Any Reshuffle Must Go Further Than Dumping Hockey

WITH ONE EYE on the Canning by-election and the other on consistently dreadful opinion poll numbers, whispers emanating from the Abbott government and into the Fairfax press suggest a strategy of dumping Joe Hockey in the by-election’s aftermath followed by a double dissolution in March. A “reset” may — may — still work. But Hockey, who is a political liability, must be just one of a raft of changes if there is to be any point attempting one.

Sooner or later the fraught position of the Abbott government was bound to occupy our conversation in this column again, and — thanks to some injudicious chatter finding its way into the willing ears of the Fairfax press — it seems today has been selected for that purpose.

One of the journalists at Fairfax I have great respect for is James Massola, who today has filed this report and this analysis piece, both of which detail an apparent “survival” strategy being cooked up by elements inside the Liberal party room to throw Treasurer Joe Hockey under a bus and to get the government to an early election in March in the wake of the looming by-election in Don Randall’s old seat of Canning in Western Australia.

We have discussed the misfortunes of the Abbott government — mostly self-inflicted as they have been — at great length since Hockey’s ridiculously misdirected 2014 budget, and the irony is that whilst Massola raises the issue of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s famed loyalty to those around him (and the direct adverse effects it has had on his government’s standing), a position of true loyalty to the best interests of the government, the Liberal Party and the millions of ordinary people it is charged with representing lies in advocating the exact opposite of much of how Abbott has allowed that government to be conducted.

The idea that merely throwing Hockey under the bus, as a scapegoat for a poor result in Canning, will somehow restore the Coalition’s political fortunes is sorely wanting at best, for as much as Hockey has made himself a political liability in his current post, the real seeds of the problem lie elsewhere: namely, in Abbott’s own office.

Even so, the fact such a change is even being seriously countenanced when just six months ago Hockey was sacrosanct and protected by Prime Ministerial imprimatur is telling.

Just a couple of short months ago — before the outrage of Bronwyn Bishop’s travel entitlement excesses became public knowledge — it did rather look as if the Abbott government had a case for calling (and winning) an early double dissolution election, although I didn’t think doing so was wise without a handful of triggers lined up for a subsequent joint sitting as opposed to just the bills to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Yet even so, a 2015 budget that was publicly received far more benignly than its predecessor, combined with Labor and Bill Shorten feeling real heat from the Royal Commission into the unions, saw the Liberals’ fortunes turn strongly for the first time in over a year, even getting well within the error margin in a slew of opinion polls if not in fact managing to pull into the lead.

Bronwyn Bishop stopped that momentum dead in its tracks. Abbott’s obstinate display of loyalty toward her threw it into reverse. The revelation that some knucklehead in the NSW Liberals saw fit to invite Dyson Heydon to a Liberal Party event compounded the damage.

The government is now in real — probably existential — trouble, and it remains to be seen if there is adequate time to dig it back out by any means, although with an election due to be called in 10 months’ time it’s fairly obvious that the Coalition will get one opportunity to enact a major salvage effort before that election (held on schedule or otherwise) and one only.

Replacing Hockey with either Scott Morrison or Malcolm Turnbull should have happened in the wake of the abortive leadership putsch against Abbott at the start of the year; the fact it didn’t — and that Abbott instead rattled on vacuously with chatter about “loyalty” to his Treasurer to the point he asserted the pair would stand or fall together — is symptomatic of the dysfunction that infects much of the government away from the public eye.

The problem, of course, is that so dysfunctional is the Abbott government away from the public eye that its consequences have frequently been laid bare for all to see.

Whilst no supporter of Turnbull’s in a leadership context, I have been consistent for the duration of this column in acknowledging his talent and, in certain circumstances, his ability; contrary to some of those more blindly opposed to him I think he would make an excellent Treasurer, and the leadership risks of moving him to that post are easily outweighed by the continuing and compounding damage Hockey’s tenure in it is creating.

And I think Morrison should be held back — at least until after the election — from such a frontline post, not least when he is performing brilliantly in Social Services: another heavy domestic portfolio that is traditionally very problematic for the Liberal Party.

But any reshuffle, if it starts and finishes with Hockey, is a waste of time.

There are others who have either outlived their usefulness or who won’t be around for much longer anyway — Kevin Andrews and Ian Macfarlane are just two names on what, if I wanted to be brutal, could be an extensive list — and the opportunity to get more of the embarrassment of backbench talent the Coalition parties boast into ministerial posts should not be squandered or passed up.

After all, talented backbenchers — even if they make the mistakes of the beginner — are arguably of more use to the government than ageing duds anyway.

And in any case, the composition of the Abbott ministry is scarcely the government’s greatest problem.

It seems ridiculous that fully a year after it became undeniable that the Abbott government was in dire, dire electoral straits, we are still having exactly the same conversation; it is a measure of just how poorly calibrated the government is that its problems, whilst stark in their clarity and obvious in terms of the action required to remedy them, are basically the same list of ills that was supposedly ticked off after the coup attempt against Abbott.

This government can’t carry a message; its tactical and strategic activities are so defective it would be better off dispensing with them altogether; it can’t respond decisively to Labor, the unions, the ABC or the Fairfax press without overreach or misdirection; it has proven spectacularly inept at dealing with a hostile Senate; its message to voters — such as it is — is confused and inconsistent; and it is supported by a plethora of state and federal secretariats that couldn’t campaign their way out of a paper bag.

Election defeats in Queensland, Victoria and South Australia constitute deadly proof of that final point, and rather than shuffling the club members who run them from one division to another to keep “talented” losers in the gravy (read: putting “maaates” ahead of the true best interests of the Liberal Party) a large number of them should be encouraged to simply pirouette out the door and not come back.

And this leads me to the Prime Minister’s Office; creditable attempts were made earlier in the year to hoodwink people into believing that that sinecure had changed, and that notorious Chief of Staff Peta Credlin had been curtailed.

The brutal truth is that it hasn’t, and she wasn’t, and consequently the government continues to make the same mistakes in the same way it has ever since it was elected. Only the daily issues that surround those mistakes change, and even some of those are ominously constant.

Now we’ve had Arthur Sinodinis — a one-time Chief of Staff to John Howard — come out today, demanding ministers and/or advisers who’ve leaked the details of the “Hockey as scapegoat” plan either quit or be fired; Sinodinis has also spoken of “loyalty,” and my issue here covers yet another point I have been banging on about for months.

Quite bluntly stated, the notion of “simply standing firm” might be a worthy one if there was actually something worth standing firm behind at all; this government might fool itself into believing in its own competence, but it isn’t fooling anyone else.

What a lot of these insiderish boffins don’t realise and/or don’t want to know is that vast numbers of the Liberal rank and file are angry, disgusted and aghast that the party has comprehensively trashed a golden opportunity for a decade in power.

And all of that is before we even countenance the average punter on the street who is expected to vote Liberal in a year or so.

The “debt and deficit” emergency the Coalition was elected to fix has miraculously given way — after a horror budget whose punitive fixes mostly weren’t even legislated — to a blue skies scenario featuring supposed endless growth, large giveaways to small business, and the incredible promise of fat tax cuts without the pain required to fund them; believe that and you’ll believe anything.

Labor’s profligate spending continues to run out of control — and perhaps it’s true the government faces a roadblock in the form of the Senate to rein it in — but the savings measures it has attempted are mostly direct additional hits on its own constituency, with very little by way of actual cuts at all.

Not only has the government failed to fix the budget, it has failed to line up bills to cut Labor’s waste and extravagance and electoral bribery of Left-leaning interest groups. And it has sent the signal to Coalition voters in so doing that they are fair game when it comes to squibbing genuinely tough action and instead enacting a quick fix by slugging those who decided to vote for it in 2013.

What a mess.

Meanwhile, all of the other issues I’ve talked about fester away, to varying degrees; and even the Royal Commission into the unions — whilst uncovering copious evidence of criminal misconduct — has been seized by the ALP and the unions and turned into a political weapon for those God-forsaken entities.

A professional political outfit would never have handed such a battering ram to its opponents, but this government has managed to do just that.

Someone as astute as John Howard (and the coterie he kept around him) would never have let himself get into such a parlous political position through wilful and stubborn incompetence, but that is where the Abbott government stands today.

And Sinodinis trying to close ranks around the rotten edifice might be noble on one level, but it amounts to an uncharacteristic lapse of judgement on his part when the edifice itself is in urgent need of a significant structural overhaul.

I don’t think the Canning by-election should be some inane test of Abbott’s leadership and I don’t think he should be pushed off the plank if the party loses, which admittedly at this point in time has to be regarded as distinctly possible.

But there is little point in standing firm when such a stance is utterly misguided, and no point in blind ongoing loyalty to the very people who put the government in that situation in the first place.

Win or lose in Canning, a reshuffle is a good idea: but if it starts and finishes with replacing Joe Hockey as a token scapegoat, it will have been for nothing.

Either way, replacing a large proportion of the contingent of advisers sponging off the taxpayer and cruelling the government politically and electorally, if anyone is really serious about fixing the government, is mandatory.

Anyone responsible for (surprise, surprise) communications, strategy and tactics should be in line to get it in the neck, for if they can’t manoeuvre a first-term government into a position of invulnerability against an utterly discredited Labor Party — hurdles such as the Senate notwithstanding — then heaven help the Coalition if the going ever gets really rough, and the thunderbolts begin shooting from hands other than its own.

Those who want to preach of loyalty to this government should first get to grips with the real reasons for its malaise, and if they are unwilling or unable to look inwards to do so, then they too are a part of the problem.

Nobody likes singling out those they work with, get on well with and with whom they have professional associations that in some cases span decades, but there is something very wrong at the heart of the Abbott government, and it isn’t something Labor can be blamed for or that a token sacrifice will wash away.

There may or may not be time to fix the government, and perhaps one more opportunity afforded by the electoral cycle to make a concerted effort to do so.

Any talk of early elections must be abandoned, and the cancer at the heart of the government excised once and for all, for if allowed to remain and to grow it won’t matter when the election is held: the Coalition will lose anyway.

And that is a hell of a price to pay for what is being bandied around as “loyalty” but which, in the end, is nothing more than unmitigated stupidity.


The Week In Politics — And A Message To Readers

WHAT A WEEK in Australian politics: the scandal of former Liberal state director Damien Mantach has percolated odiously, whilst moral outrage merchant Sarah Hanson-Young has been shown as no better than anyone else when it comes to wasting taxpayer money on travel. The union Royal Commission lingers in limbo, whilst so-called Operation Fortitude debased good sense and decency. I’ve been missing: and we will touch on that as well.

First things first, lest anyone thought I’d disappeared: the medical issue I alluded to nearly three weeks ago now — causing my Brisbane-Melbourne flight to be diverted to Sydney, and imposing a hospital stay on me at that time — recurred this week on my flight back to Brisbane on Tuesday morning, and whilst medical opinion now agrees the likely cause is totally harmless (an easily treated ear condition, of all things) I spent Wednesday and Thursday driving back to Melbourne via the Newell Highway, and for unavoidable logistical reasons 1,100km of that ghastly 1,700km trek fell on Thursday.

As readers will appreciate, even after three days back in Melbourne I still feel shattered, and the reason no comment has been forthcoming from me since Tuesday morning should now be readily apparent. It is greatly heartening that in round terms, there is nothing wrong with me at all; but the overall episode is something I can well do without, for it will continue to interfere with my activities in the short term. My weekly Tuesday trips to Brisbane are temporarily suspended, so I will be around a little more, but for those who think I’ve missed a big week I will make some remarks on a range of issues this afternoon.

And the first thing I want to talk about — which has been proclaimed as “a mistake” and a misunderstanding and all kinds of other euphemisms for “fuck-up” — is the so-called Operation Fortitude that was supposed to be rolled out in the Melbourne CBD on Friday, targeting everything from immigration fraud to outstanding traffic warrants, and I can only say that even though the “operation” was aborted in the face of rent-a-crowd protests enacted by the militant Left there is no place in Australian society for the stop-and-search undertaking this abomination was apparently contrived to constitute.

We will never know with certainty whether this really was intended to be the illiberal and Stasi-like activity that has been sketched out in the breach, and the government agencies involved — from Victoria Police to the Australian Federal Police and to the Australian Border Force — are going to have to be given, with great reservations, the benefit of the doubt.

It is interesting to note that the government agencies reportedly involved fall under the jurisdiction of state and federal governments controlled by both major political parties, and if anything, this tends to reinforce the suggestion that the whole thing was a misunderstanding: it is difficult to see the Victorian ALP in cahoots with the Abbott government on something as distasteful as this, even if for no better reason than Labor’s penchant for gleeful seizure on anything offering point-scoring opportunities against the Liberal Party these days.

Certainly, Prime Minister Tony Abbott claims that he and his government had no knowledge of the Gestapo-style crackdown, which would in effect have seen law enforcement officers stopping people in the street and demanding to see visas or documentation substantiating residence, citizenship, or the right to be in Australia at all.

The discriminatory and racist overtones of such an endeavour are clearly — and totally — unacceptable.

Yet if some good can come of the operation that wasn’t, it takes the form of a reminder than in a liberal democratic society, the line between freedom and authoritarian excess is a fine one: and once crossed, and the genie of stifling freedom is out of the bottle, it is very difficult to put it back.

Less ambiguity surrounds one of this column’s most detested figures, however, when it comes to moralising hypocrite and outrage fabricator Sarah Hanson-Young; the child Senator was reported during the week as having accrued almost a million dollars in travel expense payments between entering the Senate in 2008 and December last year.

Inexplicably, Hanson-Young and another Communist Greens Senator — Scott Ludlam from Western Australia — each racked up more in travel at taxpayers’ expense than their former leader, the pious, sanctimonious Christine Milne.

Milne, who is now in retirement where she belongs, at least had an excuse as the leader of the minor party; and whilst Ludlam is a lightweight of little interest to this column, Hanson-Young — a crusader seeking trouble wherever she can stir it up, and mud wherever it is able to be kicked into the faces of conservative politicians — is no more than a dangerous pinko using public money to attract attention to herself.

It has always amazed me that as members of a supposed party of environmentalists, Greens MPs have little apparent reticence about extensive air travel; utilising fossil-fuelled, chauffeur-driven cars; furnishing themselves at cost to taxpayers in well-lit offices heated and cooled by (mostly coal-generated) electricity; and travel internationally in the name of obscure events that bear little or no relevance to their duties as members of Australian Parliaments — such as Hanson-Young’s jaunt to the Mediterranean earlier this year to observe asylum seeker movements into Europe.

International air travel, of course, is the most pollution-intensive form of travel — and it speaks volumes that the Greens’ worst offender just happens to be their most vocal, outspoken, and sanctimonious of all (the recently departed Milne notwithstanding).

Nobody can mount a reasonable defence of former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s excessive and (ethically) indefensible use of the taxpayer dollar for “official” travel.

But the likes of Hanson-Young, like Labor’s Tony Burke, are every bit as culpable.

It speaks volumes for the utterly defective communications and strategy apparatus that underpins the Abbott government’s political activities that it simply can’t lay a glove on the pair, in spite of the fact both should be forced into resignation, like Bishop; but it also speaks to the utter lack of sincerity and integrity that the likes of Hanson-Young and Burke can throw stones at someone like Bishop, raising merry hell and causing political trouble for the Liberal Party, when each is just as culpable for precisely the same reasons.

And continuing to speak volumes this week for the utter deficiency of the way the Liberal Party is run has been disgraced former Victorian state director Damien Mantach; the scandal — see here and here for a couple of more recent pieces since I looked at this disgrace last week — is representative of just about everything that is wrong with the executive management arm of the party, and the most despicable thing is that because the Liberal Party is effectively run these days as a club by a tight, insiderish crony network, the excesses that have come to light in regard to Mantach taint the party in at least three states and federally.

Now, it appears taxpayer money was misappropriated by Mantach in a kickback scandal that is additional to the original revelations of siphoning money out of party coffers in Melbourne, and anyone who had knowledge of Mantach’s past misdemeanours when in charge of the Tasmanian division and who was subsequently involved in recruiting him to the Victorian division in 2008 must be booted from the Liberal Party altogether.

It is not good enough that a volunteer organisation that depends on donation monies and membership dues has been pillaged by a hand-picked lieutenant of that crony club, whilst its members continue on in other (paid) roles within the party even after Mantach has been disgraced, and whilst this column makes no accusation of culpability or wrongdoing on the part of any individual, those who were associated with the Liberal Party in senior management capacities in Victoria at that time — then state director (and now NSW division chief) Tony Nutt and federal director Brian Loughnane foremost among them — have questions to answer that to date have not been satisfactorily answered at all.

Were they and/or any other relevant office bearers at that time aware Mantach had pocketed some $48,000 from the Tasmanian division of the party? Were they aware that when this was discovered, Mantach’s immediate resignation (read: sacking) had been sought and received in early 2008? Had they, or any other personnel connected to the subsequent recruitment of Mantach as assistant state director in Victoria later in 2008, been forewarned about the misconduct it is universally accepted Mantach had engaged in during his time with the party in Tasmania, as has been suggested this week?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes” then any or all of those persons, if they remain in the employment of the Liberal Party anywhere in Australia, must be summarily dismissed for gross incompetence and expelled from the party as members under the party’s discipline and dispute resolution mechanisms.

It’s not as if the Liberals would be losing all that much; Loughnane in particular ran the Victorian division as campaign manager and state director in 2002 when the party suffered its worst ever state election defeat, and followed that up as federal director in 2007 by presiding over the defeat of the Howard government — a dubious dual achievement that appears increasingly likely to be emulated next year, again on Loughnane’s watch, if the Abbott government is beaten after a single term.

As we have discussed too often in this column — and as has been amply borne out almost weekly in (accurate) press reporting of the party’s endless goings-on — most of the Liberal Party’s current woes are entirely self-inflicted, through incompetence, poor judgement, misdirected resources and non-existent strategic and tactical expertise; the Mantach episode is emblematic of the fact that the same people (broadly speaking) have mismanaged the Liberal Party across the country for years, and if any good can come of the Mantach debacle at all it is the prospect that some of these people might be kicked out of a good organisation that has been let down and badly served by the very people charged with the stewardship of its best interests.

The mismanagement in the Liberal Party has been like a cancer, and must be cut out. Regrettably, though, even the prospect of a first-up election loss and a return to opposition through their own stupidity is no guarantee these people will finally be shown the door next year and told to tell their stories walking.

And this brings me to the Royal Commission into the union movement and the application before Commissioner Heydon to recuse himself from further proceedings; the outcome of that application is apparently set to be delivered tomorrow, but I reiterate the point made a week ago that were it not for some fucking idiot at the NSW Liberals deciding Heydon would be a suitable guest at a Liberal function in the politically super-charged climate surrounding the Commission, this tawdry and opportunistic manoeuvre by Labor and its militant, violent union mates would have been impossible to attempt in the first place.

All in all, it has been a bad week for the Liberal Party.

That’s not to say the ALP is deserving of any particular acknowledgement, or any credit at all; just yesterday its “leader,” Billy Bullshit, was framing one of his typically fatuous fringe “arguments” that whilst Labor wasn’t averse to a free trade agreement with China in principle (in a sop to those accusing him of dishonouring Labor’s Hawke-Keating economic management heritage even further than he already has), it was important to get “the best deal” which meant ALP and union criticism of the agreement was warranted (which boils down to a childish petulance that were it Labor negotiating the agreement it would be good, but because it’s the Liberal Party doing so, it’s actually very bad indeed).

How Labor might perform in government is unknown and, as far as I am concerned, the prospect is cause for great alarm indeed.

But for those contemplating restoring it to the Treasury benches, Bill Shorten is providing exactly zero reasons to justify their votes: and again, whilst I hate to say it, Shorten’s unhindered conduct is a salutary reminder that the Liberals need to get their shit together — and to gather that execrable substance very quickly indeed.


#QandA Obscenity and Today’s Newspoll

A VERY SHORT piece from me today, as I am on the run; but last night’s episode of the ABC’s #QandA programme once again attracted controversy, which on this occasion should be kept in perspective. Further, the avoidable stupidity of a wayward Liberal Party member inviting unions Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon to a party event has coloured today’s Newspoll in The Australian: and once again sent the Abbott government into freefall.

I am off to Brisbane today — for the first time since the incident a fortnight ago that ended with a diverted return flight and a night in a Sydney hospital — and whilst I am not anticipating (or hoping for) any trouble on that front, it does mean a very full day juggling business and personal commitments.

However, I wanted to post very quickly on two subjects this morning that will fill political discussion today.

Firstly, the latest outrage to erupt from an episode of the ABC’s notorious #QandA programme last night (see here and here) is, for once, something the Right (and the wowsers) should take a Bex and lie down over before trying to skewer the ABC with it; I watched #QandA — as usual — and whilst the discussion was unremarkable (and with Virginia Trioli again deputising for Tony Jones was greatly improved as a viewing experience) the unfortunate own goal kicked via the #QandA Twitter feed is not the kind of thing producers would have complete oversight of.

The #QandA Twitter feed (as published on the ABC’s programme portal) carries a disclaimer that the broadcaster is not responsible for the material shown; despite some oversight, it is also impossible for every Tweet included in the feed to be exhaustively vetted without destroying the “real time discussion” nature of the inclusion of that feed.

Moreover, whilst whoever thought creating a Twitter account called @AbbottLovesAnal needs to take a long, hard look at themselves — it isn’t funny, appropriate, incisive or clever — the subject of the Tweet was hardly incendiary; and as distasteful as a similar lapse a year or two ago featuring an account called “@Smell_Mike_Hunt” this might have been, climbing all over the ABC looking for blood on this particular occasion looks petty, and would merely damage the cause of those seeking to use it as leverage for instigating any meaningful overhaul of the broadcaster’s conduct.

Meanwhile, Newspoll today shows that whilst the Coalition remains eight points behind Labor after preferences — unchanged from the previous survey — the personal and “preferred PM” ratings of Prime Minister Tony Abbott have again taken a hit, whilst those of Labor “leader” Bill Shorten are, whilst remaining truly terrible, slightly reflated.

The Liberals really only have themselves to blame for this, and as I have unapologetically noted before, whoever the fucking idiot at the NSW Liberals was who thought inviting the Commissioner of a politically-charged inquiry into the union movement to address a Liberal-organised function ought to be run out of the party.

The ensuing uproar might not have cost the Coalition more support in this survey — and already constituting a 7.5% swing against the government from the last election, it scarcely needed to — but a clue to voters’ likely behaviour, if the Royal Commission fails to prosecute hefty numbers of union criminals and/or is abandoned, lies in the marginally improved findings for Shorten.

Australians will give people a go: but if someone is unfairly maligned or baselessly attacked, they will compensate often by moving in the opposite direction, which to a degree is how Abbott was ever able to become Prime Minister in the first place.

And so it is in Newspoll today, where the blanket allegations of bias screeched by the ALP and some of its less-than-impartial press friends — however baseless those allegations are — have seen a clear show of sympathy for Shorten turn up in the figures, although not enough (yet) to make the opposition “leader’s” position remotely plausible.

The other feature I would quickly note is that at 54-46 to Labor, Newspoll has become settled in a 53-54% two-party result for the ALP; movements (including the 51% recorded by the Coalition two months ago) now remain within the statistical margin of error; and that the ALP primary vote, which once fed similar two-party results off a primary figure in the low 30% range, has gradually crept up and now also stabilised at or just below 40%.

In other words, Labor has solidified its base in the face of Coalition incompetence, poor governance and communications, and incidents like the Heydon fiasco are now arguably sealing the strength of the overall ALP position.

It seems the Coalition is running out of chances to retrieve its position: the credible discussions of calling a snap double dissolution election just two months ago have now evaporated thanks to the fiasco over Bronwyn Bishop’s travel expenses, and now over Dyson Heydon.

We will see in a few weeks how the Canning by-election plays out, but the portents are not encouraging: and on that note, I bid all readers a great day — and as Wednesdays have become almost impossible for posting articles for the time being, look forward to seeing everyone again on Thursday.


Tactical Preferences: Sacrificing Labor MPs To The Greens

NEW RESEARCH by the Parliamentary Library showing a swathe of “safe” Labor seats at risk from the Communist Party Greens should be leapt upon by Coalition strategists with gusto; said to potentially be dependent on Liberal preferences for survival, prominent ALP identities like Tanya Plibersek and factional thug David Feeney should be thrown to the socialist wolf. This column despises the Greens. But so as Labor sows, so too should it reap.

There are some who might find my advocacy of a vindictive preference strategy to be thoroughly out of kilter with the sentiments expressed in this column yesterday, in a lengthy piece centred on the appalling state of politics in Australia today.

Yet one of the biggest criticisms I have made of my own party for some considerable time now is its amateurism where political strategy is concerned, and this — coupled with the occasional but recurrent observation made here (and elsewhere) that Labor is better at raw politics than we are — makes what I suggest today not only entirely proper, but takes into account the fact that when elections are there to be won or lost it is precisely this kind of strategy that should be pursued.

If it settles the odd score or redresses the odd slight in the process, then so be it.

I have been reading this morning an article from The Australian that cites research recently completed by the Parliamentary Library in Canberra; I haven’t seen the research, but it’s not difficult to reconcile its findings with what we already know — that Labor support in its inner city seats, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, is being eaten away by the Greens — and whilst what I suggest today isn’t exactly rocket science, a ruthless approach to sacrificing Labor MPs should be pursued by the “strategists” of the Liberal Party.

I encourage readers to read the piece from Phillip Hudson, and then rejoin me here.

Readers know that I detest the Greens, and with good reason; masquerading as a party of the environment and purporting to offer a harmless, feelgood alternative to voters disillusioned with the major parties, this insidious outfit is an illiberal and undemocratic bastion of the hard Left, and a proponent of the worst excesses of state socialism; even after the retirement of pious, sanctimonious former leader Christine Milne, it boasts among its ranks such luminaries as an actual Communist and traitor to democracy in Lee Rhiannon, and a nasty, hatred-fuelled, trouble making socialist with neither a brain nor a heart in Sarah Hanson-Young; and keeps hidden, for good reason, a suite of official policies that are more suited to a re-enactment of Stalinist Russia than to any place in modern, contemporary Australia.

And I have, in times past, advocated for them to be “preferenced out of existence” and savaged them as lunatics of the Left — which, by reasonable standards, they are.

In an ideal world, there would be no Senate quotas to provide cheaply obtained upper house seats for these bums; in an ideal world, preferential voting would be made optional or abolished altogether, forcing them to either gather the most votes in lower houses around the country or suffer defeat.

But even idiots can be useful; and as Hudson’s article shows, a slew of Labor figures — from deputy leader Tanya Plibersek down, no less — now face the serious risk of being beaten in their electorates by Greens candidates, based on overlapping and mapping state election results onto federal boundaries (and, although unscientific, I would add that some degree of increase in the Greens’ vote at Labor’s expense should be assumed as a given in any case).

There are those in the political observation community who subscribe to a flat Earth view of Australian politics that “everything” is a conspiracy between the ALP and the Liberal Party to entrench themselves; the rise of minor parties in Australian Parliaments at all (like the Greens) and rising numbers of Independent MPs easily disprove such a notion.

I raise it today, however, because there will be those in the ALP who appeal to the Liberal Party to “save” some or all of the MPs at risk from the advancing Green menace, and in that regard there are a few observations that should be made.

One, that Labor has spent years slandering and defaming Tony Abbott — without foundation or substance — for the purely expedient purpose of trying to turn him into a monster in the eyes of voters when he is (as anyone who knows or has met him understands) nothing of the kind.

Two, that Labor in its present incarnation (and this is becoming an old story) is a lying, deceptive outfit obsessed with power at any price, wantonly excusing and dismissive of criminal actions by its thuggy masters at the union movement, is “led” by a sleazy, lying oaf whose idea of sensible policy is to tell voters that money can be thrown around in endless buckets and that anyone who says it’s unsustainable is “cruel,” “unfair,” or some other formulation aimed at power at any cost.

And three, Labor has never seen fit to preference the Liberal Party over the Greens when it is Liberal seats at risk: the debacle in the state seat of Prahran in Melbourne last year, when a Liberal polling 45% of the primary vote was beaten by a Green running third and polling less than a quarter of the vote — mostly as a result of Labor preferences that flowed overwhelmingly to the Greens — neatly proves the point.

The Liberal Party is under no obligation to “save” the endangered Labor MPs; in fact, with one of its own blue-ribbon electorates in Higgins (partially composed from areas covered by the Prahran state seat) said to be under threat from a Greens challenge, it is almost certain that Labor how-to-vote cards will direct preferences away from the sitting Liberal, Kelly O’Dwyer.

And when it is considered just who these at-risk Labor MPs are — and weighing them against treatment dished out to the Liberals — allocating preferences to Greens in those seats for the express purpose of getting rid of them is a perfectly acceptable course of action.

Plibersek was one of the prime bag-swingers in former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s so-called “handbag hit squad;” not merely content to smear Abbott and accuse him of all manner of sins against women, Plibersek has more recently outed herself as a hypocrite with her staunch refusal to concede a syllable of credit to Foreign minister Julie Bishop for the excellent job she has done in that portfolio, or even on account of being a successful woman in politics — presumably because Bishop is a Liberal.

David Feeney, in Martin Ferguson’s old Batman seat, is a union crony and factional warrior aligned with the Gillard-Rudd leadership wars of the past, is yesterday’s man, and offers no substantive claim to Liberal preferences.

Kelvin Thomson, in Wills, is an entrenched backbencher thanks to his poor judgement writing a character reference for Melbourne gangland identity Tony Mokbel, and offers nothing to the country on account of his continued presence in Parliament anyway.

Anthony Albanese in Grayndler might be a different proposition, but again, the Liberal Party isn’t obliged to win elections for its opponents — and not least when it might find itself in a spot of bother getting re-elected to government itself.

I’d suggest Bill Shorten, in Maribyrnong, should be preferenced against too; as Labor’s “leader,” it is inconceivable he would fail to outpoll a Greens candidate by a sufficient margin to ensure victory. But his seat of Maribyrnong, like so many once-safe ALP bastions in Melbourne, has experienced rapid gentrification, an influx of educated professionals, and a significant spike in prosperity over the past decade, and it can only be a matter of time before the Greens are on the march there too.

And further around Australia, there are plenty of other seats that foot the bill. Fremantle, in Perth. Griffith, in Brisbane, held until recently by Kevin Rudd. Some of the mining seats north and south of Sydney. All, at some point, to come under serious assault from the Greens. And in every case, the Liberals should issue preference tickets against sitting MPs in Labor-held seats.

It’s not as if the Greens can hurt the Liberal Party, when 80% of their primary votes, if distributed during counting, flow to the ALP anyway; that 20% is probably just the percentage of their supporters who make their own minds up about who to preference rather than simply following the ticket.

And Labor can scarcely retaliate, for in the seats where the Greens are not a threat to it, the Labor vote is almost never distributed at the preference table: and even when it is, its preference flows to the Greens ahead of a Coalition candidate are invariably very, very tight indeed.

If Labor somehow thinks the Liberals should now save its bacon now a slew of its trendy inner-city seats could be lost to the Greens, I’d be telling the ALP to tell its story walking.

I’d be reminding it of all the mischief, and nonsense, and false allegations and defamatory slurs, that Liberal MPs — including Abbott — have been subjected to by Labor, its thuggy brethren in the unions, and a gaggle of its unelected henchmen in ALP secretariats around Australia.

I’d be making a judgement call that most of the affected Labor MPs don’t even have all that much to offer in a national context — unless you’re a socialist, that is, or a unionist — and that there’s no point trying to prop them up.

And I’d be reminding anyone stupid enough to try to negotiate over the issue that Labor simply can’t be trusted, and that any deal in an election context was pointless.

Some might see this position as simple vindictiveness, and that two wrongs don’t make a right. I don’t agree.

In the end, what goes around comes around; and if the proverbial karma bus that slams into the ALP in the inner cities just happens to be driven by a Green lunatic, then so be it.

In any case, elections — from a strategic view — are about getting the best outcome from which to advance other objectives, and having Greens sitting in nominally ALP seats in the lower house (that Liberals would almost certainly never win) is hardly going to compromise the Liberal Party’s best interests.

And on a final, highly appealing note, Hudson’s article notes that SA Independent Senator Nick Xenophon’s new NXT party stands a good chance of wiping the Greens out of the Senate: and should that come to pass, the presence of a few less-securely seated Greens in the lower house would amount to a backwards step for that party, and leave open the possibility of the Liberals preferencing Labor against them at a subsequent election — and wiping them out of the Parliament altogether.

You see, I’m not in favour of backing the Greens at all. Not in the long run. But in the short term, they can be useful, and hurting the ALP badly in its disintegrating heartland through preferences seems almost poetic.


Election 2016: Reprehensible Ineptitude v Criminal Megalomania

WHILST neither is perfect, Australia’s major parties boast rich recent records in government: viewed through this prism, the Abbott government insults the Howard years; the offence given to the Hawke-Keating legacy by Labor — an injury allowed to fester for years — is worse. Election 2016 looms as a contest between the useless and the power-mad lawless. True reform has never been more urgent at a time neither party can propose, sell or enact it.

So it comes to this: a vacant Liberal seat in Western Australia, occasioned by the death of a popular but outspoken MP, has become a de facto referendum on the future of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister; observers on all sides of politics agree that if the Liberal Party loses Canning (or even gets run close in a swing falling just short of the 11.2% needed for Labor to win), then Abbott, in all probability, will be finished.

If it came to pass, would anything change?

I want to talk simply today, without links to external resources, about the fraught state into which Australian politics has degenerated since the Howard government was defeated by union muscle, union money, and a set of tacky slogans in 2007; it’s not unreasonable to wonder whether the Howard government will prove in hindsight to have been the last genuinely competent government ever elected in this country, for the present incarnation of the Liberals in office is dreadful: and any switch to the ALP would prove far, far worse.

As things stand, next year’s election is shaping as one of the most abysmal contests for office Australia has ever seen.

In the blue corner sits the Liberal Party: nominally the party of free enterprise, small business, families, individual opportunity and reward for effort — whilst looking after the needy, and protecting traditional institutions and maintaining strong national defences — the Abbott government has proven simply hopeless, and whilst some of the obstacles it faces (hostile Senate, belligerent unions, and a class-obsessed ALP led by a confessed liar) could be overcome or ameliorated by concerted hard work and properly directed strategies, for a raft of reasons it has opted not to do so.

In the red corner sits the Labor Party: supposedly the defender of workers’ welfare, the ALP long ago was hijacked by a bizarre amalgam of compassion-babbling, bleeding heart, anti-Australian socialist chardonnay drunks in the inner cities and an overriding contingent of militant, lawless, violent unions that dictates the party’s every move and utterance; obsessed with power above all other things and to the cost of sound governance, probity in public office, rigorous policy or the sustainability of living standards for those it purports to represent, Labor today is prepared to trash anything or anyone standing in its way of simply winning power for its own (and the unions’) sake.

As things stand, Labor is likely to win office next year; this is not some short-sighted read of a temporary blip in opinion polling but the end consequence of a Liberal government that has chosen to calibrate itself in a way counter to acting in the interests of those by whom it was elected. The Abbott government, if the ALP returns to power, will be largely responsible for allowing such an outcome to materialise. But the storyline will not end there, for Labor will prove even less conducive to capable government than the Abbott Liberals have over the past two years.

Over the past two years, to continue that thread, the Abbott government has racked up two substantial achievements — the abolition of the carbon tax and “stopping the boats,” both of which fulfilled key election promises (Bill Shorten, take note) — but beyond that, there is little to recommend the government’s record.

It has proven utterly incapable of managing a hostile Senate — to be sure, perhaps the most hostile Senate faced by any government in 40 years, if ever — with no evidence that “strategies” and “tactics” deployed to this end are effective in any way other than the superficial.

It has chosen to negotiate with Clive Palmer — an individual sworn to the destruction of the Liberal and National parties — at the cost of billions of dollars to a budget bottom line that, whilst haemorrhaging, formed one of the unquestionable items the Coalition was elected to fix in 2013.

It opted to introduce a budget to that end in 2014 that deliberately and disproportionately targeted its own supporters, and floating Coalition voters in marginal seats in particular; it followed that endeavour up in May with a small business bonanza that proclaimed the “hard” work of budget repair was over despite most of the previous year’s savings being bogged in the Senate.

It promised moderate labour market reform based on recommendations from the (impartial) Productivity Commission, but ran away from such an endeavour at the first sign of obstruction from Labor and the unions.

It promised to develop options for taxation reform, but squibbed that too, preferring instead to handball the logical solution of GST reform to state Premiers where agreement was almost certain not to be forthcoming (and in the end, wasn’t). But it has acceded to a key Labor demand that the GST exemption for online purchases be cut from $1,000 to zero, despite the move set to cost billions more to administer than it will collect in additional GST receipts.

The federal Coalition appears to suffer from an acute case of “David Cameron Syndrome” — that malaise personified by the British Prime Minister when he was leader of the opposition, and whose attempts to be all things to all people (and refusal to take a firm stance on issues identified as most concern to UK voters) resulted in the failure of the Conservative Party to win a majority in that country in 2010, forcing it into a five-year Coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

As we all know, those who try to be all things to all people (and who seek not to offend anyone) end up pleasing nobody: so it is with the Abbott government.

Its ability to communicate with, or sell anything to, a cynical and weary electorate is virtually non-existent.

As for its legislative program, most insiders I know point to the fact Parliament “has passed x number of bills” and is therefore functioning well; the problem is that average voters couldn’t care less about “functionality” — all they see is a distinct lack of tangible outcomes, and certainly this is the case where anything meaningful is concerned.

And functionality is one thing, but strategy is another: faced with such an obstructive Senate, the Abbott government should have been repeatedly introducing key measures twice — with the objective of having them voted down twice — to accrue a plethora of double dissolution triggers that could form a potent policy suite to be passed at a joint sitting following an election for both Houses of Parliament. Instead, it has just one such trigger (the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation). It’s just not good enough.

All of this has contrived to see the Coalition trail in every published opinion poll for 15 months — a trend that easily negates any statistical flutter from survey to survey — and whilst Labor leads after preferences were at first built on a low primary vote and a ridiculous dependence on preference flows, the ALP vote now has increased to sit, on average, just below 40%.

In other words, the threat to the Coalition isn’t just theoretical any more, for — even if harvested from a backlash — Labor appears to have rebuilt its support base.

Readers know I have been a persistent critic of the Abbott government: not from sour grapes because I didn’t get a staffing role in it (although that certainly grates) but because it is so frustrating to be forced to watch from the sidelines as basic mistakes are incessantly made, and whilst a solid win in 2013 appears increasingly likely to be superseded by defeat after a single term in office.

But only a sycophant could make the case that this government is travelling well, or that it deserves re-election as it stands: it doesn’t. If “friendly fire” backed by sound political judgement — a commodity in sadly short supply in government ranks — can’t influence outcomes for the better, then such assistance is scarcely going to be offered by its opponents.

Yet unbelievably, the “alternative” is far, far worse than the “best” efforts of the Abbott government.

Labor’s only policy interests are those that either pander to the Green fringe and the lunar Left — 50% RET, double-whammy carbon tax, watering down controls on asylum seeker arrivals — or are driven by class hatred and resentment of success (higher taxes for middle Australia, punitive superannuation changes for self-funded retirees, abolishing the private health insurance rebate).

It remains wedded to authoritarian measures such as media “regulation” (read: state control and censorship) and takes a completely illiberal approach to issues such as same-sex marriage, for which it would ram through legislation with cavalier disregard for public opinion or the conscience positions of elected MPs.

It perpetuates the lie that rampant social spending — even on items like welfare payments, Medicare and pharmaceutical benefits — is sustainable on current trajectories when it patently, and clearly, is not.

It refuses to acknowledge fault for plunging the country into some $350 billion of debt in its last period in office when none existed beforehand, and compounds its culpability by now seeking to hold the Coalition — despite Labor’s Senate obstructionism blocking bill after bill of savings measures — responsible for its own management failures.

It shows unprecedented interest in legislating away freedom of speech and even freedom of thought, whilst stifling and sabotaging debate that features dissenting opinions or ideas — from climate change to asylum seekers and from taxation to welfare, the only permitted voice is the one advocating the plunder of Australia’s economic security to facilitate Labor’s short-term political ends.

It is run, funded and dictated to by the union movement, which now represents less than 15% (or one in seven) of all working Australians — hardly a representative movement at all — and is blinded utterly to the requirement of fidelity in government by the political and social objectives of the unions.

Labor seeks to have a Royal Commission into the unions shut down; it apologises for and dismisses violent and criminal conduct by union personnel; it refuses to allow unions to be subjected to reasonable standards of regulation faced by business; and it justifies extortionate and lawless behaviour by unions on the basis they “represent workers” which — broadly — they do not.

It is “led” by a smarmy, sleazy, two-faced unionist who evaded rape charges on the spurious technicality of the lack of admissible evidence, and who has publicly admitted to lying to cover his dishonest, disloyal, treacherous pursuit of his own petty ambitions.

I don’t want to hear about how Labor’s hit list of chip-on-shoulder “initiatives” amounts to “reform,” because it doesn’t, just as I’m not interested in the raw number of bills enacted being held up as proof that the Abbott government is a good government. It’s not.

On the one hand sits an entity that is crazed by a lust for power for power’s sake; determined to be in charge for the explicit benefit of the thugs at Trades Hall, Labor’s only real election offering is the perpetuation of social spending and bribes to entrench cultures of entitlement, dependency and obligation (and the inclination to vote Labor): I’m not talking about basic services or legitimate welfare needs but the vast extravagances either legislated by the ALP before 2013 or committed to now that are unaffordable even if, like the NDIS (with a $22 billion price tag per year) the fundamental idea is worthy enough.

Prepared to say and/or do anything to anyone to just get into power again, Labor has no moral fibre whatsoever; it excuses illegal actions; it doesn’t care whether or not it lies to the Australian public to achieve that end; and most (if not all) of its zingers and ranting about things that are “unfair” are contrived not in the interests of what is right but solely with an eye to what it thinks will enable it to hoodwink voters and win an election.

On the other hand sits a government that cannot implement its programme, cannot or will not respond to a hostile Senate or an opposition (including the unions) that is lawless, immune to the strictures of competence in government, and out of control; it is stewarded by a cabal of utterly useless advisors whose counsel seems destined to cost the Coalition government; and whose machinations stink of either booting undesired issues down the road and out of sight rather than dealing with them, or the total inability to mount any sort of case to carry debate on the reform agenda that is so critical to Australia’s future — but which has been treated as expedient, secondary, and jettisoned because it is all too hard.

Now, the Abbott government is fighting a by-election in Canning at which it is certain to suffer a large swing against it: the only questions are how big it is and whether it’s enough to tip the result Labor’s way.

If the Liberal Party wins, Abbott could be gone within days anyway; if the ALP wins, it will crap on about the result pointing to the “national embrace” of Bill Shorten and Labor when, even if Labor wins the election next year, it will be an endorsement provided through clenched teeth and with a peg on voters’ noses, and not made from any sense of affection or excitement.

But if Abbott is replaced, the Coalition now faces another potentially mortal threat — time — and the fact that its supply of this commodity isn’t just beginning to run short with an election due in one year, but that it has squandered through inability and ineptitude two-thirds of a three-year term already.

The price of misguided loyalty — which is the root cause of the Liberal Party’s political troubles — could be a high one indeed. The virtual uselessness of the Prime Minister’s Office as a political spearhead is something we have assessed repeatedly over the past year. Another sign of it emerged this week, with the spectacular fall from grace of a key member of the insiderish cabal that runs the party, who was hand-picked and backed by the party’s federal director, Brian Loughnane. These are not accidental coincidences. The Liberal Party is little better than dysfunctional.

Any new leader would have to use his or her authority to quickly instigate a root and branch overhaul of executive party structures and the inner citadels of the government: something time may conspire to prevent even if institutionalised resistance from vested interests and hacks did not.

And then there’s the issue of likely replacements.

Would Malcolm Turnbull restore the government’s fortunes? Polls heralding the sort of stratospheric numbers enjoyed by Kevin Rudd during his exile should be treated with the utmost caution. At a minimum, for every vote Turnbull attracted on the Liberals’ left or moderate flank, another could be expected to disappear to its right. At best, Turnbull is a zero-sum game. At worst, he is an electoral disaster in the offing.

Julie Bishop? Who knows. Nobody doubts her ability. Nobody knows if she would be effective. Coupled with an astutely selected deputy she is likely the Liberals’ best option if Abbott falls under the bus. But that in itself is no guarantee of the retrieval of the party’s fortunes, even if she makes a reasonable fist of the Prime Ministership.

Scott Morrison? With just eight years in Parliament and two as a minister, Morrison isn’t ready. I think he will be Prime Minister one day. But to risk him now, whilst still largely untested — and with the spectre of electoral defeat looming daily larger — the Liberals could throw away their best longer-term leadership prospect by elevating him now.

On the Labor side, Tanya Plibersek is representative of the chardonnay-swilling elitism that puts the ALP at odds with the silent majority in middle Australia; Anthony Albanese is an amiable (and agreeable) boofhead, but not a serious candidate for the Prime Ministership; Chris Bowen is a regurgitator of vacuous slogans in the Kevin Rudd mould; and beyond that, the ALP’s prospects for getting rid of Shorten are as threadbare as those of the Liberals.

The point of today’s article isn’t to prescribe solutions, or to advocate in favour of specific people, measures and/or ideas; rather, it is intended to reflect just how bereft of credibility, plausibility or even so much as a fucking clue at all our major parties — both of them — have become.

The Hawke-Keating legacy was sullied by the concealed mountain of debt bequeathed by Keating and his Treasurer, Ralph Willis; a permanent mark rests on the Howard government’s record in the form of an industrial relations package introduced after winning an unexpected Senate majority despite not having been first placed before the electorate.

Now, Labor is again a culprit for plunging the country into debt — more than three times as much as Keating did — with the difference the hole feeding that debt pile is structural; no bridge appears able to be flung across that chasm, in no small part due to its own unforgivable behaviour in the Senate. Meanwhile, Labor is gearing up to fight a fourth consecutive election over WorkChoices: and the Liberal Party seems unwilling to combat or incapable of neutralising what has become a ridiculous line of attack.

Meanwhile, the things Australia badly needs from its government, whoever forms it — taxation reform, structural budget reform, sensible labour market reforms, and in view of the mess it has become (in part because of the 1984 Labor reforms that were designed to rig it) Senate reform, and an overhaul of the electoral system — go untouched, largely undiscussed, and are written off by all sides for divergent reasons as all too hard.

I would never advocate for a vote for minor parties, although it’s not difficult to see how even the most lunatic entities that are springing up — to say nothing of a growing band of high-profile independents — are attracting slowly but constantly rising levels of support from an understandably jaded and disgusted voting public.

But in the overwhelming majority of electorates, the system that both forces people to vote and to allocate preferences against every candidate’s name (both of which requirements I believe should be abolished) means that voters are also forced, ultimately, to choose either the Coalition or Labor ahead of the other.

Partly through political preference against the ALP and partly on account of a deep-seated dislike for, antipathy toward and hostility to the union movement, I don’t really care if Labor ever resolves the challenges all of this face it with.

But where the Liberal Party is concerned, I do care — and I know, from private conversations with members across the country and including most of the states, that there is a swelling tide of resentment (and barely concealed rebellion) against the way the party is being run.

I’m going to leave it there for today, because my intention in posting this is more to provoke discussion and thought among readers than to put solutions on the table, although my door is always open when it comes to Liberals who are serious about fixing the party up and changing the way things are done.

As things stand, though, the Abbott government is an insult to the fine legacy of the Howard years, and it is disingenuous in the extreme that Abbott and those around him ever dared to hold themselves up as offering a return to the best aspects of that excellent administration.

Similarly, Labor — which has never had a shred of economic credibility before or since the Hawke-Keating years — seems determined not to merely trash the praiseworthy record it achieved in the 1980s, but to kick the living shit out of that credibility altogether: far be it for the ALP to attempt to even pose as responsible or capable when there are union criminals to do the bidding of.

And so the imminent election — irrespective of who leads the parties — looms as an insidious spat between a reprehensible degree of amateurish ineptitude on the one hand, and an almost pathological, criminal mindset of megalomania on the other. What a choice. Australia will be far the poorer for the charade soon to be played out under the guise of an election campaign.

It makes the by-election in Canning look to be both small bier and a pivotal moment in the country’s political history all at once: and whatever follows, if not informed by change and any meaningful attempt at reform on any level, can only diminish the regard in which politics and politicians are already held — and that is low enough as it is.

As a final thought, I remind readers that I have always identified as politically conservative first and a Liberal Party man second, although I concede that despite my (justified) penchant for criticising the party in recent years, I remain just as rusted onto it as those who run it, dominate it and seem determined to wreck it.

Should subterranean mutterings of a new conservative party to replace the Coalition come to anything however — a properly constituted, mainstream, broadly based party, catering to urban and regional conservatives, and with broad support from business, industry and the wider community, rather than the sort of half-baked crap served up by Palmer, Jacqui Lambie, fringe groups like Family First, or anything remotely like them — I know an awful lot of people who would at least stop to take a look, if not put their hands up to help get it going.

If the Liberals do lose next year — and if the same failed coterie that runs it now continues to do so, even after the humiliation of a first term election loss — then I, too, would be open to at least having a look.

Politics is everywhere; it influences and shapes everything we do. It should be a noble undertaking, not the debased vocation it has become. Serious change is crucial. For it is not just the fortunes of the major parties that are at stake, but the welfare of the country in the long term.

Even some in the ALP must acknowledge, in their private moments, that no good can come from their silly antics.

Missing Millions A Symptom Of Liberal Party Problems

THE REVELATION this week that the former state director of the Victorian division of the Liberal Party, Damien Mantach, allegedly embezzled up to $2 million from party coffers is an outrage, and the impending prosecution warranted; even so, the episode raises serious questions about governance within the Liberal Party both in Victoria and nationally, highlighting a deeply entrenched insider culture that must be smashed and terminated.

Like thousands of other disgusted, betrayed, and increasingly angry Liberal Party members in Melbourne, I found out on Wednesday about the story that broke publicly on Thursday — that former state director Damien Mantach had allegedly helped himself to somewhere between $1.5 and $2 million of the party’s funds between 2010 and 2014 — and my first response (as some would have seen on Twitter) was, quite bluntly and unapologetically, “fuck him.”

After all, it’s not the sort of news one would reminisce over with a glass of Chardonnay.

First things first: for those who’ve missed the media coverage of this issue to date, a selection of articles may be accessed here, here, here and here, and I would point out that before the Fairfax press gets too complacent in its sanctimony over this issue, it might serve interests of balance for that moribund behemoth to apply the conveniently rigorous scrutiny it deems appropriate in this case to the ALP’s record of fiscal management in government — and to pull its head in if unprepared to do so.

And whilst I’m aware Mantach was also outed yesterday as being on the hacked list of members from infidelity website Ashley Madison, we’re not going to dwell on that either: his wife, I’m sure, will deal with that particular issue all by herself.

Mantach has apparently admitted to taking the money, which is why he can be freely named in media; there seems to be some doubt over the quantum of funds involved, but with $1.5 million sitting at the lower end of the numbers being bandied about, it’s certainly serious enough.

Allegedly, the money was spent on paying down a mortgage, acquiring a share portfolio, and “lifestyle factors” — not that any or all of these uses justifies or excuses the act.

There are a lot of very, very angry Liberals in Melbourne and Victoria this weekend: from Mantach’s colleagues at 104 to the party’s state and federal MPs, and from beaten candidates in under-resourced marginal seats to the loyal rank-and-file membership who campaigned fruitlessly on their behalf at last year’s state election debacle.

There might be some room for sentiment had Mantach amounted to any tangible kind of political asset, but setting aside the kind of sentiment personal knowledge among friends and colleagues invariably engenders he was, objectively, nothing of the sort.

The campaign for last year’s state election was a strategic and tactical abomination; its messages turgid and poorly communicated; its grasp of the campaign initiative repeatedly usurped by the ALP and — reprehensibly — the violent, militant unions who poured money and resources in on Labor’s behalf, and who weren’t actually standing at all.

As “campaign director,” blame for all of these failures must be sheeted home to Mantach.

Now it has emerged that a solid seven-figure amount has been drained off the Victorian Division over a four-year period, the realisation has dawned on many of those angry Victorian Liberals that last year’s state election (which this column resolutely maintained was winnable until the end — and I still believe it was) might have produced a different result despite Mantach’s ineffective stewardship had it been better resourced. It turns out the means with which to resource the campaign were at hand. The only problem is that the “hand” helped itself to a five-fingered discount.

I’m not going to dwell on the nature of Mantach’s alleged crime, for despite reports he is “contrite” and made a full admission when confronted by state President Michael Kroger on Wednesday, great care should be taken to ensure that the coming prosecution is not compromised, for any punishment meted out by a court seems well indicated and should not be jeopardised or pre-empted.

But where all of this becomes relevant for the Liberal Party in the wider sense starts with the circumstances of Mantach’s recruitment to the Victorian Liberals, and ends with the insiderish cabal that runs the Liberal Party around the country, whose members mostly do not comprise the best available people to steward the party’s interests or the aspirations of the millions of Liberal voters their roles charge them with advancing.

It does not matter, for example — as media late this week have excitedly trumpeted — that Mantach’s father was a long-serving director of the Tasmanian Liberals before Mantach himself filled the post, or that his uncle Rob was also a stalwart of the Tasmanian party: dynasties for their own sake are unjustifiable.

The hard, cold fact is that as state director of the Tasmanian Division of the Liberal Party, Damien Mantach presided over one of the worst state election defeats the party has ever suffered on the Apple Isle in 2006 — winning just seven of 25 lower house seats — and followed that up by overseeing a clean sweep of the five federal seats in Tasmania by the ALP the following year, including the loss of marginal seats in Bass and Braddon.

And the financial scandal he now finds himself enveloped in arguably had its genesis in Tasmania, where he was dismissed after helping himself to some $50,000 from the Tasmanian Liberals — an amount that all parties concur was repaid in full.

Even so, questions must be answered by current Liberal federal director Brian Loughnane — his predecessor in the Victorian role, and who played a key role in recruiting the disgraced Mantach following his departure from the party in Hobart — over what he knew, and when, of Mantach’s misdemeanours in the Tasmanian post.

To date — aside from making it known he was aware of “a minor overclaim involving credit cards” — Loughnane has stoutly refused to comment. That, simply, is not good enough.

Nobody is suggesting impropriety on Loughnane’s part or, indeed, on the part of any other Liberal Party employee. Even so, were it to emerge that Loughnane was fully aware of the circumstances surrounding Mantach’s departure from the Tasmanian Liberals, his present position at the head of the party federally would become untenable.

And this brings me to the problem that bedevils the Liberal Party nationally — and of which the Mantach revelations are a mere symptom.

The Liberal Party, for too long, has made an artform of recycling the same handful of people through a procession of executive employment roles around the country; a failed state director in one state suddenly reappears in another, or people who have underperformed disastrously in one of the states suddenly pop up at the Party’s federal secretariat in Canberra.

Many of the people who work in Liberal secretariats across Australia are related to MPs, longstanding senior employees, powerful grassroots figures, or are ostensibly hired on account of internal connections they have; the practice is so widespread that arguments about merit are pointless: the senior echelons of the party are a clubhouse, when what is required is a powerhouse.

At the apex of the structure are the same people who have done the same things the same way for years: the Loughnanes, the Credlins, the Nutts, others like them, and the band of loyalists they have accrued over the years: all of whom owe something, and to which newcomers are not admitted unless they know someone, or owe something, or boast some kind of connection.

You can add Mantach’s name to the list, for any objective justification in keeping him on the payroll — a sorry use of hard-won donation monies and membership dues, even before any charge of embezzlement or fraud is considered — had already expired when he was given the boot in Tasmania in 2008.

Yet Mantach’s departure only came in March of this year — seven years later — and after more political damage was inflicted on a Victorian division that ranks among the most poorly run and least professional of all the Liberal state divisions.

Since I started writing this piece yesterday, veteran political journalist Laurie Oakes has weighed in, with an article in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph that notes, among other things, that Mantach was due to go to Perth next week to “help” on the by-election campaign for the vacant federal Liberal seat of Canning: the fact this manoeuvre was contemplated at all, let alone certain to occur but for the revelations that have been made public this week, shows that those in charge of the party just don’t get it: for once again, a political failure was being recycled into a sensitive strategic political battlefield despite little evidence to suggest he had anything meaningful at all contribute.

Who knew what about Mantach’s pilfering from Liberal Party coffers is a question that will be answered conclusively in the fullness of time; if it transpires Loughnane was fully aware of Mantach’s earlier transgressions in Tasmania then the party must summarily dispense with his services — for there is no justification in recruiting someone with that particular track record, and the consequences of taking such a risk have now been laid bare for all to see.

What is encouraging is that there is at least one razor-sharp, shrewd operator in the Liberal Party’s ranks — Kroger — whose correct instinct that funds had gone missing in Melbourne proved that years of complacent blindness or ineptitude on the part of those around Mantach (or, more worryingly, who were charged with providing rigorous financial checks) was an exacerbating factor to a forseeable crime that characteristic bad judgement on the part of Liberal office bearers had not only enabled, but perhaps invited.

But for the most part, those charged with the effective management of the party behind the scenes are not worth the money it pays them.

If there is any good that can come from this despicable episode, it should be a root and branch shake-up of all the Liberals’ state and federal offices; there is too much deadwood soaking up salaries their performance does not and cannot warrant, and this is an extravagance and an indulgence that the party — chartered to represent Australians from all walks of life, and expanding the horizons for opportunity and choice and reward for endeavour — can’t afford.

It is not inconceivable that the Liberal Party, this time next year, will be out of power everywhere except New South Wales and Tasmania, and on shaky ground approaching a re-election attempt in WA, but that terrible prospect should not be allowed to materialise before action is taken.

Perversely, Mantach may have done the party a favour. The torpid mismanagement is like a cancer, and needs to be cut out. The wrong people have discharged their obligations to the party poorly for too long and have been handsomely rewarded for their efforts. Yet even after a federal election defeat, some of them will survive, or even be promoted.

But nobody would argue the Liberals have “won” the politics of the past ten years nationally, and in the prevailing conditions the fault for that lies squarely with the people the party has entrusted with jobs they arguably did not and do not deserve. The markers of the malaise are everywhere.

In this sense, the Mantach debacle — whilst rightly destined to end in a prosecution — should also signal the point at which the Liberal Party’s back offices are overhauled, and parasitic time-servers rooted out.

There are those who believe Kroger is a divisive figure in the national organisation, but to date he is the only key player to have exhibited a shred of nous or sound judgement in identifying an alleged fraud that, unforgivably, was perpetrated over years and under the very noses of others who should have recognised something was seriously wrong.

If anyone is capable of instituting  root and branch reform of the party, it is Kroger. The party’s other jurisdictions across the country could do worse than to open their divisions to the Victorian President. The price for doing nothing is a potential decade in opposition. The Mantach disaster need not be for nothing. Now is the time to act, and to act broadly.


Criminal Union Filth: Dragging Cosgrove Into #TURC Will Backfire

MILITANT, LAWLESS unions are calling in debts from their ALP stooges today, with the mad rush to nobble Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon and/or trash his inquiry into union criminality ramping up with wilful disregard for the laws of the land. Now, miscreant Labor has hatched a plot for Governor-General Peter Cosgrove to dissolve the Commission. The move will backfire spectacularly, and in ways it has clearly not foreseen or would choose.

Those who follow me on Twitter (@theredandblue) will know that over the past week — ever since the revelation of unbelievable stupidity involving NSW Liberals inviting trade union Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon to address a function they were organising became public — I have repeatedly made the point that if all the Heydon Commission really was is a politically motivated witch hunt, there would be no need to clamour to have it closed down: there would be nothing to find. Or to hide.

And those readers who have been with me over the journey in this column will have heard me say, many times, that Labor cares about power, not people: although in the present circumstances the obvious exception is people who happen to be lawless union thugs on the run from justice.

It hardly befits a party masquerading as fit to govern Australia, irrespective of what you think of the Abbott government.

I stand by the article published in this column on Monday, and apologise once again for the dearth of comment I’ve provided of late: the event that occurred in the skies over Sydney last Tuesday night continues to leave me drained and a bit rattled, and combined with a nevertheless unrelenting schedule the time for writing content has been scant.

But the central point — to use the vernacular and, to be blunt if crude — that whoever the fucking idiot at the NSW Liberals was who saw fit to invite Heydon to a Liberal Party function (irrespective of the semantic declamations that have since emerged) ought to be run out of the party remains valid, and the fact such an invitation would inevitably result in the mother of all shitfights with a Labor/unions opponent prepared to fight to the death using virtually any conceivable tactic was foreseeable makes it inexplicable the invitation was ever issued.

Any doubt around this can be dispelled by a simple viewing of most Twitter feeds (even the ones not ostensibly selected to provide political news) and/or the most cursory reading of any newspaper in the country: Labor and the unions have gone on the warpath over the Royal Commission in a way they have rarely — if ever — done previously, and even the possible exception of the events of November 1975 struggles to match the raw fury and self-obsessed, terrified, base survival instincts they are exhibiting now.

Yet speaking of 1975 and the inescapable allusion to vice-regal power, it seems the ALP might have finally overreached in its response to its manufactured debacle over Heydon’s agreement to give the Garfield Barwick Lecture; its newly-minted attack plans are likely to explode spectacularly in its collective face, and backfire on both the Labor Party and the unions in ways they obviously have failed to consider.

I read last night with some amusement a piece in the Herald Sun from Andrew Bolt, which detailed a Labor plot — led by arch-socialist and left wing Senate leader Penny Wong — to use a long-abandoned mechanism, avoided by convention in modern times lest the office of Governor-General be politicised, to empower present viceroy Sir Peter Cosgrove to dissolve the Royal Commission into the trade union movement on the grounds Dyson Heydon had “failed to uphold the standards of impartiality” expected of him.

I was amused by this because I didn’t think even a desperate ALP obliged by its puppeteers and paymasters at the unions to do something, anything to get the arses of the crooks in their midst out of the sling would be so stupid as to try to revive an obsolete legal mechanism on such a dubious pretext, and at such obvious risk to its own reputation as a political outfit purporting to readiness to win the trust of the Australian public at an election — the damage to that end already having been done by the confessed liar, self-evident grub and sleazy shyster in Bill Shorten as its “leader” notwithstanding.

It seems, however, that the Wong threat was no laughing matter; Bolt himself provided a link to a companion article from The Australian which elaborated on just that theme: and once people have read the explanation in that piece, I’m sure they will agree with me that the precedent Labor now seeks to cite, based on the circumstances in which the Senate last “addressed” the Governor-General in 1931, is a very flimsy rationale indeed, although I don’t doubt for a moment it is legal: the Constitution is filled with arcane powers that enable the monarch or his/her representative to act, sometimes independently with regard to prevailing circumstances (as in 1975), and sometimes in concert with Parliament.

But that doesn’t make it right: and not to put too fine a point on it, so brazen are Labor and the unions in trying to destroy the Royal Commission and its Commissioner in any way possible and so desperate are the vested interests who stand to be prosecuted (and presumably heavily fined and/or imprisoned for lengthy periods) that they are now prepared to hack away at the very pillars of ordered government in Australia to try to achieve those ends.

As the piece from The Australian notes, it would also constitute a grave and timeless hypocrisy on the ALP’s part, for it has long argued (and did, in 1975) that the “proper” function of the Governor-General is to accept advice from his/her Prime Minister and from no-one else.

This arrogant and presumptive interpretation of vice-regal power underpins Labor rage over the decision by Sir John Kerr to dismiss the Whitlam government in 1975 to this day; its apparent preparedness to itself seek to engineer a departure from that formula now — in the name of lawless thugs in its own ranks whose most useful community service would be rendered behind bars — starkly illustrates just how intellectually bankrupt, and how utterly amoral, the Labor Party today really is.

Were the Senate to vote to “address” Cosgrove, the Governor-General would be under no obligation whatsoever to accede to its demands; indeed, the likeliest response would be to tell Wong and her cohorts — e’er diplomatically — to get stuffed, although it is to be hoped such a riposte would be delivered with the bluntness Cosgrove was revered for as a soldier.

It may be that this has occurred to Wong, who yesterday indicated the opposition would defer its motion in the Senate until early September to allow Prime Minister Tony Abbott to “show some leadership,” which is code for sacking Heydon. Again, Abbott can and should refuse to budge. It is a bit rich for someone like Penny Wong to be talking about leadership at the best of times, let alone when she is party to an attempt to trash decades-old conventions of governance and to undermine the very system of government in Australia.

Yet even so, the fact this is playing out at all reeks of the stench of an artifice that is rotten to the core, and the fact Labor and the unions — irrespective of the validity or otherwise of the “smoking gun” they think Heydon’s (withdrawn) agreement to give the Sir Garfield Barwick Lecture offers — are, at root, fighting to stop criminals in their ranks being identified, comprehensively outed, and prosecuted.

There is no “principle” underpinning the actions of the unions and the ALP. It is just that simple.

Former Howard government staffer Chris Kenny — now a columnist at The Australian, and certainly no friend to Labor — nonetheless published one of the most sober and rational perspectives yesterday; I would go so far as to distil the ridiculous nature of the ALP’s behaviour even further: what Labor and the unions are trying to sell people on is the contention that Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon giving a law lecture at a Liberal Party function shows bias and disqualifies him from impartially presiding over any official forum in public life.

What is fails to explain is how Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner (and acknowledged socialist activist) Gillian Triggs similarly appearing at ALP fundraisers is any different.

But then again, the ALP has never had any compunction over shameless hypocrisy when it suits its own grubby ends.

In the end, Labor doesn’t care about the laws of the land; it doesn’t care about ethics and accountability and probity, be it in government or in institutions like the unions; it couldn’t care less how much damage it does to the fabric of democracy in this country or the offence it gives to decency and integrity: if the filth that is the criminal union thuggery from whose collective teat it suckles are at risk of being brought to justice for their lawless outrages, Labor will trash anything — anything — in its grimy quest to conspire in their evasion of prosecution.

As Bolt noted, if Cosgrove does tell the ALP — under the guise of the Senate “addressing” him — to bugger off, the assault that will be launched against Cosgrove and his office will make it appear that Dyson Heydon has merely been trifled with in jest: anyone who thinks Labor and the unions have reached full flight just yet are kidding themselves.

Really, Labor doesn’t care about Dyson Heydon either: he’s just the unfortunate patsy who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and under the harsh glare of a media frenzy that was only possible for the ALP to whip up because of some dickhead in the NSW Division of the Liberal Party. But such a patsy is all the ALP needs to justify its own slimy actions to itself.

Ironically, the greater threat to Labor and union self-interest lies in what many regard as the lesser of two evils.

And that, simply stated, is that the ACTU succeeds in its bid tomorrow to have Heydon recuse himself from proceedings, and the Royal Commission continues under a new Commissioner; as one observer has already noted, the Abbott government would be free to appoint whoever it liked: and whilst Heydon might not exactly be a poster boy for the circles of the Left, someone like retired High Court judge Ian Callinan QC would be the last thing they would want.

Such an appointment, should it come to pass, would be no less reward than the unions deserved for their trouble.

But there’s something else Labor seems to have failed to foresee in embarking on its field trip toward Yarralumla in an attempt to co-opt the Governor-General to do its dirty work — getting a lynch mob of criminal union thugs off the hook — and it is this.

Should the Wong move succeed, it will have been possible to realise such an anti-democratic injury to due process and the rule of law under the very system Labor wants replaced by a popularly elected republican model of government under a popularly elected (and, by its very nature, inescapably political) President as Head of State.

If such an obscenity can be perpetrated under arguably the best system of constitutional government in the world, what vile outrages might be possible in an Australian republic?

I’m no republican — staunchly monarchist to my bootstraps, in fact — but it does rather seem that Wong, by her actions for and on behalf of her party and union thugs, is writing a goodly portion of a slam-dunk, lay down misere case for a “No” vote should the question of a republic ever be put again at a referendum to the Australian people.

Yes, Liberals in Sydney have provided Abbott with an additional crisis he needs like a hole in the head on top of all the self-inflicted nonsense his government is reeling beneath, and the ALP is understandably running hard with it.

But Labor should consider very carefully just how extensive the consequences of what it is doing might prove. Its thuggy mates are still likely to be prosecuted. The electorate may — should — awaken to the disgusting apology for institutionalised criminality and corruption it is making, killing off the cretin Shorten’s prospects for winning an election, and the ALP with them.

But by dragging the office of the Governor-General into this, the stakes are raised; history, precedent and the Constitution itself dictate that in the end, Labor is set to lose more than any other party to these distasteful events.

The price of protecting criminal union filth will be a high one for Labor to pay. Its repercussions may take years to be fully felt, and in ways it would not choose; and which it either cannot, itself, have foreseen or considered, or about which it simply couldn’t care.

After all, Labor cares about power, not people. It may rue these disordered priorities to its detriment.