Liberal Women: Quotas No Way To Boost Female MP Numbers

THE SOLE DETERMINANT of who is endorsed by political parties for seats in Parliaments across Australia should — and must — be selecting the best candidate on offer, irrespective of gender, race, religion, or sexuality; and whilst the Liberal Party is right to consider how to get more women into elected office, targets and quotas are no answer. Such measures stink of patronising tokenism, and have no place in a democratic political party.

In posting just the second article for the week, readers will have guessed I have been busy; I have a lot on at present in areas that must take precedence over our discussions in this column, although between this piece — and some others I plan to publish over the weekend, time (and two children) permitting — we will I hope catch up to some extent on what has been happening over the past week, including the promised article on the silly push by two Labor Premiers to lift the Medicare levy as a pathetic copout designed to evade the heavy lifting associated with genuine taxation reform.

Today, however, I want to talk about the renewed apparent push by some within the Liberal Party to introduce a so-called soft target (read: quota) to lift the proportion of female Liberal MPs to 30% of the party’s elected representatives, and to say I am completely and utterly opposed to such a demeaning, tokenistic and trivialising measure is something of an understatement.

I’m going to be deliberately vague on some of the details in retelling this anecdote, but roughly 20 years ago I had the misfortune to attend a round of preselections conducted by the Queensland division of the Liberal Party, and before the candidates for one particular seat — a vacant, nominally Liberal seat — made their presentations, some bloke ran around the party members assembled on the day, telling everyone that “the party wants a woman; the party wants a woman: see that it happens.”

I was immediately and consequentially inclined to vote for just about anyone other than the sole woman in the field of candidates; and having later listened to the respective presentations and deciding the best candidate on offer was in fact one of the four men who stood against her, voted for him.

But the woman was victorious: and whilst Liberals later thought she was just great (in the grand old Liberal tradition that all of “our” elected representatives are the best thing since sliced bread, until or unless they do something particularly naughty and/or cross the wrong people) the fact is that this eventual time-server of lengthy tenure contributed, in round terms, nothing. She never lost her seat to Labor, which I suppose is something, but in a reasonably solid Liberal area and in the context of a discussion about preselecting women on merit, that isn’t saying very much at all.

I wanted to start out by revisiting the episode because it’s significant, in my view, for a number of reasons: one, it wasn’t long after Labor had declared for the first time a binding target for 35% of its MPs to be women, a move decried at the time within the Liberal Party (including by many strong, capable women) as insulting patronisation. Two, it was in my view an attempt to rig a preselection, insofar as the four men who stood may as well have not bothered to turn up. And three, that process threw up a female representative who might have been an effective factional operative but who — in the context of representing people and/or adding to public administration — was abysmal.

It was with despair, therefore, that I saw on Wednesday an article in The Australian that detailed a push by Brisbane Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro for the party to adopt “an initial 30 percent target” for getting women into seats in Parliament.

This is no way to improve the numbers of female MPs; as soon as you start doling out seats in Parliament to women because — well, just because they’re women — you immediately invalidate any merit the ladies in question might offer, and turn them into mere baubles, chattels, trinkets: worthless, really, beyond the fact they’re not men.

There are those who look to the ALP and the fact its 35% quota has, on the surface, achieved the desired objective, largely in tandem with the contemptible Emily’s List that sends hardcore female socialists into Parliaments across the country, and in conjunction with union and factional structures that allocate parliamentary seats as if they were the gifts of an autocratic fiefdom.

Dig a little deeper, and it’s difficult to accept a lot of these women are the best candidates the ALP could put up: certainly, those who are ultimately elected probably benefit from the fact they’re endorsed Labor candidates who harvest votes from people simply inclined to vote for the ALP anyway.

But women — like men — whose CVs detail personal journies through left-wing sinecures in the ALP, the unions, and sympathetic entities arguably well removed from anything that could be construed as remotely mainstream, speak more to the kind of women who put themselves forward than to any particular success in getting good female candidates into office.

And herein lies the rub.

Those who know me know I am no sexist or misogynist, and in fact I agree wholeheartedly that more good and talented women are needed in Parliament. But it’s not a case of “gender balance” or some other trendy platitude that needs to be indulged in order to bring this outcome about: very simply, the issue is getting a greater number of capable women to put themselves forward, or even to get more actively involved in politics at all.

There are a couple of things I should probably be clear about.

The first is a “captain obvious” acknowledgement that there are plenty of dud male MPs floating around on all sides of the spectrum, and by virtue of the fact the vast majority of MPs are still male, there are more of them than there are dud women. Nobody needs to think they’re inventing the wheel to point that out — I’m well aware of it, thank you very much.

But the second — looking at parties like the ALP, and others with forms of so-called positive discrimination in place, like the Communist Party Greens — is that the kind of women who benefit from these assisted passage schemes into Parliament seem to be the last people on Earth anyone would seriously choose to have represent their interests, the fact they eventually get voted into their seats notwithstanding.

If they were required to win 50% of the vote in a lower house electorate rather than hiding in the undemocratic Easy Street that is the proportionally elected Senate, does anyone seriously think people like Christine Milne, Sarah Hanson-Young or (God forbid) actual Communist and fruit cake Lee Rhiannon would ever be elected to office in Australia? I think not.

Meanwhile, over at the ALP, people like Jenny Macklin (for whom I have always had a lot of time, despite our political differences) and Amanda Rishworth — who give a damn about people so tangibly it is written all over their faces — sit in the same party room as dangerous socialists like Tanya Plibersek and (once upon a time) Julia Gillard, whose ideas about politics and governance border on the delusional extremes of the Left, and slogan-regurgitating cardboard cutouts like Kate Ellis who, on any objective criteria, has been a major disappointment when her portfolio responsibilities and the nature of her output are considered.

Again, it’s a case of harvesting the votes that would flow to their parties anyway, and between the dud men and the dud women, both groups are rightly lambasted by Joe Public as reflective of the exceedingly poor calibre of parliamentarians clogging elected assemblies in this country today.

In other words, it isn’t just the case that more women (and the right kind of women) are needed in Parliament, but that more of the right kind of people — men and women alike — are required altogether.

But the third thing, in all candour, is the factionalised nature of political parties, who plays them, who benefits from them and who gets it in the neck for whatever reason: and I think this has an awful lot to do with why the Liberals in particular don’t have more women in parliamentary seats, although I would imagine a similar situation exists in other parties.

For as long as there is democracy — let alone formalised political parties — the natural instinct of human beings to organise at the most basic level means that factions, patronage and other power mechanisms will always exist: and whether we are talking about women or men, this reality is always going to distort outcomes in selecting candidates, and colour those outcomes wherever any attempt to manipulate them (like boosting representation of one gender at the expense of the other) is concerned.

This brings me to Prime Ministerial Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, and the rumoured intention to install her in a safe Liberal seat in Melbourne in the near future; having inserted her into the conversation on the back of that particular point, we’ll come back to her a little later. But anyone who wants to argue the merits of Credlin as a suitable candidate to represent the interests of 100,000 voters and their families has their work cut out, and it is only the exercise of the kind of distorting power I am talking about that will ever get her into Parliament. More on that in a bit.

If we come back to the basic question at hand — how to get more women into seats in Parliament for the Liberal Party — I think there are two issues that need to be addressed.

One, encouraging women to get more actively involved in the party (as opposed to simply going to branch meetings, perhaps intending to support a husband or male partner) so the input from these people is more forthcoming than it is.

And two — more importantly — looking at the reasons women seem less likely to put themselves forward for elected office than men, and working through ways to remove those barriers.

In other words, working to get more women into preselection contests rather than gifting the outcomes of those contests to them.

I refuse to believe there are not more very good females in the Liberal Party who would make excellent MPs (and probably do better than many of the existing MPs, men and women, that the party boasts).

Yet by the same token, anecdotal experience seems to suggest women are more put off by the stereotypical disincentives to parliamentary life than men: the brutal nature of politics; the grinding, long hours; the modest remuneration; the intrusive and often malignant media scrutiny that goes with the job, and the total surrender of personal privacy that accompanies it; and so forth.

Anyone who thinks life in elective politics is some gravy train junket that features untalented people rolling around in clover at public expense doesn’t know what they’re talking about (although the present fracas involving Bronwyn Bishop merely reinforces such uninformed stereotypes). Women, for whatever reason, seem more deterred by these things than men, although plenty of capable males — myself included — are similarly disinclined to seek Liberal endorsement for precisely these reasons, and don’t.

How you encourage excellent prospective female MPs — people with particular skills, or substantial career histories in private enterprise, or significant policy expertise and passion, or a mixture of these things, who also connect well with people and enjoy working on behalf of others — to move beyond those barriers and put their names forward for public office is not an easy question, and there is not an easy answer.

Some arbitrary quota (which is exactly what a “soft target” in fact is) of installing women into 30% of winnable and/or safe seats does not resolve those barriers.

In fact, such a quota is by its nature likely to disproportionately attract those women who — knowing space is available to them based on their gender — enjoy the backing of dominant power centres within the party, and who are disproportionately more likely to be interested in the accrual and exercise of power than they are in any meaningful objective to represent the interests of those they nonetheless expect to vote for them at an election.

The other argument used by quota advocates, especially where safe Liberal seats are concerned, is that women are discriminated against through being disproportionately endorsed to contest marginal seats that change hands with a change of government, or even when smaller overall swings see governments returned with reduced majorities. The argument fails to stack up.

For one thing, Sophie Mirabella (a woman) lost what on paper was a 65-35 Liberal seat in Indi at the last federal election to a conservative independent (who was also woman); of the 16 federal seats the Liberal Party* holds by margins of 15% or more, five (or 31.25%) are held by women — including the second-safest of these, Murray in Victoria, held on a margin of 20.9% by 30% quota advocate Sharman Stone — whilst women sit in 11 of the 39 seats (or 28.2%) held by the Liberal Party on margins of less than 10%, and one of those 11 is Kelly O’Dwyer in the blue-ribbon electorate of Higgins on 9.9% that common sense dictates is probably safer in practice than some seats held by far greater margins on paper.

In other words, the safer the Liberal seat, the more likely it already is to be held by a woman.

And for another thing, there is the small matter of where the female candidates actually live: ministerial-quality MP Sarah Henderson needed two attempts to win the marginal Geelong-based seat of Corangamite from the ALP, and now holds it by 3.9%; but as a Geelong local, was there a push to parachute her into a safe seat somewhere else? Of course not. Australia’s best-known classic marginal seat — Lindsay, in western Sydney — is ably represented by Fiona Scott, having won it from Labor in 2013. I don’t think Scott would see herself vaulted into a rusted-on sinecure on the North Shore, and neither should anyone else. She is representing the community she lives in, which is as it should be.

And this brings me, quite unapologetically, back to Peta Credlin.

With rumours continuing to persist that she is either lining up a safe seat for herself or being lined up for one by others despite present-tense denials that are unconvincing at best, it should come as no surprise that Credlin has been propagating the myth that the Liberal Party doesn’t preselect women to safe seats, and deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop (who is both female and the holder of an extremely safe seat indeed) is absolutely right to not only call Credlin’s story out, but to finger the real problem, which is the need for a more diverse spread of candidates in the Liberal Party overall.

Credlin is said to be in line to “inherit” either Kevin Andrews’ seat of Menzies, in Melbourne’s north-east, or my local electorate of Goldstein, in Melbourne’s Bayside, from Trade Minister Andrew Robb; I acknowledge that Credlin is originally from Victoria, but the notion that someone who has spent years based in Canberra and insisting (as Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister) that anyone who amounts to anything in government also live in Canberra would seem to have a problem passing herself off now as a local in Melbourne.

The fact the two seats are about 40km apart, and on different sides of the city, means that Credlin could scarcely be accused of prioritising meaningful ties to the local community, if stories that whichever of the two electorates comes up first would suit her are true.

Not merely Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, Credlin is married to the Liberal Party’s federal director, has spent more than a decade working as an adviser to various senior party figures in one insiderish capacity or another, enjoys the explicit personal support of Tony Abbott, and is known to command the bloc backing of a significant chunk of the party’s dominant conservative hard Right faction.

As a female candidate and purported success story the party might choose to inflict on the unfortunate voters in either of these two seats, it’s not difficult to see where Credlin’s support comes from. But in terms of the kind of appeal that might win swinging voters over to the Liberal Party from Labor, I contend she doesn’t have any.

In fact, Credlin has limited appeal within the rank and file membership of the party, too — the kind of people who, unlike me, mind their Ps and Qs and keep their views to themselves. These are the people who, despite public denials from the hard Right Liberals who defend her, are all too aware that the control over the Abbott government that has been exercised out of the Prime Minister’s Office — and the processes of vetoes, rubber stamps and preferment — that have been operated from there irrevocably implicate Credlin in everything that has gone wrong during this term in government. And those wrongs, to put it mildly, have been innumerable, and almost politically apocalyptic.

I don’t know what locals in Menzies think and to some degree that is a matter for them, but if Credlin sincerely wants a woman (and the best available candidate) installed in Goldstein whenever Robb moves on, I know of such a person: a well-educated, highly articulate and lovely lady, who boasts a career CV of formidable achievement and offering vast policy expertise, and who is as at ease with people in one-on-one situations as she is in high level situations. With or without the ghastly spectre of Credlin lurking in the shadows, I intend to canvass this person and urge her to stand — with the offer of as much support as possible — when Andrew Robb eventually moves on.

But if the people around Credlin see to it that the local membership is neutered in the preselection process, or other candidates leaned on to get out of the way for her, or a head office endorsement staged in order to avoid the potential embarrassment of losing a vote of local members, I fully intend to hold good to my threat to stand against her as an Independent Conservative from outside the Liberal Party: and as much of a joke some in the cabal around Credlin might perceive that threat to constitute, even in a “safe” seat like Goldstein there are limits to what local voters are prepared to stomach — or have foisted upon them.

Credlin’s candidacy, to be brutal, would compare unfavourably with the anecdote I recounted at the outset of this article from 20 years ago: and one piece of realism that must also seep through to those looking to boost the ranks of female MPs is the fact that just because an elected representative is a woman doesn’t mean they have achieved their objective — it has to be the right kind of candidate, just like it ought to be with the blokes, otherwise the entire enterprise is pointless.

A Credlin candidacy might be useful to those who seek to wield power, or who can benefit from knowledge of the locations of buried skeletons, but to the wider public would offer very little.

By all means, the idea Credlin might want to see more women in safe seats is worthy, and at face value, noble; but if her own name appears on any list of intended possible contenders, then any merit in her advocacy can be dismissed as the self-interested pap it probably is.

The same can be said of the 30% quota target, which in any case is an insult to women generally: and if those who care about the welfare of the Liberal Party — men and women alike — wish to boost its levels of female representation, they should help work to encourage good female candidates past the barriers to standing for office, and leave divisive hacks like Credlin on the sidelines where they belong.

 

*National Party seats excluded today. How the Nationals run their party is a matter for them.

Bravado Aside, ALP Conference A Disaster For Shorten

DESPITE THE SEMANTICS, the spin and the tepid claims to Labor Party unity, the weekend’s ALP conference was an unmitigated disaster for Bill Shorten; effectively rolled by his deputy on key agenda items and abandoned by his leadership group over the issue he arrogated to himself to “lead” over — asylum boat turnbacks — it is now impossible to see how Shorten can remain “leader,” let alone stake any serious claim to the Prime Ministership.

…and to put not too fine a point on it, this has been a conference that damages Labor irrespective of who leads it.

Let’s start with what the ALP national conference didn’t feature (and/or was so unimportant to Labor as to evade public notice).

Nothing on the economy, economic management, balancing the federal budget, or reducing the $350 billion national debt pile the ALP is directly responsible for, courtesy of its most recent masquerade as a federal government.

Nothing on reform, or at least not in the orthodox sense: no tax reform, no labour market reform, no public debate over the relationship between Canberra and the states, nothing on fixing the Commonwealth electoral system, and nothing on reforming its own lethal association with the union movement.

Nothing more than a bit of lip service to those issues Labor arrogantly and misguidedly thinks underpins its “competence” — Health and Education — when the party’s idea of health reform is abolishing the private health insurance rebate, and its idea of education funding takes the shape of unlegislated 2013 election bribes whose currency expired the day Labor was hurled from government in an avalanche.

And nothing — speaking of the unions — of the indecent, improper and/or downright criminal misconduct the Heydon Royal Commission has been oxygenating for most of the past year.

Yet whereas this Labor conference lacked any cogent agenda that might have set out the ALP’s credentials to seek an election win and form a sober, moderate, rational government of the Centre, it made up for this deficiency in spades with a stunning indulgence of the party’s hard Left that all but destroys Bill Shorten’s case to remain Labor’s “leader” — if there ever was one, that is.

Coming on top of the ridiculous triple-whammy carbon tax announced by Shorten last week and the facile, fatuous commitment to increasing the Renewable Energy Target to 50% (and the accompanying, wholly unsubstantiated assertion this would drive down power prices), the only thing that can now prevent Labor from suffering a second consecutive landslide election defeat is the missteps of the Abbott government (whose capacity to deliver in this regard should not be underestimated).

But really, anyone who believes this conference is a political positive for the ALP is delusional.

To be sure, the ALP conference has sent Shorten out with something that on the surface he can claim provides him with a “win,” but that victory — buried as it is somewhere within the length, depth and breadth of the shaft into which his “leadership” has been cast — is an illusory triumph indeed.

Emerging with the ability to exercise “an option” in government to turn back asylum seeker boats, Shorten’s adventure in back-me-or-sack-me brinkmanship has elicited for him the worst possible outcome, with conference tepidly endorsing the stance, and with the three most senior figures on the party’s Left directly and indirectly defying their “leader.”

Former leadership aspirant Anthony Albanese had the decency to vote against the measure outright, so deeply held is his belief (with which I vehemently disagree) that the measure is wrong; this in itself is a bad enough look for the embattled Shorten as he tries valiantly and pointlessly to hold onto his position.

But worse materialised from the conduct of Penny Wong and probable leader-in-waiting, Tanya Plibersek, who breathtakingly handed their votes to proxies — who in turn duly opposed the measure — whilst claiming, po-faced, not to have opposed their “leader.” The chutzpah is astonishing.

The other big issue confronted by the ALP conference was gay marriage, with forces allied to Plibersek lining up to ram through a resolution making a vote in favour of the measure binding on Labor MPs, and the “compromise” — that MPs will instead have a conscience vote on any bill that appears before 2019, after which support for it will become compulsory, presumably after Labor thinks it will return to government — is ridiculous.

Other “initiatives” resolved by conference included the censure of party stalwart Martin Ferguson — one of the few sane voices left in its ranks — over his remarks earlier in the year favouring privatisation in some circumstances as part of a wider overall agenda for reform.

The conference resolved that in the fullness of time, 50% of its MPs will be women, which invites the rather obvious charge that it will now preselect women just for the hell of it, rather than on merit and because female candidates are the best on offer. It is a dreadful, tokenistic, patronising look.

And just for good measure — and in a sop to the ultra-hard Left within and without — conference agreed to a unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state in a move that will all but destroy Labor’s relationship with Australia’s sizeable Jewish community, and leaves it a footstep away from joining the disgusting so-called BDS campaign against Israel — Boycott, Divest, Sanctions — so bloody-mindedly pursued by the hardest of hardcore left-wing elements at the Communist Party Greens, and by other lunatic left-wing fringe groups across the world.

Readers can access some excellent additional coverage of the fallout from the ALP national conference herehere, and here.

Just what planet the Fairfax press is on, however, is unknown, with usually reasonable columnist Mark Kenny asserting Shorten “rises” and “shines” in the conference’s aftermath as Albanese and the Left “wane,” but it does seem Fairfax is doing its best to put a brave face on things on Shorten’s behalf.

Anyone who thinks the weekend’s events represent a point in time at which the “leader” hit his straps, or came into his own, or any other euphemism for fulfilling a “leadership” potential that never existed in the first place is kidding themselves.

The simple fact is that the overwhelming preference of the Labor rank-and-file for a left-wing leader — as indisputably evidenced in the silly leadership ballot farce the ALP engaged in late in 2013 — has now been reflected by a conference that was not empowered to remove Shorten from the leadership but has nonetheless seen to it that the gaping wounds from the thousand sabre cuts it inflicted are visible wherever Shorten now goes, and irrespective of what he says.

At the bottom line, his own senior colleagues — on whom he depends for whatever infinitesimal sliver of authority he may once have enjoyed — have deserted him.

On the positions Shorten wanted to carry, he has failed to score an outright win — see the “option” to turn back boats, which you can bet would never be used — or simply made to fritter his time away ahead of the Left’s position (and the opposite to Shorten’s) becoming binding on the Labor Party, as has been the case with gay marriage.

When you combine the flagrant and wilful defiance of Shorten on these and other measures with the issues the conference failed to consider at all, and add in the fancies like the censure of Ferguson and the foolish gender quota, it’s clear that far from providing a springboard from which to launch its attack on the coming election campaign, Labor has instead manoeuvred its way to the equivalent of the lifeboat dock on the Titanic: after the last boat on board had put to sea.

There is no compelling narrative for a Labor government to be elected after the weekend’s events, that much is obvious.

And Shorten — doltish and mindlessly vacuous as his “leadership” has been — is as good as finished, and finished at the hands of his own people, no less.

The final takeout for the voting public is that irrespective of what might coax a Labor vote from those in marginal Coalition seats, there is now no substantive issue at all on which the ALP has a position that is clear, unequivocal, credible, or even believable.

And the end result for the party itself has been that thanks to the manoeuvres of its leaders on the Labor Left, the party has taken a giant step toward the hard Left — and away from the ground on which elections in this country are always won or lost.

Tanya Plibersek will probably become Labor leader as soon as the 48 votes required to overturn Shorten’s “leadership” in the 80-strong caucus can be assembled: an enterprise that may or may not precede the looming election that could come as soon as October or November.

But lest anyone on the lunatic Left get too excited by the prospect, the damage inflicted upon the ALP at the weekend is such that its electoral prospects have been compromised — perhaps fatally so — irrespective of who might take on the role of its leader.

Labor has spent three days making itself an unelectable force of the hard socialist Left. No similar entity offering a similar agenda has ever been elected to government in Australian history.

That record is likely to be repeated unless an outbreak of common sense and sanity occurs somewhere influential in the ALP, and quickly.

But if it doesn’t — and you’d have to bet it won’t — then Labor will only have itself to blame, and if the consequences are that both Shorten and Plibersek are killed off politically, then neither will be able to proclaim themselves to be faultless.

 

Stop The Votes: Shorten Stance Anchors Labor To Opposition

THE CRITICISM frequently made by this column — that Labor cares about power, not people — has found plenty of validating evidence this week; now, “leader” Bill Shorten heads to his first ALP national conference armed with a bag of conflicting promises aimed solely at election victory, but which — aside from provoking bitter fighting within his own party — would be disastrous if implemented. If, that is, anyone is silly enough to believe them.

First things first: I have been distracted this week once again, and have a partly written article from Wednesday about the GST (and so-called “alternatives” to reforming it put by two Labor Premiers) that I have held over and will complete and publish tomorrow; the GST conversation isn’t going to go away at any time soon, and I think it important to blow the attempt to hoodwink people that Daniel Andrews and Annastacia Palaszczuk are trying to make to bits: it’s just more vapid ALP spin that would do more harm than good if implemented.

And certainly, vapid political spin is the flavour of the week where the ALP is concerned.

I’ve been watching Labor this week, as it adds ridiculous new “policy” positions to an already dubious-looking platform under “leader” Bill Shorten, and I can only say that if the ALP is looking to provide reasons for people not to vote for it then the week’s handiwork should be regarded as a stunning success.

Shorten — who the temptation to permanently caricaturise as “Billy Bullshit” is becoming irresistible, so devoid of credibility have his utterances grown — has now taken his penchant for saying and doing literally anything to become Prime Minister so far that he heads into his first ALP national conference as “leader” armed with a bunch of conflicted “policies” that can only set various groups within the ALP at each other’s throats, and if voters assess the Labor offering purely in terms of its believability and its capacity to improve Australia, then Shorten has probably doomed his party to another hefty election loss.

Stop The Votes: it might as well be the theme for the ALP national conference.

Prior to his appearance at the Royal Commission into the unions, Shorten Labor made a huge splash with fatuous declarations that “It’s Time” on gay marriage to divert attention from the terrible press that duly materialised, as expected, in the wake of Shorten’s disastrous stint in the witness box.

With deputy and leadership aspirant Tanya Plibersek running hard on the issue and trying to bind Labor MPs to voting for the measure in Parliament, it probably seemed to Shorten that he was killing two birds with one stone, but — in a sop to the party’s Right — it quickly became evident that it would only be time if a conscience vote deemed it so.

And right now, that prospect, based on the current complexion of the Parliament, remains unlikely.

Having appeased the Right on gay marriage, the Left was thrown two massive bones on climate change: not only would there be a new, triple-whammy carbon tax under a Shorten government (that would make anything attempted or introduced by Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard and their masters at the Communist Party Greens look mild by comparison) but the renewable energy target — the source of so much consternation where energy costs are concerned, to say nothing of the actual efficacy of efforts to undo climate change in Australia — would be more than doubled under Labor in office to 50%.

As if this weren’t bad enough, Shorten had the bald nerve to claim publicly that this would drive power costs for consumers and businesses down; no research to back the contention was offered, and in fact with all anecdotal evidence suggesting the RET has been a prominent culprit in driving energy costs through the roof over the past decade, the Shorten pronouncement is — and deserves to be seen as — ludicrous.

But in case the Right got its collective nose out of joint over the Left being given such a sop, Shorten overturned more than a decade of obstinate Labor posturing to announce the party would now back the turnback of asylum seeker vessels at sea; and whilst it is unclear whether this extends to the full suite of Abbott government measures including the continuation of mandatory detention for new arrivals and temporary protection visas, the turnback backflip alone is enough to ignite a virtual civil war in Labor ranks.

Invisible for the moment is Shorten’s promise, announced last year and hurriedly stepped on to hide it, to abolish the private health insurance rebate: such a doctrinaire left-wing measure is music to the Medicare-obsessed Left but anathema to the cost-aware Right, which is all too mindful of the apocalyptic impact it would have on both public health budgets and the capacity of an instantly besieged state hospital system to deliver services at all, let alone cope.

Crackdowns on “the rich” through ending tax concessions for self-funded retirees and “taxing multinationals” might sound nice to Labor types, and certainly those on the Left of the party, but ignore the reality that forcing some at the lower end of the self-funded retirement community onto part-pensions will cost money overall rather than save it. The mad plot to force multinationals to “pay their share,” meanwhile, is a potent recipe for driving large numbers of Australian jobs offshore.

But then again, given the jobs in question are mostly not unionised, Labor’s slave masters at Trades Hall get a win there too.

In fact, the unions — which every objective criterion suggests the ALP would be best served abandoning its links to — get a little more from Shorten as well; as journalist and blogger Michael Smith put it yesterday, Shorten unequivocally supports the Abbott government’s free trade agreement with China whilst unequivocally opposing it. The pithy catchphrase neatly sums up the utter contradiction in what is being kicked around by Shorten as the official ALP position on the issue.

Yet as Andrew Bolt detailed in the Murdoch press yesterday, this kind of posturing is nothing new to Shorten, who a decade ago expressed support publicly for a similar arrangement with the US, but solemnly assured Labor and union types privately that he was opposed to it, tooth and nail, in the interests of protecting jobs.

On and on it goes, with Shorten saying literally anything to whatever group of people is immediately within earshot, apparently oblivious to (or not giving a shit about) the irreconcilable contradictions he is articulating, just obsessed with being all things to all people, and desperate to become Prime Minister at any cost.

The list of issues is endless; the contortions to present opposing and incompatible positions to placate competing interest groups are impossible; and whilst a Labor government would have to do something in office — something, anything — the probability is high that a Shorten government would end up alienating every conceivable section of Australian society.

Except, perhaps, the unions: the one group to which it should give the metaphorical middle finger.

It is true the Abbott government continues to do all it can to stoke the fires of Labor’s electoral fortunes; the refusal and/or inability to make an example out of Bronwyn Bishop is merely the latest in a long series of own goals booted by the Coalition that is probably fuelling Labor’s continued lead in opinion polls even if, unsurprisingly, Shorten himself is growing daily more unpopular personally.

But even with this underserved free advantage from his opponents, Shorten remains apparently determined to serve up a garbled mishmash of half-baked commitments whose currency depends on where he is, who he is with, and what he is trying to promise or buy his way past to secure a pile of votes.

In the meantime, the natives are restless: Anthony Albanese is said to have “no further interest” in the ALP leadership, and that he had “one shot and he fired it;” Tanya Plibersek, the ever-loyal deputy, maintains she is not manoeuvring to displace Shorten. Both formulations are time-honoured euphemisms for scheming treachery under a cloak of open secrecy masquerading as disinterest.

Meanwhile, it is openly known in political circles that Plibersek and/or people close to her are canvassing Labor MPs to find the 48 votes to trigger a leadership spill in the 80-strong caucus. Neither Albanese nor Plibersek — both from the Labor Left — can be taken particularly seriously as candidates for the Prime Ministership.

The poster boy for the Right, shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen, is no more credible than a cardboard cut-out. Tainted by his association with Kevin Rudd and damned by his complicity in the economic dishonesty propounded by Labor for years, there are real questions about his viability as an alternative leader in the eyes of the public.

Whether the ALP likes it or not, it is probably saddled with Shorten until or unless he resigns or is slaughtered at an election.

In other words, little Billy Bullshit will keep on keeping on, making promises of anything and everything to anyone who will listen; with polls showing his personal popularity disintegrating to the point even Tony Abbott, faced with the viciously dishonest onslaught he copped from Julia Gillard and her handbag hit squad, look positively exalted by comparison, it is only a matter of time before Labor’s primary vote — and its two-party lead — follows suit.

There may be an argument that a significant portion of the electorate would like a return to Labor government; I don’t believe it, although redress of my criticisms of the Abbott government needs to go a lot further before I’m confident the government has fully recovered its position. Either way, it’s clear nobody expects Shorten to deliver what he says, and it’s fast becoming obvious that people are awake to the fact that nobody can believe a syllable he utters.

All of these competing policy positions, far from cancelling each other out, would add up to an absolute disaster if any attempt were made to legislate them but happily, the best efforts of Billy Bullshit should ensure that that insidious prospect never eventuates.

As Labor goes to its national conference this weekend, it will do so against a backdrop of an increasing number of floating voters abandoning their inclination to restore the party to office after a single term.

Such is the price of matey union loyalties and a refusal to say anything meaningful when responsible, sober and centrist ideas — entirely innocent of the union-obsessed, envious, class driven hatred that has lately characterised the ALP — are the key to Labor winning government in Australia.

It all makes for a fascinating weekend at the ALP conference. Stay tuned.

 

GST: Labor Should Grow Up And Join Reform Debate

THE SURPRISE of the GST on the reform agenda, partly due to an idea of NSW Premier Mike Baird that admittedly falls short, is encouraging: with rising public spending and an income tax base set to shrink for decades as the population ages, a rebuilt GST is key in fixing structural revenue issues. Labor must abandon its obstruction and empty rhetoric about “cruelty” and “fairness,” grow up, and help find the best outcome in the national interest.

First things first: until or unless his willingness to engage in meaningful discussion turns out to be a stunt or worse still, a subterranean strategy to scuttle meaningful change, South Australian Labor Premier Jay Weatherill deserves acknowledgement for apparently breaking ranks with the other Labor Premiers in being prepared to countenance changes to the GST; the push from some state Premiers to overhaul and bolster the GST may come to naught in the end, but it is refreshing — and surprising — to see a prominent identity from the “modern” ALP perhaps being prepared to actually set partisan politics aside in the interests of constructive policy rather than merely spruik an objective to do so as a way to harvest votes without ever delivering on it.

In fact, the fact a seemingly serious push for GST reform has emerged at all is surprising, for the combination of flat denials of willingness from almost every section of the ALP to even consider overhauling the tax and the reluctance of some Liberals to be the ones to raise the prospect of reform has to date killed any chance to even have a serious discussion around doing so.

The unprincipled charlatan that is ALP of the 21st century has seen to it that an increasing number of policy areas in urgent need of reform — taxation, welfare, labour market regulation and structural electoral reform, to name a few — are politically untouchable, and the GST fits within that subset; so concerned with winning elections at any cost is the Labor Party that it would rather see serious damage inflicted on this country than to permit its growing list of “sacred cows” to even be discussed, let alone reformed in any way.

But as ever, the ALP cares about power, not people.

The unlikely inclusion of the GST on the agenda for state Premiers to consider has come, in part, from an idea proposed by NSW’s Mike Baird that — to be blunt — fails to cut much ice when examined in even cursory detail, but Baird nonetheless deserves credit for getting the matter onto the table at all.

His idea for a straight lift in the GST rate from 10% to 15% without broadening the base (currently just 48% of all goods and services), with half the proceeds going to tax relief for low-income earners and welfare recipients to offset the impact and the remainder being carved up between the states, is at least a start.

But it fails to address the fact that the unhealthy reliance on PAYE tax is unsustainable, with an ageing population that sees that revenue base shrinking, which it will continue to do for decades; and as well intentioned as the Baird proposal undoubtedly is, it apparently places no emphasis on the need to match taxation reform with a program for winding back profligate, wasteful, recurrent government expenditure by past Labor governments — state and federal — that might have been well enough intentioned, but mostly is and was unaffordable.

It’s an unpleasant reality few in the ALP care to publicly admit, but every dollar of electoral bribery spent by a government is paid by a taxpayer — whether in business or a wage or salary earner — and for all the aversion to”cruelty” and infatuation with “fairness” Labor professes, there is little evidence it gives a stuff about the people who actually generate the tax dollars it so lovingly, and carelessly, doles out.

To say this largesse is out of control is an understatement; the line propounded by Liberal politicians (as well as a number of Treasury bureaucrats and economists) that the country has a spending problem rather than a revenue problem is true, and I saw at the weekend an article (a link to which I forgot to save — sorry!) that whilst headline revenues account for 27.3% of GDP, once the Medicare levy, superannuation contribution costs and other ancillary imposts are taken into account, the actual tax take is 33.2% of GDP — and bang on the OECD average, neatly exposing the myth that taxation in Australia is low by international standards.

Yet unless a switch in the focus of taxation is made from taxes on income to taxes on expenditure, that spending problem — if unaddressed, as Labor has gone to inordinate lengths to ensure it is — will soon enough be matched by a revenue problem as well, and it is only an irresponsible politician who can suggest there is no need to cut recurrent outlays or to take steps now to urgently fix the tax base.

I don’t propose to talk about cutting spending today, and in fact, this morning’s article is really only a curtain raiser to an enterprise in GST reform that I’m sure we will be talking about a lot more over coming weeks and months.

Aside from Baird putting the issue on the table — and Weatherill saying he is open to raising the GST and prepared to engage in rational and constructive conversation — Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein has said that whilst his state is disinclined to support changing the GST rate, he is prepared to listen to the arguments for change and reserve his government’s position on any reform proposals, whilst Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett (also nominally opposed to raising the GST rate) wants to examine the prospect of broadening the tax’s scope to apply to a far wider range of goods and services, including fresh food, the impact such changes would have, and the need for compensation for low-income earners and those on welfare and pensions.

I emphasise that any change to raise and/or broaden the GST comes with an obligation to do just that: it is the better-off who will contribute the bulk of the extra consumption tax dollars through higher spending, and those at the lower end of the social ecosystem would need to be compensated — just as they were when the tax was first introduced 15 years ago.

But broadly, there is considerable willingness among heads of government to contemplate tax reform. It is to be hoped some kind of consensus emerges.

Personally, I would like to see the GST doubled to 20% — in line with similar taxes in most comparable countries — with the income tax threshold lifted to, say, $25,000 per annum, marginal tax rates above that level flattened and reduced, and the GST base expanded to cover everything except healthcare, residential rents, education expenses and some financial transactions, with other government imposts like stamp duty and fuel excise abolished.

After increasing pensions and benefits to ensure welfare recipients are unaffected, some of the extra revenue could be ploughed into the states, with the remainder used to help fill the black hole left in the commonwealth budget by the Rudd-Gillard government that has been further exacerbated by the slowdown in Australia’s mining sector.

As a GST is a growth tax, these changes would set the country on a far more sustainable financial footing.

But as ever, the recalcitrant economic flat-earth types at the ALP refuse to have a bar of it.

So-called federal “leader” Bill Shorten refuses to discuss the GST at all, whilst he and others in the party claim their “policies” of cracking down on tax “evasion” by multinationals (read: punishing tax imposts on non-union businesses) and superannuation “reform” (read: punishing those who fund their own retirement without recourse to government benefits) would do the job instead.

But hitting big, offshore-based businesses is more of a pie chart concept than a practical, quantifiable, workable measure that could well do more harm than good if the usual hamfisted Labor way were to drive these companies — and Australian jobs — offshore.

And whilst Labor is obsessed with and racked by class envy and greed where self-funded retirees are concerned, I make the point that whilst Labor complains they don’t pay enough tax (not that there is an amount it would ever be satisfied with) but that these people save the government many billions of dollars annually by not claiming pensions.

You can’t have it both ways.

And as for Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ characteristically dumb-arsed call to lift the Medicare levy, all I will say is that this is an income tax rise that would have to be so large to make a meaningful difference to government budgets as to destroy the incentive to work. But Andrews — like so many of his Labor counterparts — is more interested in catchy sound bites than he is in serious, workable policy ideas.

It’s about time the GST occupied centre stage in any serious discussion about revenue and spending in this country, for it is the one measure that can be adapted to provide a fix to what, if left unaddressed, will become a permanent sea of red ink on state and federal budgets — and not all that far into the future.

Australia is not economically unassailable. Its prosperity cannot be taken for granted. Those leaders on both sides who have shown the courage and the stomach to start this debate deserve to be praised.

But as for the rest of the ALP which — as usual — would prefer to sit on the sidelines throwing populist stones in the hope it can be elected with as small a mandate for tough decisions as possible, it should grow up and take its responsibilities as a party to governance in Australia seriously, and stop trying to maintain a policy firewall contrived in its own petty electoral interests rather than focusing on the long-term good of the country.

 

The Advance Of Jacqui Lambie: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

THE PROSPECT of idiot Senator Jacqui Lambie’s party winning up to seven Senate seats at a double dissolution — almost certainly more than the National Party, and possibly gaining the balance of power — is a horrendous prospect that would cause untold damage to Australia; with Lambie’s ignorant, childish politics based on little more than settling imaginary scores, government would grind to a halt. Undoing her impact would take years.

In the small hours of Monday morning and still with things to do in advance of the week ahead there are better things I can think of to discuss, but anything to do with Jacqui Lambie — especially when it concerns the prospect of her spreading her influence — warrants attention.

I’ve seen an article from the regional Tasmanian newspaper The Advocate today, which cites Liberal Party polling quoted from Victorian Liberal state president Michael Kroger, suggesting that Tasmanian Palmer Senator-cum-Independent Jacqui Lambie currently commands 22-24% of the vote on the Apple Isle, and is said to be polling strongly in Queensland, Western Australia, and perhaps even in Victoria and New South Wales.

Whilst no tabulation of the numbers was presented (and remembering, of course, that three parts of evidence is often accompanied by three parts of gamesmanship where internal political polling is concerned), the looming spectre of a double dissolution election more or less doubles the ability of small parties to win Senate seats on account of the much lower electoral quotas required.

And whilst the findings Kroger was quoted discussing are unknown, the notion of Jacqui Lambie with two or three seats in Tasmania and up to one more in each of four of the five mainland states — possibly as many as seven in total — is, frankly, bloody terrifying.

I’ve been accused (usually by Coalition turncoats and ALP types who just want to stoke the fire when it comes to breakaway right wing outfits) of being everything from a sexist and misogynistic pig to an elitist and patrician snob (Moi? seriously?) for my determination to do anything I can to build public sentiment against Jacqui Lambie and help obliterate her political prospects.

But in declaring as regularly as she is discussed in this column that I believe her to be the stupidest individual ever elected to an Australian House of Parliament, I don’t do so lightly: and I don’t do so without a passing nod to the pantheon of no-hopers who, in some cases frantically, burst forth from the musty arras of history with comprehensive claims on the dubious status I accord to Lambie.

It’s not because she is so challenged as a communicator as to be virtually incoherent: everyone has something worthwhile to say, or at least that’s the theory, even if Lambie is incapable of conveying meaning in any other sense but the banal, or the xenophobic, or with the vitriol that invariably accompanies a complete victim mentality.

And it’s not because there is no evidence that anything about Lambie is in any way couth, civilised, or that she comprehends what her current role as a Senator demands of her: there are plenty of bogans around, after all, and almost all of them are great people.

Rather, it traces to eccentricities — to be generous — such as a former army truck driver and military policewoman purporting to be an expert on high matters of defence policy, when ample evidence exists that most service personnel find her cringeworthy at best and, in short, a joke.

It traces to peculiarities such as the barely articulate distinction she attempted to draw between “Chinese” and “Communist Chinese” and the suggestion that somehow the first group of people were just great in her eyes, whilst the other necessitated Australia taking up nuclear arms and blasting the dreaded Yellow Peril off the face of the planet.

It traces to the fact — conceded in her own words — that she hung around both the Liberal and Labor parties to play them off against each other to see what she could get; since those dizzying glory days she has been in and out of the Palmer United Party (and say what you will about Clive Palmer, but it’s a reflection on Lambie that she professes to be perturbed that following instructions might have been a requirement after she was elected on the back of a truckload of the mining baron’s money) and is now onto at least her fourth political party in fairly rapid succession: this time, her own.

For someone who professes expertise in military strategy — where mates have each other’s back, and nobody runs out and hides when the company is under attack — Lambie does not appear to be the kind of soldier you’d want to follow into battle, and this is a salient point for those flirting with voting for her to consider.

For the benefit of readers who missed it, I republish here the article I posted in March, when Lambie announced she would do what most disgruntled basket cases seem to do these days, having been elected on someone else’s coat tails and subsequently deciding their excrement doesn’t stink, and start a party named after themselves: and that article also contains links to several previous pieces that have formed discussion of Senator Lambie whenever her unfortunate ideas and objectives have come to public notice.

Aside from disability funding (a cause she came to champion after she got pissed and walked in front of a car) and defence force remuneration (because she’s such an expert on the military) the only thing Jacqui Lambie really stands for — as far as can be reasonably distilled from her idiotic utterances — is herself.

And just about the only thing that apparently drives her is revenge: revenge against the Liberal Party and Tony Abbott, for reasons unknown. Revenge against Clive Palmer, for reasons that speak to her own decisions and her inability to judge Palmer and his likely demands on her if she was elected on his ticket. Revenge against anything, or anyone, who dares to campaign for a position on something that isn’t explicitly what Lambie herself deems desirable.

Then — when you add in the racist, xenophobic diatribes, the fact she is supremely and naively out of her depth, and the fact she regularly threatens to bring Parliament grinding to a halt unless she gets what she wants, and to hell with anyone else (and God forbid, the national interest) — it really does become clear that not only is Lambie a simpleton masquerading as the big kid in the sandpit, but that the last thing she should ever be entrusted with is the balance of power in the Australian Senate.

It’s not hard to see how this could happen; after 20 years in which the ALP has seen its left flank slowly eroded and annexed by first the Australian Democrats and now the Communist Party Greens, a similar phenomenon seems to have commenced on the political Right, with Clive Palmer and Bob Katter (and earlier, Pauline Hanson) all hiving off large chunks of Coalition support.

Since we are talking about Kroger, one of the meetings I’ve been to this year where he was speaking saw him talking about what the Liberals need to do to retrieve their standing in Victoria — which, as he put it, was to once again advocate policies (and when elected, to govern) that reflect the values we as Liberals say we believe in.

It isn’t rocket science, but Kroger is absolutely right.

I have been critical of the Abbott government at various times; one of the key criticisms readers will have heard from me many times is that there is nothing conservative about it: there isn’t anything liberal, in the classic sense, about it either.

There are issues with the Senate and the way it is elected (and especially since the ALP fiddled it in 1984) that have lately been gamed and strategised to elect people with virtually no popular support, and whilst it’s something I believe needs to be fixed, and urgently, I don’t propose to divert down that particular tangent now.

But given it’s the Right — the Liberal Party especially — that stands to lose the most from any populist onslaught by Lambie, I obviously have a vested interest in trying to see that something is done to counter it.

People vote for fringe entities like the Palmer United Party, or for fruit cakes like Jacqui Lambie, because they are disillusioned with politics and feel government simply doesn’t do anything to make their lot in life better; in the absence of anything meaningful, they connect instead with “rough diamonds,” or people they think are “authentic,” or bullies who might “keep the bastards honest,” or some other permutation of the fact they feel established political parties deliver only for the people who run them and work in them.

If the Liberal Party, for example, developed policies that truly reflected its small government, pro-family, pro-business, strong national defence ideals that emphasised the virtues of opportunity for all, personal freedom and personal responsibility — and actually sold these properly in a way that voters could reconcile the intended outcomes with their own individual circumstances — then I believe the last thing it would need to worry about is losing a swag of Senators to someone like Jacqui Lambie at a double dissolution election.

Delusional stories of Lambie’s desire to bed rich men with huge dicks might be most amusing, but they aren’t a reason to vote for her.

The threat can be circumvented by the advocacy of policies that embody traditional liberal and conservative values: after all, it’s reasonable to assert those are what people thought they would get when they elected the Abbott government in a landslide but, to date, they haven’t got them at all.

We already know about Lambie’s mad, bad agenda. We already know she’s quite open about threats to strangle the process of government until or unless she gets what she wants.

Were she to ever control the balance of power in the Senate and thus the capacity to make good on those threats, God knows what she might be capable of. The damage — and the potential carnage — she could inflict on this country, its governance and its economic welfare, is incalculable. It is a horrific thought to contemplate.

If Kroger’s numbers are right, the only way to stop her is to ensure the next election reaps her no increase in her parliamentary numbers: and to achieve that, it’s obviously high time that the strategists and tacticians in the Coalition bunker set to work on cutting the niche constituency of disgruntled conservative voters out from beneath her feet.

 

“Choppergate:” Bishop Must Resign After Expenses Outrage

THERE IS NO POINT sugar-coating what on any objective criteria is an insult to decency and a flagrant abuse of the privileges of public office: news the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bronwyn Bishop, spent $5,227 of taxpayer money on a 60km helicopter trip instead of a car for a fraction of the price is indefensible. For Bishop — a repeat big spender on premium travel — the matter is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. She must resign.

Forget the “definitions” that sometimes legitimise largesse when it comes to the “entitlements” of our elected representatives: this was Liberal Party business, and nothing else.

The news yesterday that Speaker Bronwyn Bishop had been exposed for chartering a helicopter flight last year to fly from the Melbourne CBD to Geelong — at a cost of some $5,227 for the return trip — no doubt seems reasonable to some.

But with a perfectly good freeway a couple of miles away and the fine town of Geelong just an hour by road, there is no reason Bishop couldn’t have booked a chauffeured private hire car (or a ComCar) for a few hundred dollars instead.

And not least, when taxpayers are footing the bill.

I am prepared to defend reasonable expenditure by MPs on all sides of politics, and over the lifespan of this column have either done so actively or (more usually) by simply declining to oxygenate sensationalist coverage of supposed rorts by ignoring them altogether.

Elected representatives have the reasonable expectation that expenses incurred in the course of carrying out their duties will be covered, and those expenses may, by the nature of their roles, be inflated when compared to those incurred by a private individual — the practice, for example, of flying in business class, which avoids the prospect of mid-air confrontations between politicians and angry voters, and reduces the requirement for expensive, extensive security details whose costs significantly outstrip the price of the airline ticket.

Often, there is a fine line between what is reasonable and what is ridiculous — particularly where public opinion is concerned — and the aggregate demands on MPs of official business and party business (especially when the MP in question is a minister, party leader or Speaker) often legitimise consolidated travel arrangements at public expense whose bona fides, whilst clear, are not always immediately visible to the typical voter.

None of these defences exist in the case of “Choppergate,” and Ms Bishop must consequently consider her position.

As a veteran of almost 30 years in federal politics, Bishop would know better than most of her Canberra colleagues what is acceptable, and what is not.

Moreover, when it comes to drawing the distinction between what is made legitimate and lawful by virtue of parliamentary guidelines on the one hand, and what could not and cannot be justified in the court of public opinion even if the minutiae of expense claims were disclosed in full on the other, Ms Bishop’s experience uniquely places her to be able to draw such a distinction.

The helicopter trip in question — whilst ridiculous — was, by the universal agreement of players on all sides in Canberra, a purely political conveyance, undertaken to attend a Liberal Party function at the start of last year’s state election campaign, and to date nobody — including Ms Bishop — has provided evidence of coincident business or other ameliorating factors to justify it.

In this case, repayment of the monies simply doesn’t cut it: and a terse, two-sentence statement that accompanied news she would do so — essentially reiterating the trip was, in her view, covered by parliamentary guidelines, but that she would make the payment from her own pocket “to avoid ambiguity” — gives every indication the reimbursement is to be made grudgingly, and under heavy duress indeed.

Even so, this might have been the end of the matter, were it not for the fact Bishop appears to be something of a recidivist when it comes to playing fast and loose with taxpayer monies on “official” travel.

The Fairfax press is carrying a story this morning that details some $309,000 spent by Ms Bishop on overseas travel in her first year as speaker, outstripping predecessors Anna Burke, Harry Jenkins and even the profligate Peter Slipper: the details make for infuriating reading.

It outlines some $90,000 spent by Ms Bishop on a two-week jaunt to Europe (to unsuccessfully lobby for a job with the Inter-Parliamentary Union) that featured expenditure items for herself and two staffers including $42,400 in airfares and $25,400 on accommodation and food. The unjustifiable largesse is astonishing.

And even the Murdoch press is weighing in against Bishop, with the Courier Mail opining the public has every right to be angry with the Speaker, whilst The Australian gave details that Bishop chose the most expensive helicopter transport option on offer — and even suggesting the matter smacked of preferment for the company chartered to provide the flight.

The “pub test” — as Treasurer Joe Hockey yesterday put it — essentially comes down to a distinction between what is legal on the one hand, and what can reasonably be considered appropriate on the other, and whilst nobody suggests Bishop has broken any laws, even if parliamentary guidelines cover her for the outrageous expense she incurred by billing taxpayers for a flight between Melbourne and Geelong, there is no basis in common sense or proper regard for public funds to justify it.

Unlike those in the ALP who bleat of favouritism, I do think Ms Bishop has made a reasonable fist of her role as Speaker.

Like more prominent figures who — like me — should have known better, I too jumped on the momentary madness of the “Bronwyn for PM” bandwagon in early 1994, which saw so many otherwise astute Liberals take leave of their senses as the doomed leadership of John Hewson began to implode.

And whilst perhaps no ministerial standout, Bishop has made a solid contribution over her three decades in public office, and does in fact have a record she can be proud of.

That includes advancement of the status and prospects for women in politics — even if the pinko feminazis at Emily’s List dismiss her (along with every other woman in the Coalition) as somehow less than female because she is not a socialist.

But then again, the fact Bishop has endured and succeeded without quotas and an Emily’s List-style cheer squad merely underlines what she has been able to accomplish.

For all that, however, this latest scandal (and her brusque justification of it) deserves to signal the end of her career.

Playing fast and loose with taxpayer monies is a pastime that has gone on for too long in political life, and if for no better reason than to set an example, Ms Bishop should be removed if she refuses to quit.

I accept that others have been “at it” and that other MPs may be guilty of worse than what Ms Bishop has been revealed to have done, but after the first few public humiliations — and terminated sinecures — have played out, the signal to the rest of the parliamentary pack might and should have been heeded.

And as a final but nonetheless critical point, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ms Bishop is the highest ranking parliamentary official in Canberra: among other things, her office is charged with upholding the standards of Parliament as an institution itself. It is for this reason I agitated so loudly for the removal of the grub Peter Slipper from the post when he held it.

It is imperative, therefore, and especially in light of these revelations, that the office and its bearer not only maintain rigorous standards of probity, but to be seen to be doing so.

To make good on her misuse of public monies, therefore, Ms Bishop should resign.

 

Twin Taxes: Carbon Idiocy Will Kill Shorten, Labor

THE EXPLOSIVE REVELATION — leaked in detail yesterday to Sydney’s Daily Telegraph — that the ALP is readying to reimpose a carbon tax if it wins office should surprise nobody; this politically lethal concept has killed off a slew of Prime Ministers and party leaders, and will kill Shorten too. There is reason to believe the measure will be introduced even if, as seems likely, it is not presented as a commitment at any increasingly likely early election.

I am on the hop today, and between that and the lengthy piece I published yesterday on who is and is not to blame for the LNP’s disastrous election defeat in Queensland in January, this morning’s article will be comparatively short.

But the news — leaked in extensive detail to Sydney’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, and contemporaneously and dutifully reported yesterday by that august tome — that Labor is preparing to reimpose not just one carbon tax but two if it wins the next election will increase the likelihood of an early election later this year, and almost guarantee that Labor loses it.

“Leader” Bill Shorten, when confronted by the revelation, tried to dismiss the policy as “complete rubbish,” an assurance that will presumably carry no weight with the electorate in the aftermath of his recent confession that he lied publicly about his role in the ALP’s internecine leadership brawling and in the wake of his testimony to the Royal Commission into the trade union movement that at best portrayed him as glib, smug, dishonest, and less than credible.

Simply, people can’t trust a syllable of Shorten’s utterances and now, that realisation is spreading through the electorate like wildfire.

One of his frontbenchers tried to dismiss the policy as “a discussion paper,” whilst another — obviously annoyed that someone had let the mangy cat out of the bag — labelled whoever leaked it “an idiot.”

But I would suggest that any “discussion paper” that runs to the degree of explicit and apparently highly considered detail that this features is nothing of the sort.

And anyone on the ALP frontbench with the presence of mind to brief a journalist is actually blessed with some quotient of political acumen, for this policy — and anything that resembles a “carbon tax” or “emissions trading scheme” — is, to put it bluntly, unsaleable in Australia.

The politics of carbon pricing are lethal in Australia; the political death toll includes two Prime Ministers — Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard — as well as a possible third in John Howard, whose lukewarm support for carbon pricing probably helped seal his defeat in 2007 as a minor contributing issue to the broader case for change; it has killed off Liberal leaders in Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull; and it helped cost the federal Communists Greens a quarter of their vote in 2013, partially in retribution for their handiwork in helping to inflict such a policy in cahoots with Labor.

It seems the ALP is cognisant of the risks, too, for as the Tele is reporting today in a follow-up piece, the policy was to be kept from voters if an election were to be called before a climate change conference in Paris in December.

I would assert that given the death spiral into which Shorten’s “leadership” has plunged, the toxic revelations at the Royal Commission, the likely bloodshed at the ALP national conference next week and the imperative for the Prime Minister to get to the polls before Labor replaces Shorten with someone who might actually know what they hell they’re doing (or at least, carries some broad appeal), the high likelihood of an early election means the policy was meant to be dishonestly sprung on the public in the same way Julia Gillard did it after the 2010 election.

The fact the Labor frontbench has explicitly canvassed concealing the policy will, rightly, now be used against the ALP.

It is impossible to believe this policy is a mere whim, or some indulgent discussion item; there is far too much detail in it for that excuse, now the party has been caught out, to wash.

This is not one carbon tax, but two; one for the electricity industry and one for everything else, and the inescapable conclusion is that electricity bills — already punitively high for most Australians even without a carbon tax — would skyrocket.

The measure to mandate tough new emissions control standards on new vehicles, raising the price of a new car by some $1,500, is unlikely to impress most voters: and the mooted fuel savings this policy brandishes of $830 per year, or $16 per week (a quarter of the average motorist’s weekly fuel spend at today’s prices) is so suspiciously bloated as to invite dismissal by voters as lying Labor bullshit — which it probably is.

And whilst I could go on — but will leave my readers to peruse the articles from the Tele owing to time constraints, as well as this additional piece from The Australian — the fact this policy has been developed at all and readied for introduction shows that at the very least, the ALP still hasn’t understood why it was so violently ejected from office two years ago.

There is an irony in the fact that for the fourth consecutive election, Labor is gearing up to fight over WorkChoices, despite no indication whatsoever from the Coalition parties of any intention to revisit the controversial Howard government laws.

Yet at the same time, for the fourth consecutive election, Labor is in fact standing on a carbon tax: the political history of both the Coalition and the ALP bluntly shows policies like this are pure poison, and of the two packages, I would even go so far as to suggest that carbon taxes are the bigger vote loser than WorkChoices: irrespective of your views on climate change, there is too much evidence to conclude anything other than a refusal of a majority of Australian electors to vote for carbon taxes, emissions trading schemes, or anything resembling them.

I don’t propose to get into any arguments about climate change today, and nor should commenters — this is a political problem Shorten has apparently decided Labor should be saddled with, and as I said, whether you believe in climate change or not or have your views about what causes it, it is the political consequences I am concerned with today.

Chief among them is the fact that this revelation will make an election this year likelier, perhaps certain: and for mine, a tenner on an election date being announced as soon as the ALP national conference is out of the way — with Shorten’s Royal Commission fresh in people’s minds, and the stench of blood from the Labor conference pungent in their nostrils — would probably be an astutely placed wager indeed.