands the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell; Seeney might not be popular in Brisbane but on his own stomping ground, a win on first preference votes is at least an even-money bet. Even if Bjelke-Petersen won a quarter of the vote in Callide (as a Katter candidate did in 2012) Seeney could still win outright (as he also did in 2012). And Bjelke-Petersen is now a four-time loser, including twice in his famous father’s old seat as a National Party candidate.

It’s not hard to see that the prodigal son lacks the political touch of his late father when it comes translating local networks into votes: and it’s not difficult to make the judgement that the younger Bjelke-Petersen isn’t the “star” signing Palmer clearly thinks he has landed, or anything remotely approaching it.

Still, Clive Palmer’s approach to retail politics as practised under his eponymous entity — even with the loathsome Jacqui Lambie removed from the fold — has been nothing if not nihilistic in nature, and his stated bent on revenge against the LNP (and its conservative cousins elsewhere in the country) has known few bounds to date.

I don’t think Palmer cares who or what he uses, exploits, trashes and/or destroys in his singular mission to ruin Campbell Newman and the government formed by the party he poured millions of dollars of his own money into; it is an endeavour he is hellbent on winning at all costs.

The potential now exists for the falling primary vote support of the LNP to be further comprised by Palmer candidates, whose adverse impact on LNP support may be exacerbated by the presence of a Bjelke-Petersen name on the Palmer ticket.

It is highly plausible that whilst winning no seats of its own, the Palmer United Party will manage to depress the LNP vote far enough — and starve Newman’s government of enough preference flows — for Labor to either win the election in Queensland outright, or to force one side or the other into minority: and if it is the LNP which governs in a hung Parliament under such a scenario, a Labor win in Queensland three years later becomes a virtual certainty, as no returning government forced into minority anywhere in Australia in the past 40 years has ever won the subsequent election it fought.

Should this come to pass, Bjelke-Petersen will have been instrumental in bringing about the one thing his father spent decades fighting to stave off: the election of a Labor government.

It would tarnish the Bjelke-Petersen name in Queensland, and with Seeney unlikely to be dislodged from Callide, would destroy whatever residual credibility the Bjelke-Petersens might retain in the eyes of the Queensland public.

Palmer, of course, would be laughing; he doesn’t need to win a single electorate in Queensland, on paper, to achieve his stated political goals.

John Bjelke-Petersen would have served his function as a useful idiot.

And it is Queenslanders — lumbered with yet another insipid Labor government — who would be left to pay the price.

 

 

Ridiculous Free-For-All Over The NSW ALP Leadership

FOR A PARTY boasting 35 MPs, the brewing free-for-all over the vacant NSW ALP leadership might make sense if Labor was in striking distance of taking office; coming off its worst defeat in 80 years and needing a swing of 16% to win, however, the “who’s who” of would-be leaders is as unedifying as it is ridiculous. Meanwhile, a vicious missive from Paul Keating to outgoing leader John Robertson that has resurfaced has proven uncannily prescient.

Less than a week ago — as revelations emerged that the then-leader of the NSW ALP, John Robertson, had signed a constituent letter on behalf of Martin Place siege perpetrator Man Haron Monis, despite grave questions that already existed over his character — I wrote in this column that Robertson was a dead man walking for a range of reasons, and that the sooner his colleagues put him out of his misery, the better.

Robertson resigned his leadership later the same day.

And in one of those delicious coincidences of timing that can hardly be construed as accidental, a copy of a letter sent by former Prime Minister Paul Keating to Robertson the day the latter was sworn into the upper house seat he initially held in the NSW Parliament quickly resurfaced, and upon reading it I was stunned by how eloquently vicious — and how thoroughly prescient — Keating’s words have proven.

Keating's letter to Robertson

LIVE AMMUNITION…Paul Keating’s assessment of John Robertson has proven devastatingly accurate. (Source: australianpolitics.com)

 

(As an aside, I should like to acknowledge Malcolm Farnsworth’s site at www.australianpolitics.com, from which the copy of this letter republished here was sourced; Malcolm’s site is an excellent resource for political and electoral material, and a veritable treasure trove for political junkies that I thoroughly recommend readers take some time to explore. If your browser is being temperamental about loading the letter, regular reader gregdeane has kindly pasted a text-only version of it into the comments section of this article).

Keating was motivated by Robertson’s positioning and behind-the-scenes handiwork — as a union heavyweight and backroom player in the NSW ALP — in helping to scuttle the Premiership of former Labor leader Morris Iemma, his privatisation program for the state’s electricity sector (a suppurating public policy sore that continues to weep six years later), and in engineering the departure of Iemma’s Treasurer, Michael Costa, from the upper house sinecure into which Robertson had that day been sworn.

Yet beyond that, Keating’s observations were not far wide of the mark about electricity privatisation, an issue that pursued the then ALP state government until it was slaughtered at the polls in 2011 even if, to be sure, it wasn’t the primary catalyst for the defeat that Keating foretold.

The “new…and good leader” Keating alluded to — former Premier Nathan Rees — was indeed destroyed by the ongoing machinations that Keating saw had marked Robertson’s own entry to Parliament via Costa’s seat.

But Keating’s brilliantly eviscerating comments about a putative move by Robertson to a lower house electorate and thence the Labor leadership were deadly in their precision, accuracy and prescience, and to be blunt — for all the reasons we discussed here on Monday, and then some — Keating’s “shame” in sharing common membership of the NSW ALP with Robertson was probably a well-placed sentiment.

I have included the letter today partly on account of its topicality and relevance, but also because (like so many aspects of the tribal beast that is the NSW Labor Party) it highlights issues that trickle down into the present leadership contest and at least one of the candidates vying to succeed Robertson as leader of state Labor.

But before we move onto that, a word about Keating: I always hated the bastard, politically of course, on account of what he did to the Liberal Party during the 1980s and — in a wound that still smarts — destroying its prospects comprehensively ahead of the 1993 federal election to win an undeserved fifth term for Labor (although I am on the record with more than enough explicit and strident criticism of John Hewson as Liberal leader, and his thorough unsuitability as a political front man).

From a purely impartial perspective it is impossible not to marvel at the sheer eloquence of Keating’s turn of phrase, the almost graceful use of invective and abuse, and the sheer hard, cold savagery with which this missive was crafted. Keating hit his target with bullseye precision, as he so often did. But to imagine any major party leader today exhibiting the same mastery of language and using it with such skill is quite literally an undertaking that defies belief.

Anyhow, I digress.

Having said all of that, the leadership ballot now set down for 5 January is beginning to look like an unmitigated farce, with (proverbially) every man and his dog apparently readying to stand to replace Robertson.

One of them — upper house MP Luke Foley — has, subsequent to Keating’s prosaic bullets being fired at Robertson, gone on to secure “a parliamentary seat at the public expense,” although as a replacement for disgraced and allegedly corrupt former Labor minister Ian Macdonald, it’s difficult to split hairs in view of Keating’s appraisal of Robertson.

Even so, for a party almost certain to face another shellacking at the state election to be held in March, the number of Labor MPs apparently fanciful of themselves as leaders and bent on indulging their delusions of grandeur is a surprise, to say the least.

Foley doesn’t even have a seat in the lower house, a prerequisite for leadership of his party: the word today is that the NSW ALP’s notorious Sussex Street headquarters is to see to that by fixing Foley up with preselection in the disputed Labor-held seat of Auburn.

Another contender, Steve Whan — beaten in his lower house seat of Monaro in 2011, kicked upstairs to fill a casual vacancy ten weeks later, and now preselected to recontest Monaro in March — presents as such a convoluted option as to best be given a wide berth.

Whan at least offers the prospect, somewhat refreshing as it is for Labor, of a potential leader from regional NSW: a consideration not to be trifled with, so poor is Labor’s performance in the regions compared to its Sydney heartland.

Yet there is no guarantee he will even win Monaro, and even if he does, a leader insecurely seated in a marginal seat is hardly a guarantee of stability or continuity if any kind of serious advance were to be achieved under his leadership.

Further, the fact he seems prepared to go up and down between the two houses of Parliament at will is a poor look, to say the least.

Maroubra MP and former minister Michael Daley is free of these drawbacks, and probably deserves to be the frontrunner in what is at best a mediocre and lacklustre field of candidates.

Yet just as Sussex Street appears set to fix up Foley in a lower house seat, it also appears determined to fix him up in the leadership, too; and if this comes to pass, Daley’s initiative in setting the ball rolling to get rid of Robertson in the first place will, in terms of his own interests, have been for naught.

Robertson’s deputy, Linda Burney — who is acting as leader until the ballot is held — has also indicated her intention to contest the leadership.

It must be remembered that disgraced former Premier and outgoing Toongabbie MP Nathan Rees had been slated to retake the leadership from Robertson, and probably would have done so had details of an illicit affair that also intersected with his portfolio responsibilities as a shadow minister not emerged last year.

And just to further heighten confusion, Labor has preselected a fellow called Chris Minns to its marginal (but usually safely held) seat of Kogarah; it is an article of faith both in Labor circles and among political commentators generally that Minns is the “chosen child:” selected now, well in advance, as the “star signing” who will enter Parliament and lead NSW Labor back into government, possibly as soon as 2019.

Of course, this kind of succession plan can easily come unstuck: especially in a political environment, and especially in a bearpit like the NSW ALP.

But for a party that boasted 20 lower house MPs and a further 15 in the upper house after the last state election — and whilst Labor has won three by-elections in Liberal-held seats since then, at least one of those has been abolished, as has Rees’ seat of Toongabbie — it is ridiculous that no fewer than six potential leaders are coming out of the woodwork at a time the party is virtually assured of a second successive drubbing at the hands of voters.

There is no guarantee more of their colleagues won’t also succumb to excessively well-developed self-importance complexes and nominate, either.

The truth is that whilst the Coalition government has not been invulnerable, its replacement of do-nothing Premier Barry O’Farrell with an outstanding substitute in Mike Baird has shut off a potent line of attack for Labor in the coming election campaign.

Whilst the Coalition has not been untouched by ICAC and misconduct findings, either — with no fewer than 10 of its MPs sidelined, some having already departed Parliament, and the remainder mostly set to do so in March — the Liberal Party has acted swiftly to excise this cancer wherever it has appeared; the fact Labor continues to be saddled with bad press from the likes of Macdonald and the ubiquitous Eddie Obeid vigorously proclaiming their innocence (and in Obeid’s case, waving the threat of defamation proceedings around as a bullying tactic against anyone who suggests otherwise) simply underlines just how entrenched the culture of dirty politics really is in the ALP’s DNA, and how even the fast action taken by the Liberals, if copied, could not have removed the stench of corruption from the NSW ALP’s entrails.

This, in effect, closes down another potential avenue for Labor to attack.

And — in an exquisite irony — Baird seems set to be handsomely re-elected, in part, on a solution to the electricity privatisation question that has variously bedevilled and skewered individuals and parties on both sides of the political divide in NSW since at least 1999, when the issue was largely responsible for the slaughter of the Coalition parties under then-leader Kerry Chikarovski.

In the years since, however, it has been Labor — and not the Coalition — that has been forced to endure the most agonising contortions over what, in public policy terms, should have been a fairly straightforward issue from the outset.

It is against this backdrop that Labor finds itself burdened by a glut of contenders to lead it into the abyss in March; one potential leader for every six of its MPs.

If that sounds like an expression of a seriously divided party racked by factional interests, manipulated at the whims of its union slave masters, and marked out by the pursuit of petty personal fiefdoms, there’s probably a good reason for that.

In the end, the race to lead Labor in NSW that will culminate on 5 January is in essence merely a pageant to determine who will be king — or queen — of their own dung hill.

A smart party would have quietly lined up behind Daley, who put his hand up to blast the liability Robertson out in the first place, and waited for the dust to settle after its defeat in March before turning to Minns as planned in due course.

But there are few people who would accuse NSW Labor of being “smart.”

There is good reason for that, too.

 

 

Road To Nowhere: Victorian ALP’s Newest White Elephant

FRESHLY RESTORED to a position from which to resume its abject waste of taxpayer money, exhibit #101 from the Victorian ALP is the poorly contrived, so-called West Gate Distributor that formed part of its “alternative” to the East West Link, designed partly as a sop to the Greens and partly to try to ward them off in inner-city Labor seats. The road looks like what it is: a waste of money that will cause more problems than it purports to solve.

This morning’s post is on a more localised issue to get us going again after Christmas, and I trust everyone had a nice day yesterday wherever they spent it; the aggregated effect of a series of short nights’ sleep had its inevitable impact on me last night in the form of a very uncharacteristic 11 hours dead to the world: so much for the prospect of an article last night! In any case, here we are.

I particularly wanted to cover off on this today, having seen a report in the Herald Sun over my coffee earlier, and this is one of those times you don’t need to live in Melbourne (or know your way around it) to see that whatever else might be said of the ALP or its election win four weeks ago, it has managed to get away with selling Victorian voters an absolute lemon.

(UPDATED, 3.20pm: It seems new Premier Daniel Andrews — or “Dan” or whatever else he calls himself today — has been stung by criticism of Labor’s cack-brained truck road, with a defence of it now appearing in the same newspapers that saw fit to rubbish it earlier. His words on its behalf fail to justify it any further than the merits of the plan do at face value. And that, succinctly put, is not very far at all).

It seems that as the party with a completely hopeless track record of delivering major projects — think the broken promises of the 1999 and 2002 elections to build the Scoresby Freeway as just that, with Eastlink carrying a toll for the next 30 years; the absolute debacles of myki and the Wonthaggi desalination plant that were late and over budget and a cost to taxpayers in the tens of billions of dollars; or the $750 million wasted on the North-South Pipeline that is unlikely to ever deliver a drop of water — Labor has wasted little time getting back to business with its West Gate Distributor.

Its purported cost of $500 million — factored against state Labor’s record in government between 1999 and 2010 — should see Victorians out of pocket to the tune of at least $2 billion by the time its newest monetary mess has been fully made.

I must confess that today is the first time I have seen the proposed route for this abomination of a road project: and readers will quickly see that the flaws are immediately clear, although there are a few other considerations that may not be quite so readily obvious.

ROAD TO NOWHERE…the West Gate Distributor is an expensive fraud that should not be built. (Picture: Herald Sun)

 

So blinded, it seems, has Labor been by the political imperative to sandbag its inner Melbourne seats of Richmond, Northcote, Brunswick and Melbourne — the last of which was lost to the Communist Party Greens anyway — that it has been prepared to foist virtually any nonsense imaginable on what is perceives to be a gullible voting public under the auspices of “a solution” which is designed solely around its own interests, with nothing more than a one-fingered salute to any genuine consideration of the best interests of Melbourne and its future growth.

To be honest, my five-year-old daughter could have come up with this plan with a packet of felt tips and a sketch pad.

At face value, the concept of diverting trucks around the West Gate Bridge is not completely lacking in merit.

But as readers will note, this half-baked plan doesn’t even see the proposed road form a complete loop: it ends, literally, nowhere, failing to link up at the northern end with (what I think off the top of my head is) Fitzgerald Road in Laverton.

The road runs through suburbs including Yarraville, Spotswood and Seddon in other safe Labor electorates south of the Yarra, and if I was a voter in the seats of Williamstown or Altona, I’d be pretty angry that the ALP had sold me out in favour of its trendy inner-city territory in the Greens-leaning latte belt.

There is already more than enough angst over the volume of heavy traffic through suburbs surrounding the industrial areas in Melbourne’s south-west without wilfully diverting 5,000 extra trucks per day through them, but never mind that. At the minimum, this could add an interesting electoral dynamic to the contest in those seats in 2018, especially in rapidly gentrifying Williamstown.

The road is to be subjected to tolls — at least, for once, Labor was upfront about that — but if the precedent of CityLink 15 years earlier has proven anything, it’s that truck drivers will go to inordinate lengths to avoid paying them.

Certainly, in some cases they have been unavoidable, such as in the tunnels that join the West Gate and Monash Freeways. But where there is a rat run to be found, no matter how obscure, a large number of truck drivers will use it: and that means even more heavy traffic through suburban streets in the electorates Labor has arrogantly assumed it will hold forever, and which it has clearly accorded second-tier status to below its prized inner-urban real estate in the inner north.

The six local councils affected by this road in Melbourne’s inner west are lined up against it.

The RACV is lined up against it.

And it seems rather self-evident that even if the West Gate Distributor succeeds in removing trucks from the West Gate Bridge — a dubious proposition indeed — all it will achieve is to create absolute chaos at the road interchange at the bridge’s southern end (and halfway around the Western Ring Road, too, if it ever occurs to anyone that it should at least rejoin the freeway in the north which, judging from the current plans, it hasn’t).

It is true that during Labor’s last period in office in Victoria under Steve Bracks and John Brumby it did not plunge the state into the ruinous financial abyss that its forbears in John Cain and Joan Kirner did in the 1980s and early 1990s.

It is also true that the reason for this was largely the regime of stifling and punitive increases in taxes, charges, fees and penalties it inflicted on the state’s residents that continue today.

But its inclination toward the sheer waste and misuse of public money remains undimmed, and this project is early proof of it.

In the end, Victoria’s new government seems content for the rest of Melbourne to grind to a gridlocked halt whilst it pursues its latest misadventure in major projects in the city’s south-west.

And this means that aside from the transport benefits and congestive relief the abandoned East-West Link would have delivered that at best will now have to wait for another change of government, Victorians are likely to suffer the double whammy of pouring additional billions of dollars into the state’s coffers to subsidise the Andrews government’s exploits.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Labor — in all its ugly glory — is back in charge in the Garden State.

 

Merry Christmas — And More — From The Red And The Blue

WITH THE TIME TO TALK having temporarily evaporated, festive greetings are once again in order; for the fourth year now, The Red And The Blue wishes all readers and their families a very Merry Christmas: and those things we aimed to discuss yesterday, but simply ran out of time, will be covered in this column soon enough — perhaps even this afternoon or this evening, depending on how much German beer I have had with my Christmas turkey.

Can I make the rather platitudinous observation that it seems like only yesterday that we were doing this?

It has been another active (and at times explosive) year in politics — at home and abroad — and it has been great fun, a lot of hard work and sometimes an enormous frustration providing a focal point for people to discuss conservative perspectives on these events. But I love it.

It has also been a year that has rocketed past; not always for the right reasons, either.

There were two issues I hinted at yesterday that I hoped to get back to before the day was out; I challenge any reader to compete with my power-packet five-year-old daughter for attention when there are biscuits to be baked and Charlie and Lola to be watched. Seriously, though, I simply ran out of time: and (properly) preparing a 12 pound turkey from scratch and all the accoutrements to go with it will do that to you.

Those missed issues, however, are ones we will return to.

The first is the now-formalised contest to replace John Robertson as leader of the NSW ALP just three months before a state election Labor has started to look like copping a belting at; this one will be ongoing for a week or two, and we will certainly have something to say on it.

The other concerns the apparent restructure going on at the Prime Minister’s office in the wake of this week’s botched ministerial reshuffle, amid reports that a decision — perhaps adversely — is set to be made on Tony Abbott’s increasingly controversial and divisive Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin; it seems the clock may be ticking on Ms Credlin’s tenure at the PMO sooner than anyone imagined, and I would simply venture at this point that if she exercised any meaningful input into the charade that constituted the reshuffle, it’s little wonder.

Perhaps we will get to these later today or tonight; it depends on how much Christmas cheer I have had frankly, and to be perfectly honest if we miss this day (of all days) I am not going to make any apology for it.

Either way, I would like to wish all of my readers — regular and sporadic, old-timers and newcomers, and irrespective of political allegiance — a very, very merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous new year in 2015; I appreciate the support you continue to show this column: and whilst we haven’t grown readership this year, we haven’t really lost any of the colossal growth we experienced in 2013 either.

I think the federal election distorted trend growth in readership, and our numbers have picked up solidly in the second half of the year, so it seems we’re keeping most of the people who stray across our forum except the ones who were literally looking for guidance on how to vote. I do thank you.

There is a big year in 2015 ahead, which we will preview over the next week or two, and 2014 isn’t exactly finished yet either.

But in the meantime, my best wishes to all readers: go and eat yourselves silly and enjoy a glass or three of your favourite tipple with the family and friends and others dearest to you, and I look forward to resuming the conversation when we next catch up — whether that’s later today, or later this week.

Best

Y

Be Alert: Christmas Terror Warning Is No Stunt

THE STILTED press conference given by Prime Minister Tony Abbott after a briefing from Australia’s intelligence agencies yesterday should be viewed with the utmost seriousness; the chance of a terrorist attack over Christmas may be remote, but the heightened activity among suspicious groups Abbott alluded to is no idle stunt. Coming in the wake of last week’s Sydney siege, a little vigilance is a small price to pay for an otherwise festive Christmas.

If there is one thing among many that the siege in Martin Place in Sydney last week showed, it’s that you can plan until you’re blue in the face: sometimes, things just happen.

In the same vein, I would hasten to add that the very best kind of terrorist attack is the one that doesn’t happen at all; quietly thwarted by those charged with keeping our country safe, there are plenty of known instances of Australia’s intelligence agencies foiling the handiwork of evil people in our midst who would wreak death and carnage on innocents.

It is also safe to assert that there are also plenty of such plots that are foiled without the public ever knowing of them.

The slightly surreal, generalised nature of the media conference given yesterday by Prime Minister Tony Abbott — reiterating Australia’s terror threat level as “high,” and detailing in vague terms a warning he had been briefed about of increased “chatter” between suspected terrorist groups under surveillance — elicited an immediate and predictable response, with social media briefly exploding with sarcastic comments that Abbott’s message was some kind of smokescreen: a ruse, a distraction, or simply a tactic to frighten people.

Just as quickly, the partisan barbs ceased.

The odd, stilted manner in which the Prime Minister spoke is understandable; the consensus that quickly emerged from observers and analysts alike was that far from any stunt, Abbott and his National Security Committee of Cabinet had been told something: and the competing imperatives of maintaining official secrecy, and appraising the public with adequate information to ensure the heightened need for caution was conveyed, meant this was not one of Abbott’s most fluent performances.

There seems to be some confusion about the nature of the threat yesterday’s briefing related to; some commentators (and their sources) have spoken of the potential for copycat attacks similar to the one that occurred in Sydney last week, whilst others have been resolute that so-called “lone ranger” attacks were not the concern of the brief, and that it instead pertained to threats posed by groups on a wider scale.

Either way, we are not talking about something that would be in any way desirable were it to come to pass.

I am very mindful that it is Christmas Eve; like millions of Australians, I’m spending today out and about, collecting the array of fine ingredients that I will tomorrow transform into a festive feast for family and friends that might otherwise befit a king. I’m self-trained to chef level, and cooking on this type of scale gives me a lot of pleasure: but it also necessitates my passage through a succession of popular and crowded public places.

And later, a trip to the local bottle shop for a bottle of nice red wine will precede my return to this column to talk about at least one more of the (unseasonal number of) political issues on foot at present: it’s been a busy time in politics and I suspect there won’t be a lot of down-time for those of us with our fingers on the pulse of what is going on over the Christmas period.

Mine is just one story among 24 million others in this country, and I relate it simply to illustrate how we, as Australians, would ordinarily go about our business at this time of year: and go about it we should, but with careful attention paid to anything or anyone that doesn’t really seem quite right.

Nobody wants to frighten Australians. Yet nobody wants to ignore or whitewash the risks to them, either.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph best sums up the situation — and the modest demand it places on ordinary men and women — in its Editorial this morning, noting that whilst this will (understandably) be a tense Christmas, it can also be a completely safe one.

I hope and believe this is the case.

But I do urge readers, their families and their friends, as they go about their business today and over the next little while, to pay attention to anything untoward, to be alert, and to report anything that could be construed as sinister.

As last week’s events in Sydney showed, the public places we all go to for our own innocuous personal reasons are exactly the kind of places in which things can just happen.

If one atrocity could be thwarted by the vigilance and quick thinking of the Australian public, the work of our security services would be made that little bit easier — and that little bit more effective as well.

 

I will be back later today; barring anything unforeseen during the day there are at least two issues we should be talking further about in this column, and one of them will come in for some closer scrutiny before Christmas is upon us. In truth, I suspect there won’t be a shortage of material to canvass over the silly season, so stick with us during the break.