Deck Clearing: Brough, Briggs Quit In Pre-Election Clean-Up

THE RESIGNATIONS of Turnbull ministry duo Mal Brough and Jamie Briggs — almost literally on New Year’s Eve — are warranted, but also point to a pre-election clean-up on the government’s part; with the Trade Union Royal Commission report to be released today, Turnbull will have wanted to ensure no whiff of internal trouble detracts from the impact of that report. The resignations are a potent sign an election in March is growing likelier.

With the final report of the Royal Commission into the union movement set for public release later today and the fact I’m going to be out and about ahead of disappearing interstate on a one-day round trip tomorrow, I will keep this morning’s remarks relatively brief, although later in the day or tonight I will post again once I have had a chance to digest the TURC report and consider its political ramifications.

But the resignations of Special Minister of State Mal Brough and Cities minister Jamie Briggs come as no surprise — for vastly different reasons — and are not only welcome, but expected in what remains a febrile political environment after September’s Liberal leadership change and amid uneasy Coalition relations between the Liberals and Nationals ahead of what looks increasingly like being a March double dissolution election.

Some additional material from mainstream press coverage may be accessed here and here.

We canvassed the need for Brough to go a few weeks ago when the ongoing investigation into his alleged involvement in the Peter Slipper/James fiasco reared its head after a series of Police raids and, whilst I have always had some time for Brough personally, his decision to go voluntarily rather than waiting to be kicked out is to be applauded.

In Briggs’ case, it seems to have been a case of a primed incendiary device that was always going to explode at some stage; the details of the unspecified incident “involving a female public servant” on an official trip to Hong Kong in November remain hazy, but that event has been the subject of internal investigations ever since and it appears Briggs has jumped ship in an effort to head off any embarrassment for the government.

I’m not going to bog down on the details of these departures, as the bigger story of the day is yet to come. However, some points must be made.

Brough (a Turnbull supporter in the contest with Tony Abbott) and Briggs (an Abbott supporter) were both risky appointments for Malcolm Turnbull to make, and both have now backfired.

It was a dangerous decision to restore Brough to the ministry while he remained under investigation over the Slipper/Ashby matter that has not paid off, whilst Briggs — who initially lied publicly about a leg injury he sustained at the wild party held in Tony Abbott’s office the night he lost the Liberal leadership — has always been regarded as a loose cannon. However much promise Briggs might offer, it seems the opportunity costs of harnessing it were just too high to justify.

If it wasn’t deep in the silly season, with a huge negative issue about to drop in Labor’s collective lap, serious questions about Malcolm Turnbull’s political judgement and/or whether he has learned anything at all from his first ill-fated stint as Liberal leader would be dominating media coverage today. In part, of course, that’s the point of getting these resignations out of the way now.

Especially in the aftermath of the ill-fated attempt by former “Industry Assistance” minister (another Turnbull supporter) to jump ship from the Liberals to the Nationals, I think Turnbull is right — as is being suggested in the Murdoch press today — to hold off announcing any changes to his ministry until Nationals leader Warren Truss declares whether he will recontest the looming election or, as expected, quit: there’s not much point having a reshuffle this week if another one beckons next week too.

Yet irrespective of what Truss does, the resignations of Brough and Briggs should be correctly seen as the beginning of a “clearing the decks” process intended to remove as much of the debris littering the government’s path to an early election as possible; it doesn’t mean, of course, that an early election is certain, and Turnbull’s public position is that an election will occur on schedule in September or October.

But I remain of the view that the longer he leaves it, the harder the government’s re-election bid will become — especially if the ALP finds the bottle to dump its embarrassment of a “leader” in the new year, as expected — and I’m told that view is also gathering traction inside the Turnbull camp privately.

Whilst it’s a bit obvious to say Brough should have quit at the start of the month when the Slipper/Ashby scandal resurfaced (or perhaps should not have been appointed to Cabinet at all) and that Briggs in hindsight represents a risk that was too great to justify, the fact both have been dispensed with fairly quickly means that whatever questions of judgement Turnbull might face for both will be far less damaging than they might otherwise have been.

This time.

Either way, yesterday’s developments are a sharp contrast with both the Gillard government — which clung to Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper out of political expediency far beyond any point that was reasonable or politically profitable — and with the Abbott government, whose protracted stonewalling solidarity with disgraced former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop over indefensible travel expense claims arguably provided the final pretext for Turnbull to tear Abbott down.

Labor would be unwise to gloat or to make any mileage out of what happened yesterday, although it will try. If anything, the resignations merely throw its own unprincipled behaviour in similar circumstances into sharp focus.

I’m not going to speculate on any potential promotions to the ministry at this point for the simple reason I expect an election to be announced within the next few weeks, although suggestions former Prime Minister Abbott should be given a guernsey are probably not helpful and could cause more trouble than they’re worth if entertained.

But first things first: there’s a Royal Commission report slated for release later today. Its contents are likely to shape the course of politics over the next few months very heavily indeed, especially if — as expected — the ALP tries to brush off the odium it uncovers among its Trades Hall masters, and blocks responsible legislation in the Senate to clean it up that is not only moderate and reasonable and which has been blocked by the ALP and the Communist Party Greens three times already, but which was taken to the 2013 election as a Liberal election promise and given a mandate by voters in a thumping repudiation of a union-dominated Labor administration.

I will be back later this afternoon or tonight to discuss that further.

 

Quotas — Fixed, Soft, “Aspirational” — Have No Place In The Liberal Party

THE ONLY determinant of who political parties select to contest parliamentary seats should be a consideration of the best candidate available; a call this week by the federal executive of the Liberal Party for an “aspirational” target of 50% female representation is idiot-simple, patronising, and divisive, and will achieve nothing of merit. Poor candidate selection is enough of a problem as it is, across all parties, without entrenching it further.

About twelve or eighteen months ago, it was relayed to me that “Peta” — Tony Abbott’s former Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin — had “decided” that her “legacy” should be the formal adoption by the Liberal Party of a “binding soft target” that 50% of all Liberal candidates preselected to winnable seats should be female, and that she was “determined to force the party to accept” the position she had decided to pursue.

That conversation, with an excellently placed source, took place at the time Credlin was at the height of her paranoid, micromanaging, amateurish power at the epicentre of the Abbott government, and given my complete opposition to quotas of any kind, I assured my source that if Credlin’s “legacy” ever saw the light of day I would do everything in my power to torpedo it: and with the Fairfax press reporting this week that the Liberals’ federal executive has resolved to introduce exactly what was conveyed to me all that time ago, here we are.

Aside from the sheer effrontery of a glorified and jumped-up public servant taking it upon herself to decide she was entitled to “a legacy” at all, those who advocate this sort of garbage miss the point that whilst similar arrangements at the ALP have succeeded in lifting the number of women sitting in Parliaments across the country, the overall calibre of elected representatives is no better now than it has ever been.

And I do not subscribe to the half-arsed counterpoint that if MPs are to be mediocre anyway, then half of them might as well be women: to me, the issue is the calibre of people overall who stand for elected office, and the problem to be solved is not one of gender at all but rather one of identifying, nurturing and encouraging the very best people within the ranks of the major parties — irrespective of whether they are men or women — to put themselves forward.

We will come back to those arguments, but first and foremost, the Fairfax article details the kind of thing the Communist Party (the real one in the Soviet Union) might have come up with if it turned its collective head to putting women in positions of power in the Politburo; this has it all — a 50% “aspirational” target (read: the compulsory and arbitrary carve-up of seats and the corresponding disregard for local branches to select the candidates they want); a “Liberal Champions of Change” program that forces men and women to “advocate for gender equality;” and pompously misleading assertions like the suggestion that simply putting more women in Parliament — because they’re female — will solve “a long-term existential challenge for the party, which it must proactively address in order to remain electorally relevant.”

The report disingenuously alludes to voting patterns at the 2010 federal election — at which Labor scored a lift in its vote from women simply on account of fielding the first female major party leader in Australian political history — but makes no reference to the 2013 election, at which both male and female voters flooded back to the Coalition as the ALP’s tenure in office was terminated.

And it should surprise nobody that the Women’s Working Group — set up in March this year — and its report have both materialised on the watch of outgoing federal director Brian Loughnane, who is of course Credlin’s husband; the apparent contrivance of the husband to bring the wife’s “legacy” to fruition is just a bit too convenient to be a coincidence.

In other words, those who try to defend this new direction in high-minded, sanctimonious terms really should get over themselves.

The Fairfax report cites three examples of the alleged railroading of female candidates as evidence of the problem such a change at the Liberal Party would supposedly correct.

One — Jane Hume, recently preselected to the third spot on the Coalition Senate ticket in Victoria — and the question of why she wouldn’t simply be elevated up the ticket to the second (more winnable) spot now Michael Ronaldson has announced he won’t stand again; the appropriate forums within the Liberal Party will make a determination on that, but the opening Hume contested was secured on the basis it would be the third spot on the ticket. Based on existing polling, the Coalition is almost certain to win a third Senator from Victoria at next year’s election. But the decision is being misrepresented as a simple male vs female equation; there is also an opportunity to get not one good new good Liberal candidate (Hume) into the Senate, but two.

Two — former state MP Donna Bauer’s interest in the federal seat of Dunkley, being vacated by former minister Bruce Billson — similarly fails to offer the cut-and-dried evidence of the need for “action” on women it is clearly intended to supply; Dunkley is a marginal seat at the best of times, and doesn’t even satisfy the women’s lobby’s demands to be allocated safe seats; Bauer has also been extremely ill (a fact well-known publicly) and she would have to satisfy any council of preselectors that she was literally fit to serve through both a gruelling election campaign and a three-year term if elected. That said, Bauer was an excellent MP as the member for Carrum, and in a seat usually held by Labor it was a credit to her that she won it at all. But the point is that her gender, frankly, has nothing to do with either the calibre of the service she did and may yet render, nor with the question of whether she should replace Billson in the federal seat that overlaps her old one in state Parliament.

And three, the question of whether upper house Victorian MP Margaret Fitzherbert should replace outgoing state Brighton MP Louise Asher in the bluest of blue ribbon state seats when Asher retires in 2018; Margaret is a friend, and when I first met her she had just been shouldered out of standing for the federal seat of Goldstein to make way for Andrew Robb (who has been an excellent ministerial performer, if not perhaps a visible local presence) and to be honest I’m in two minds: on the one hand, she would make an excellent state MP wherever she served, but on the other, she already has a state seat. Yes, it was a touch-and-go proposition, secured as it was last year from the third spot on the Coalition’s upper house ticket in the Southern Metropolitan electorate. But Margaret would arguably offer the Liberal Party its best prospect for continuing to hold three of the five Southern Metropolitan seats, and once again, the issue here isn’t one of gender at all, but rather of the party making the very best use of the resources it has at its disposal.

There are no straightforward answers to any of these three scenarios, but simply installing the woman in any or all of them precludes the prospect of a better candidate (who might in fact be female herself) from being considered. And that is not in the interests of the party, the wider community it seeks to serve, or even the tokenised, patronised woman in the middle of it, who must know the only reason for her preselection is what is (or isn’t) between her legs when what is between her ears is what really matters.

Speaking of Robb and Goldstein — for Andrew, at 65 next year, won’t be around forever either — I was recently shown a list of the names of four aspirants who hoped to succeed him as a Liberal MP in Goldstein; three of them were male and one was female. To be frank, three (including the female) would be nothing less than the waste of a safe seat on a time-server, and the fourth might be best served waiting five or ten years. Lest anyone think I’m being anti-women, however, I told the person who gave me the names to discard all four from consideration, and to go and chase a certain female identity around our branches who I think is one of the best potential MPs I have come across in many years: her name was not one of the four we had discussed.

I relay these stories, and my thinking in response to them, simply to illustrate just how rigid, brainless and counter-productive the adoption of  any kind of quota by the Liberal Party may be.

But lest there be any confusion about it, one of the reasons there are fewer female MPs from the Liberal Party is that for whatever reason, women seem less willing to put themselves forward for elected office; maybe women aren’t as interested in politics to the degree men are, or maybe they are unwilling to surrender lives, careers, earning capacity (and sometimes, marriages) to the brutal bear pit that is parliamentary politics in this country to the extent men are.

One thing I do know, however, is that a better approach to boosting the ranks of female MPs would be to identify suitable female candidates and encourage them to put themselves forward, and this is one area I think all parties might improve their efforts on: if it “naturally” occurs to men to do so, but women are more reticent, every assistance and encouragement should be offered. But simply finding female names to allocate to seats in Parliament is no solution at all.

The Liberal Party is just that — a party of free-minded individuals that champions the right of the individual to make decisions — and shackling it with some silly, arbitrary gender quota runs utterly counter to that noble principle.

And if you’re just going to tell half your branches that the seats they’re located in are reserved for female candidates only, it follows that you’re either going to encourage capable, ambitious men to start moving all over the place to chase a seat, or — more likely — to drop out of active involvement in the party altogether. Far from strengthening anything, as a quota of any description would seek to do, the end result would be to rob the party of ideas, resources, and potential parliamentary servants.

This column has never supported quotas in any way, shape, or form; be it Jacqui Lambie and her plans to create reserved seats for Aborigines, Bill Shorten’s (quietly abandoned) plot to introduce quotas for gays, lesbians, blacks, and heaven knows who else, or the disgusting female candidate factory of the hard socialist Left that is Emily’s List, the interests of whichever group stands to benefit from a quota are, in my view, tarnished and compromised by the very measure intended to advance them.

Quotas are patronising, humiliating, condescending and tokenistic; they send the terrible message that merit, in the big scheme of things, is irrelevant; they send the message to any group not covered by the quota that they are second-rate citizens; and all they really achieve is to enable whatever band of do-gooders responsible for them to feel good about themselves when there is little evidence they make any difference to the quality of outcomes — in this case, where governance of the country is concerned.

Does anyone seriously and credibly suggest the likes of Julia Gillard, Christine Milne, Sarah Hanson-Young or the late Joan Kirner are shining advertisements for the virtues of open slather promotion of women simply because they are female? If you’re a socialist, perhaps, but for anyone with a brain they embody the fact that competence is too easily disregarded when gender is allowed to dictate things like political preselections, and so it would be if the Liberals adopt the recommendation on the table.

Political parties are volunteer organisations that have trouble as it is attracting quality candidates for all kinds of reasons — money foremost amongst them — and all quotas do in my view is entrench the mediocrity that more often than not emerges from preselection processes.

Look at the ALP, with its binding quotas: yes, there are an awful lot of useless male Labor MPs littered across Parliaments around the country, but the binding 35% quota for female representation simply means they’re accompanied by more equally useless women than their counterparts across the aisle.

Some might find that a hard judgement, but it’s meant to be: star candidates for high office are the exception, not the norm, however chauvinistic about the primacy of our respective parties we might choose to be.

Be they male or female, straight or gay, the sad fact is that the overwhelming majority of people elected to Parliaments in Australia are far from the best possible people in the community to fill those posts.

This issue has been a bugbear of mine for years; of course it would be good to see more women in Parliament, but by the same token it would be even better to improve the quality of elected representatives in general.

Quotas — be they hard, firm, soft, binding, arbitrary, aspirational or whatever — have no place in the Liberal Party or, as far as I’m concerned, anywhere else; the more important change that needs to be looked at is how to improve the calibre of elected representatives. Men and women alike should be championing the issue of merit, not bickering over how to favour one gender over the other.

If there’s one good thing that might emerge from this silly push to impose quotas on the Liberals, it could be that men are forced to give a more stringent account of themselves by women concentrating not on securing automatic allocations from the carve-up, but instead on encouraging the best in their ranks to step forward and take the men on. Just as there are mediocrities everywhere in politics, there are also some very good people, and a lot of those are female. But rigour and discipline, not quotas, are required for the cultural change I am alluding to.

Liberals — male and female alike — should do whatever they can to shoot this ridiculous recommendation down. As for Credlin, she can bury her “legacy” where the sun doesn’t shine. If, that is, she can extricate her head first to make way for it.

Maybe Credlin still thinks she should be gifted a safe Liberal seat. If she does, she’s in for a shock. There are resources available across from Australia to fund an independent conservative campaign against her should she ever put her head above the parapet. The reasons people are prepared to ensure she never sits in Parliament have nothing to do with gender.

In fact, a quick check on the identity of the current Prime Minister and the terminal electoral position of his predecessor speak volumes for the “merit” Credlin offers as a candidate. She can’t have it both ways. She was a woman given the #1 unelected position in Australian politics and was given unprecedented free rein to execute it, and fucked it up completely. Nothing to do with gender at all. Nobody to blame except herself.

If Credlin wants a fitting legacy, I’m sure there’s a jobs desk at Centrelink that might benefit from her aptitude for micromanagement, but the Liberal Party must consign her — and her silly quota — to the dustbin of history.

 

Turnbull Must Ignore Pathetic Shorten Attempt To Evade TURC Fallout

THE PENDING release of the Trade Union Royal Commission’s final report has spawned a last-gasp attempt by ALP “leader” Bill Shorten to propose measures to limit the political fallout of the inquiry for Labor; after two years of stonewalling, insisting there were no issues of misconduct at unions, his half-baked proposals stink of panic and desperation and must be ignored. Shorten is peddling a political trap Malcolm Turnbull must avoid at all costs.

One of the (many) substantive criticisms made of Malcolm Turnbull by conservative Liberals, as the embarrassing final months of his hapless first stint as Liberal Party leader played out, was that Turnbull was too eager to provide “bipartisanship” to Labor at every available opportunity, thus eliminating any and all points of difference between the Coalition and the ALP.

From wasteful, misdirected, and largely unnecessary stimulus spending to Kevin Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and to a slew of controversial Rudd government initiatives, Turnbull repeatedly traded away the opportunity for the Coalition to differentiate itself and to some extent, the country is paying for some of these own goals now through the ballooning national debt Turnbull helped inflate by waving then-Treasurer Wayne Swan’s ill-advised stimulus package through Parliament.

There are already signs this love of “bipartisanship” remains alive and well in the Turnbull bunker, but more on that a bit later.

The Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption is to hand its final report to the Governor-General today, with its subsequent release by the government set to occur as soon as tomorrow; The Australian is carrying a report that details a letter — sent by opposition “leader” Bill Shorten to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last Wednesday — the aim of which is basically to enable the ALP to evade the political fallout from what is universally expected to be a damning indictment on union behaviour by proposing a series of half-baked, half-arsed and abjectly pathetic last-ditch measures to reposition Shorten and Labor as “tough” on union misconduct.

Frankly, any utterances by Bill Shorten, his parliamentary colleagues, or their cronies in the union movement to the effect that they are at all concerned with malfeasance at trade unions should be dismissed with the contempt they deserve, and no Australian voter should succumb to the temptation to listen to a man whose political career is deservedly terminal trying to slither toward credibility on the backs of the many of his union buddies who now face prosecution.

For the past two years, Labor and the unions — to a man — have stonily maintained the mantra that the Royal Commission was nothing more than a politically motivated witch hunt, despite ample evidence at the time it was instituted of wrongdoing and illegal behaviour at a number of unions that more than justified such an inquiry being convened.

When this position began to grow indefensible (and to look absolutely ridiculous to the watching Australian public) the line about politically motivated witch hunts gave way to increasingly bitter attacks on the Commission, individual Commissioners, and legal counsel working on it.

Thanks to some imbecile at the NSW Division of the Liberal Party who saw fit to extend an invitation to Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon to deliver the annual Sir Garfield Barwick Lecture — an invitation that was, it seems, hastily and unthinkingly accepted — Labor and the unions were handed a soft target upon which to turn their onslaught, and respected former High Court Justice Heydon was subjected to an outrageous and baseless barrage of accusations of wanton political bias and personal slurs from elements at the ALP nonetheless pretending to act in good faith and in the name of upholding the law.

Shorten, for what it was worth, earned himself an official reprimand at one of his appearances before the Royal Commission, for despite having publicly pledged to “co-operate fully” with the Commission — he could hardly fail to promise to do that — his testimony was vague, rambling, tangential, and waffling.

(Needless to say, there was much that Shorten — just like a lot of other persons of interest who appeared before Heydon — could not remember).

And when all of those endeavours came to nowt, Labor’s designated attack chihuahua Penny Wong led the charge of an equally insidious push to politicise the office of the Governor-General and have Sir Peter Cosgrove intervene to shut the Commission down on the basis of spurious charges of “bias,” obliterating its 1975-vintage position of outrage that the Governor-General accepts advice from his or her Prime Minister and no-one else (Whitlamesque emphasis added).

Now, in the cold light of a pre-Christmas hangover and facing an imminent federal election Labor is increasingly likely to lose badly — and confronted by the dawning reality that the Royal Commission’s findings are certain to be very, very grim — all of a sudden, Shorten wants to “help.”

Shorten has already been advised that he personally faces no action arising from either his testimony before the Commission or from his time at the helm of the AWU in Victoria and nationally. But in view of the belting that seems set to be unleashed on unions and union officials over alleged violations of various laws, his preparedness to be “tough on union wrongdoing” now is disingenuous, to say the least.

At this point, I refer readers to an article published in this column just three weeks ago, following the arrest and charging of CFMEU figures John Setka and Shaun Reardon; that article deals, in part, with a so-called clean-up of the union movement Shorten announced at that time a Labor government would pursue, and it contains a link to a piece from the Courier-Mail that details at length exactly what Shorten’s “clean-up” might entail.

As I pointed out then, Shorten’s regime of proposed penalties were unlikely to deter the most hardened and militant unions from repeat transgressions in future. Yet the details of what Shorten now apparently proposes — as reported in The Australian and based on his letter last week to Turnbull — seem, if anything, even softer than what he trundled out to deflect attention from the arrests of Setka and Reardon.

The one nugget from The Australian‘s article this morning is the proposal to reduce the political donation disclosure threshold from $13,000 to $1,000 for individuals, companies, and unions: this probably sounds great to anyone loosely interested in probity in politics, and it also plays into Labor’s longstanding obsession with cutting the Coalition off from the corporate monies that Labor (for what I would have thought are obvious reasons) generally fails to attract.

The intention is obvious: with sleight of hand, Shorten’s “initiative” is intended to deceive people into thinking that just as the Coalition would be cut off from corporate donations, so too would Labor be cut off from the mass funding it receives from union members’ fees.

But the glaring omission is that no provision is contained in the proposal to stop unions from funding and engaging in political campaigns of their own: the $13 million advertising blitz against WorkChoices in the run-up to the 2007 election, for example, was booked and paid for by unions directly — not from funds donated to the ALP. Under Shorten’s proposal, there would be nothing to stop unions from effectively conducting campaigns against the Coalition from their own funds on Labor’s behalf. Electoral advertising laws require only that advertising material carries an authorisation and details of the organisation to which the person providing it belongs.

In other words, Shorten actually has the bare-faced audacity to put a proposal on the table that purports to crack down on illegal union behaviour but which in fact would result in the Coalition being permanently handicapped if ever implemented whilst the ALP — with a slight readjustment to its relationship with the unions — could skip off, scot-free, to a more advantageous position at all future election campaigns.

It isn’t for nothing that Shorten is increasingly derided as “Billy Bullshit” by those who watch politics, but this is just one smartarse manoeuvre too many.

It isn’t unreasonable to subject unions to the same standards of accountability and governance that apply to the business community; the union movement has been allowed to act as a law unto itself for far too long. The damning imminent report of the Royal Commission is the end destination of such latitude, and it has to stop.

Shorten’s protestations that it is “unfair” for “union volunteers” to face penalties for misconduct akin to those applicable to company directors should be ignored; it’s a bit like saying an incorporated small enterprise with two staff should be immune to the law as well. It shouldn’t. If such regulations are as “onerous” as he claims, then all that expertise in training unions have been caught out issuing false invoices for at the Commission might be put to some practical effect in bringing their “volunteers” up to speed.

But really, just the fact Shorten is trying to negotiate anything over this issue at all is a sign he knows his union mates are cornered and, coming this late in a process that has gone on for two years, stinks of desperation, expediency, and panic.

The deeply unpopular Shorten was only ever able to assemble election-winning poll numbers on account of the six years he and his party spent demonising, defaming and then crucifying former Prime Minister Tony Abbott; once Abbott was removed from office, there was nothing to detract from the simple fact Shorten is completely unelectable.

The Turnbull government has a perfectly good Registered Organisations Bill on its books; it has only been voted down by Labor and the Communist Party Greens out of self-interest and to protect their union mates. There is no principle involved on the part of Labor and the Greens in defeating that Bill three times to date, and those parties should be shown no indulgence now in the face of a stack of prosecutions set to hit the organisations their handiwork has repeatedly been contrived to protect.

And this brings me back to the Prime Minister and his past fondness for “bipartisanship.”

It is true that Turnbull and Trade minister Andrew Robb compromised with the ALP to get the free trade agreement with China through Parliament recently — not coincidentally, in the face of a concerted and dishonest campaign by the CFMEU to discredit it — and whilst the amended version of the agreement was and is better than no agreement at all, it would be disturbing if those compromises were successfully exploited by the ALP as a precedent to hoodwink the Prime Minister into doing its dirty work now.

There is no middle ground when it comes to eradicating and punishing illegal behaviour, and there are no grounds for leniency (in the name of “fairness”) in shielding unions from the standards that should have been imposed upon them decades ago, and to which they have been immune for far too long.

The recommendations of the Royal Commission should be adopted and implemented without exception, and every alleged instance of criminality resulting from it vigorously prosecuted.

As for the Coalition’s Registered Organisations laws and the accompanying legislation to reconstitute the Australian Building and Construction Commission, these should be reintroduced to Parliament as a matter of great urgency and — if once again voted down by Labor and its associates at the Greens — immediately used as grounds to call a double dissolution election fought on the issue of acceptable standards and probity in the union movement and those sections of the wider economy the unions have for decades been allowed to control unfettered.

As for Shorten, Turnbull must tell him to tell his story walking.

Shorten deserves the electoral humiliation he is on a collision course with and his union mates deserve to be brought to justice. It is not Turnbull’s job to either help Shorten retrieve his standing as Labor “leader” or to ameliorate the punitive action headed in the direction of Trades Hall.

And were Turnbull to agree to the duplicitous attempted stunt that would shackle the Coalition at future elections whilst effectively allowing unions to run and pay for Labor’s campaigns, it would validate every past doubt held about his judgement by conservative Liberals once and for all.

Simply, Shorten is trying to entrap Turnbull. It is imperative he be given nothing more than short shrift.

 

Wills Preselection A Test Of Labor’s Future Relevance

FAR BE IT for this column to argue the ALP into common sense and sanity, but a vacancy in its second-safest seat in Australia presents an opportunity for it to show it is forward thinking, to throw off the outdated shackles of union and factional entitlement, and to tell various “deserving” candidates to peddle their shit somewhere else. An option to secure Labor’s future is in hand and on offer. Whether or not the party takes it will be telling.

It’s not often that I advocate in the political interests of someone at the ALP, and even more rarely in the interests of the ALP itself.

But having kept abreast of what seems to be happening in the seat of Wills — soon to be vacated by time-serving MP Kelvin Thomson, whose most memorable career achievement was to provide a character reference for underworld drug supremo Tony Mokbel — the right thing to do is so glaringly obvious as to threaten to punch the Labor Party, collectively, in the face.

I should be quite clear in reiterating that I find the political beliefs of all of the potential candidates to replace Thomson odious, and that — as readers well know — I wish the ALP no goodwill or success whatsoever.

But given this is a safe Labor seat (notwithstanding any electoral threat the Communist Party Greens might some day pose) I thought it appropriate to provide an endorsement, for so insidious are the rest of the purported talents clamouring for an undeserved bauble — and so tired the Labor labyrinth of who owes who what, and which faction is entitled to this, or which faction is excluded from that — that it beggars belief a smart, talented, personable and beautiful young woman isn’t an absolute lay-down misere for ALP endorsement.

But first things first.

Ever since it was created at the 1948 redistribution — carved mostly out of the ultra-safe Labor seat of Melbourne — Wills has been held almost continuously by the ALP; the only gap was a short stint in the hands of left-wing Independent Phil Cleary between 1992 and 1996.

Whilst the magnitude of Labor’s wins has fluctuated, Wills has usually ranked among its safest seats nationally, and since the 2013 election sits only behind neighbouring Batman in terms of its invulnerability to a conservative candidate; unlike Batman, the Greens remain — for now — at bay, with Thomson’s final win still registering a margin of more than 15% over the Greens candidate after preferences.

Yet with the exception of the 12-year period during which Bob Hawke was parachuted into the seat to enable his eventual leadership of the party and consequent Prime Ministership, Wills has not been a seat used by the ALP to inject top-grade talent into its parliamentary ranks; in this sense Thomson merely represents the latest instalment in the grand old Labor tradition of using safe seats to stockpile mediocrity, and it comes as no surprise that it appears the tradition is set to continue.

But with the ALP currently holding just 55 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives, the luxury of sending whichever spiv is owed the most favours to Canberra simply cannot be an option, and with the paucity of real talent in the ALP’s parliamentary ranks — and I mean real talent, not people whose claim to fame is how many years they’ve already kept their seat warm, or some thuggy “merit” derived from factional and/or union intrigues — Wills offers Labor the chance to instead send a bright candidate who offers longevity, tangible promise, and who could serve at the minimum as a senior minister in a future Labor government once the requisite degree of experience has been acquired.

A quick look at the names being bandied around as possible successors to Thomson is nauseating, to say the least.

Tinpot local identity Mehmet Tillem — briefly a Senator to fill a casual vacancy until shown the door by voters in 2013 — is reportedly the odds-on favourite; he is a “powerbroker” and member of the Conroy sub-faction of the Victorian Right, but beyond that it is impossible to ascertain any real benefit he would deliver to Labor if returned to Canberra now.

Enver Erdogan is a member of the Feeney sub-faction, after faction-hopping following the loss of preselection for the state seat of Brunswick some years ago. He’s also a Labor lawyer at ambulance-chasing firm Maurice Blackburn. Has anyone heard of him beyond the confines of the incestuous ALP cesspool? No. Does anyone really care? No. I’m sure he does, though.

ACTU President Ged Kearney — an individual this column detests, and with good reason, resolutely and singularly dedicated to anything and everything that might sabotage the Liberal Party out of sheer bloody-mindedness as she is, often to the total exclusion of anything based in good common sense — has apparently ruled herself out of contention, although predictably enough, hers was one of the first names allowed to circulate publicly in relation to Wills by the good kite flyers at Labor HQ; dear old Ged might be a hell of a rabble rouser, and adept at whipping the ever-dwindling band of sycophants and lemmings at Trades Hall into a fury whenever a rent-a-crowd is called for in the interests of grubby expediency, but a suitable candidate for a seat in Parliament? She’s anything but, and offers in my view exactly zero when judged on merit, ability, or the value of any potential contribution to the effective governance of this country.

Beyond these three there is a handful of also-rans, no-names, and other hangers-on with delusions of adequacy, some of whom are apparently aligned to Labor “leader” Bill Shorten in the factional sense (which is all the more reason for them to be vetoed as endorsed candidates).

My point is that with such a spectacularly lacklustre field in the offing — although not the first time Labor has offered one of those masquerading as an “open and democratic” contest, to be sure — if I were a Labor-inclined voter in Wills and faced with any of these names on a ballot paper, the best use for my vote would be to send “a little message” to the ALP and mark it informal.

Fortunately for the local ALP machine, it has a candidate apparently on offer who ticks every box required, and who seemingly offers it one of the best long-term prospects to have gone Labor’s way in years.

An article late on Christmas Eve in The Guardian announced that the Editor-in-Chief of mammamia.com.au, Jamila Rizvi, is looking to enter Parliament, possibly via the vacant seat of Wills; whilst it records that her ALP membership has lapsed, this is a detail that can and should be immediately set to right by ALP backroom forces to enable her selection as their candidate.

Mamamia website editor Jamila Rizvi, who is rumoured to be running for the safe Labor seat of Wills in north Melbourne. She has confirmed that she is interested in becoming a politician.

INTELLIGENT, PERSONABLE, BEAUTIFUL…Rizvi is the type of candidate Labor should be tying its long-term future to, rather than engaging in subterranean factionalism and the rest of its usual bullshit. (Picture: The Guardian)

I don’t know how old Rizvi is but at a guess, I’d put her at about 30: old enough to have accrued some meaningful experience but not so old as to be just another hack looking for a sinecure based on “entitlement.” Importantly, her age makes her someone who could help form the foundations of Labor’s parliamentary team for the 2020s and 30s, and — were she to perform on the national stage, as I think she would — make her a potential leadership figure some time beyond 2030.

She presents with degrees in Commerce and Law, and has studied marketing at the London School of Economics: it’s a more substantial (and diverse) education than the vast majority of Labor figures boast, even in this era of ALP identities waving pieces of paper around to make pointless claims to competence. University education is very important, but it doesn’t automatically confer ability on people. Labor’s track record, especially at a state level but also federally, for most of the past 30 years is proof of that.

Rizvi is blessed with the kind of attributes that some would jealously complain are unfair advantages: she is beautiful — almost ethereally, heartbreakingly so — and telegenic, attributes that are not unhelpful in a vocation that has grown so visual in a time of unrivalled media access; she is, by repute, highly personable, which isn’t unhelpful either when weighed against the need to deal with thousands of constituents and other stakeholders every year; anyone who has seen her on the ABC’s QandA programme knows she is extremely articulate, and well able to argue a brief; her familial background makes her a perfect fit with the richly diverse electorate in Melbourne’s inner north; and with a baby son and new-ish husband, Rizvi also fits the profile of a relatively young, increasingly gentrified community that has seen a huge influx of urban professionals and young families in recent years.

As a digital native who has already spent a portion of her working life in the new media environment that will only become more important as the digital revolution progresses, Rizvi’s potential arrival on the political scene coincides with great change that will continue for the foreseeable future; this is not a consideration to be dismissed lightly, and as the bunfight over the National Broadband Network and fraught issues such as the storage of metadata have shown in recent years, expertise in the modern digital environment is not a commodity in rich supply in the corridors of power in Canberra.

In a party with a penchant for tokenistically installing women into seats on account of their gender (and with a complete disregard for men who might actually make better MPs), Rizvi solves that problem by being the best candidate Labor has on offer in Wills and female.

She does, to be sure, come with a few drawbacks; she spent time working for the cretinous Kevin Rudd during his first stint as Prime Minister and later for the slogan-regurgitating, blithe, intellectually dishonest “handbag hit squad” cheerleader Kate Ellis: these are not influences that are particularly conducive to positive career development when objectively considered.

And just as QandA has showcased Rizvi’s gift for communication in the past, it has also shown her to be prone to babble about “compassion” a little too freely with a marked lack of regard for the practical and economic realities that inevitably must be considered alongside her creditable instinct to want to help people.

But the only way to find out if the girl has “got it” is to give her the opportunity and see how she performs: I think, in all objectivity, that she would make a very good member of Parliament, and if successful in gaining endorsement for Wills would be one of the small but admirable band of Labor identities I keep an eye on in the expectation they might steward their party toward some sanity and some realistic policies.

This brings me to the question most readers are probably now asking: why would a staunch conservative and implacable political opponent of the ALP sing the praises of someone who, if installed in Canberra and later proven to be effective, could cause the Liberal Party unquantifiable future grief?

It isn’t to jinx her. Nor is it because she’s so pretty. Nothing so spiteful or vapid, to be sure.

Very simply, I see Wills as a test for Labor: leaving Rizvi aside for a moment, the remainder of its “potential MPs” in this electorate are an assortment of the same tired stories rooted in either Labor’s internecine factions and/or one ghastly union or another; jointly and severally they are boring, uninspiring, devoid of merit or potential, and “options” for all the worst possible reasons. Someone owes someone something. Somebody shafted someone else. Someone’s been hanging around for x years and it’s their “turn.”

Without putting too fine a point on it, that’s all bullshit: and the ALP, in the proper discharge of its obligations to the people of Wills and, indirectly, to the people of Australia, should tell all of those candidates (and others from the same decaying mould across the country) to peddle their shit elsewhere — and to embrace a generational change to candidates with far more to offer than a factional obligation or being owned outright by the latest God-forsaken puppeteer over at Trades Hall.

Literally, from its so-called “leader” down, Labor is moribund: bereft of talent and ideas, it has nothing to offer ordinary Australians. It may win an election here and there, but recent history has proven that when it does, the governments it forms are controlled by unions: the AWU if you’re lucky (think the Gillard years) but more typically, the militant, violent, lawless CFMEU (think Victoria and Queensland) if you’re not.

But in the long run, Labor has been in decline for years; it is already dependent on Greens preferences to ever win elections, and with the faction/union axis as entrenched as it has ever been, that decline will — despite the odd blip of “success” — continue until or unless the party undertakes some radical change from within.

So in Wills — not to be histrionically grandiose about it — the ALP is confronted by a choice about its future.

Should Tillem, Erdogan, or (God forbid) Kearney get the nod to stand in Wills, voters across the country should sit up and take note: it would send the message that the ALP is so obsessed with its discredited and obsolete structures of patronage, petty fiefdoms and the hierarchical importance of inconsequential dunghills that the only function of voters is to rubber stamp the odious machinations the party insists on filling its days and nights and weekends plotting and scheming and backstabbing over.

The courageous, forward-looking decision in this case is a no-brainer: to draft Rizvi as its candidate for Wills, to champion her career, and to find other men and women of comparable age and experience to replace those in safe Labor seats who might think “years of service” entitle them to even longer with their snouts in the taxpayer trough, but whose collective value to the ALP and to Australia, in any meaningful sense, is nothing.

At the outset, you’d expect Labor to do what it always does, and that means picking Tillem. If it does, then it deserves to lose Wills to the Greens.

But an option that could help shape Labor’s long-term future is at hand. It is a test of Labor’s ongoing relevance, credibility, and even its fitness to ever form government again. Rizvi is the logical choice on every objective measure. Whether the ALP takes the opportunity she offers, however, remains to be seen.

 

Queensland LNP: It’s Time To Pack It In, Lawrence

ALMOST A YEAR after its loss to the ALP, Queensland’s LNP — under the thrice-recycled stewardship of Lawrence Springborg — is on a one-way ticket to nowhere; a lovely bloke, Springborg is nonetheless a proven loser with no appeal in the urban south-east and who, if allowed to lead the LNP to a fourth election, will lead it to a fourth defeat. Springborg will never be elected Premier. He must make way for those who may offer better prospects.

When your strongest claim to high political office rests on the assertion that you’d constitute a safe pair of hands in the event of a mid-term change of government on the floor of a hung Parliament, you really are on a hiding to nothing; so it is with Queensland opposition leader Lawrence Springborg, who — despite being one of the nicer and more decent MPs I’ve had something to do with over the years — is boringly familiar (and unattractive) to the Queensland public, and whose papers should be stamped in the aftermath of the Newspoll on state voting intention that appears in The Australian today.

This Newspoll isn’t the Christmas present Springborg would have liked, to be sure, but his colleagues would be well advised to heed the message even if he won’t.

Trumpeting that the LNP has “clawed back support” — as The Australian‘s web portal screams today — simply doesn’t cut it; trailing 52-48 after gaining one percentage point of the two-party vote — well within the margin of error of the poll — still amounts to a small swing to Labor based on its election-clinching share of 51.1% in January, and would see three LNP seats fall if uniformly replicated at an election: enough for 47 seats in total, and a clear majority in the 89-member unicameral Queensland Parliament.

The fact two of those three seats — Mount Ommaney and Mansfield — are not only in Brisbane, but natural Liberal Party territory on paper — speaks volumes, and is evidence (were any more required) that when it comes to winning state elections in Queensland, Springborg simply doesn’t have the pulling power to carry enough seats in the burgeoning south-eastern corner of the state.

In any case, the gain of a solitary point on the two-party vote is the only piece of good news for Springborg in an otherwise gloomy and I believe deadly accurate snapshot of voter sentiment north of the Tweed.

Springborg’s net approval rating has deteriorated from -9% to -15%, with 34% (-2% since August) approving of his performance as opposition leader, and 47% (+4%) disapproving.

His deficit on the “preferred Premier” measure — already a bit of an embarrassment for someone who’s been on the scene for more than quarter of a century — is beginning to blow out now, as he trails Annastacia Palaszczuk (50%, +1%) with support from just 27% (-1%).

And whilst Palaszczuk’s personal approval takes a bit of a knock in this poll — falling three points to 50%, with 35% (+2%) expressing disapproval — the fact remains that for a lacklustre government with more scandals to its credit than achievements, for a mediocrity like Palaszczuk to be travelling this well after a torrid first year in office is a failure of the LNP leadership and an indictment on Springborg’s purported ability to hold Labor, and its swollen band of resident miscreants, to meaningful account.

Billy Gordon. Rick Williams. Jo-Ann Miller. The first of these three names alone should have been enough to bring the government down, had the issue been properly handled; instead of moving a Parliamentary expulsion motion against Gordon, Springborg’s strategy was to try to “work with” Gordon after he was expelled from the ALP. By the time Williams and Miller exploded as issues in their own right, Labor knew it had nothing to fear from Springborg.

So did watching voters.

The point is that the Palaszczuk government has been a poor one; it has resumed the insidious process of pissing money up against a post and restoring the haemorrhage of the state budget — both of which had been stopped when Campbell Newman was in office — but for all the extra money being thrown around like confetti, Palaszczuk has nothing to point to as an accomplishment after twelve months in office. This, combined with the disgraceful antics of some of her MPs, merely underlines the utter failure Springborg can already be declared to be in his fourth, and final, outing as LNP/Coalition leader.

As for Springborg’s appeal in Brisbane, three state election losses are more than enough to show that the single-digit tallies recorded on all three occasions (from 38 Brisbane seats) are an accurate reflection of how enthusiastic people in Brisbane are about the idea of a Springborg government.

Without the gerrymander, the LNP needs to win at least a respectable number of Brisbane seats. The eight Springborg carried, on his best showing in 2009, does not satisfy this criteria — and the loss of the aforesaid seats of Mansfield and Mount Ommaney is all that is required to once again reduce the LNP presence in Brisbane to eight seats.

In fact, a swing to Labor in Brisbane of 5% would cut that tally to just five seats. The risk of a return to virtual conservative wipeout in the capital — making statewide victory all but impossible — simply doesn’t justify persisting with a serial loser.

But really, after 26 years in Parliament and election losses as leader in 2004, 2006 and 2009, does anyone seriously believe Springborg will ever win an election?

As The Australian recounts, an emergent coup against Springborg some months ago was nipped in the bud; at the time, spirited and at times heated discussions I had privately with LNP figures revealed not only the inability to coalesce around an alternative candidate, but that some of them — in advocating Nanango MP Deb Frecklington as a potential leader — still simply hadn’t grasped the basic lesson from 30 years of barely interrupted electoral embarrassment.

And that, very simply, is that a bush MP will not be accepted by metropolitan voters as Premier; even the urbane Gold Coast National Rob Borbidge made only limited inroads into Brisbane when he led the Coalition to minority government in 1995.

More ominously, a large contingent of LNP members seems to think Everton MP Tim Mander would make an ideal replacement for Springborg, but whilst he is based in Brisbane, his seat is usually held by the ALP. Based on the result in January, a net switch of just 510 voters to Labor would be all it would take to unseat him. After the disaster of Campbell Newman in Ashgrove, you’d have thought the LNP might have grown a bit gun-shy about selecting leaders who hold ultra-marginal seats. They certainly should have.

I think Frecklington would make an ideal deputy: which brings up the question of who should take Springborg’s place.

Clayfield MP Tim Nicholls, savaged internally for years on account of his friendship with fallen Liberal powerbroker Santo Santoro, would stand the best chance of leading the LNP to an election win; Surfers Paradise MP John-Paul Langbroek — torn down as leader in the brutal but ultimately misguided coup that installed Newman in his place — would probably make the better Premier.

Either way, based on the available personnel, one of these men should — within the month — displace Springborg, who has given Queensland conservatives fine service over many years, but is invariably found wanting on the big stage, and is unlikely to ever become Premier by a public vote.

A state election could occur at any time next year, and the LNP has a duty to millions of Queenslanders to field a viable alternative to Labor at any election that occurs in 2016 or on schedule at the end of 2017; this also means offering a viable candidate as Premier, and — whilst it gives me no joy to say so — Lawrence Springborg is no such candidate.

Perhaps over his Christmas turkey, a decision to surrender the LNP leadership — and perhaps even his seat in Parliament — is one Springborg’s family and friends might impress upon him is in his (and their) best interests, for the alternative is up to two more years of dismal polling followed by an election loss nobody except the ALP wants.

I also believe, given the chronic debt and budgetary red ink Queensland is awash with, the Palaszczuk government must be defeated at almost any cost.

It’s time to pack it in, Lawrence, but it’s up to you whether we do it the easy way or the nasty way.

 

AND ANOTHER THING: A certain Labor lawyer has taken it upon himself in the past couple of days to try to crucify me on Twitter, making a complete dick of himself in the process; I mention it on account of direct relevance (he tried to assert I couldn’t argue a cogent case, and then with unbelievable idiocy pointed to my correct advance predictions that the LNP would lose both the January state election and the seat of Ashgrove as “evidence”).

Apparently the impetus for this onslaught was my suggestion funding for the National Disability Insurance Scheme should be re-examined to find savings from its gargantuan annual cost of $24bn without compromising service delivery: I don’t believe the veracity of anything Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard say where the prudent expenditure of money is concerned, and nor do most of my readers. It bothers me that the unfunded Gillard/Swan NDIS is the only spending program that’s completely off-limits for review.

But apparently, I called for no such thing; according to the bird brain in question, it was a call for the outright abolition of the NDIS. When finally dragged to an admission of error, he instead resorted to abuse based on suggestions of intellectual vacuity, nastiness and illiteracy: effrontery coming from a fellow who took multiple attempts to reread the article before being forced to admit he was wrong.

Let me reassure readers that whilst articles published on this site are framed in the present tense — that is, the issues we discuss can evolve with the flow of political events, and things can change — there aren’t any hidden meanings here. I call things as I see them: no bullshit. If I wanted to see the NDIS abolished, I would say so. I don’t.

Now, if we could just do something about the glut of cretinous imbeciles masquerading as Labor lawyers… 🙂 …that would be something indeed!

 

Modest Penalty Rate Reform Is Common Sense

WHILST it will enrage many as too aggressive or too conservative, a proposal by the Productivity Commission to cut Sunday penalty rates to the time-and-a-half Saturday rate is modest, sensible, and balanced. Typically, Labor and unions are readying to spill blood; the government is ducking and procrastinating. Trades Hall and the ALP must grow up; the Coalition should show some spine. Meanwhile, both workers and business are compromised.

First things first: since it was released late yesterday afternoon, the recommendation by the Productivity Commission that Sunday penalty rates be lowered to the Saturday rate to create a standard weekend penalty rate has already sparked the kind of outrage among unions and the ALP that spewed forth at the height of the WorkChoices debacle, sealing the defeat of the Howard government; in typically gutless form, the Turnbull government has gone scurrying for cover at the very first sign of this resistance, invoking the Fair Work Commission as its go-to patsy as a pretext for dodging an issue that really needs to be sorted out.

It’s great to know conservative parties in Australia can grasp and prosecute a case for change.

Readers — depending on preference — can access some coverage from the mainstream press from Fairfax or Murdoch publications, although to my mind, none of what has emerged in the past 18 hours matters one jot: terrified of meaningful reform of any kind, the Turnbull government — mindful of the similarly abject and pathetic precedent created by its predecessor — is deferring consideration of the measure until after an election (if ever), but that won’t prevent the ALP and the unions causing it as much grief as possible, up to and including a vicious (and mostly baseless) scare campaign that will cost an unquantifiable number of votes.

It would be better to legislate the Productivity Commission’s recommendation, for as it stands the coming avalanche of bullshit from Trades Hall won’t even be directed at a change that will even occur: and the loss of votes from swinging voters erroneously scared witless over literally nothing will be just another avoidable and foreseeable political error by the Coalition.

In truth, I don’t see that arguments for or against penalty rate change are any different to what they were the three previous times we explicitly discussed them (see here, here and here): the third of those posts is telling, however, for it relates to an abortive attempt by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard to enshrine penalty rates in legislation — and that sets up a stark counterpoint with the Liberal Party’s newfound position that the Fair Work Commission sets rates of pay whilst the government sits on its hands at arms’ length.

This column — for the record — believes that creating a set “weekend rate” of time-and-a-half based on the ordinary hourly rate for retail and hospitality workers, applicable to Saturday and Sunday earnings, represents a sensible, common sense outcome that is responsible, and hands all sides of the issue a win: it takes some of the burden off small businesses virtually obliged to open and trade on a Sunday but which often lose money in doing so, but leaves the vast bulk of the overall penalty rate regime intact.

Yet the toxic and counterproductive culture that has sprung up around what passes for debate in this country — ever since Kevin ’07 rode his vacuous “Cool Brittania”-inspired slogans into government in 2007 — means that any change that produces so much as a single loser will be screamed down by a hostile political Left hellbent on nothing less than the destruction of a Liberal government, whilst that same government (led by the purported messiah of the green Left, Malcolm Turnbull) will run off and hide in the toilet until the storm passes.

What a sham.

Particular criticism, at this early stage, must be levelled at Employment minister Michaelia Cash, who — having shown great promise as a reformer on her appointment, for which this column wholeheartedly endorsed her — is now claiming the government “does not set penalty rates” and that to do so would be as absurd as the government setting interest rates (which it did, until the mid 1990s).

Apparently, the small matter of a government’s ability to legislate measures is of no consequence, the roadblock of the present Senate notwithstanding.

Yet changing the penalty rate regime as the Productivity Commission recommends stands to benefit both workers and businesses, not that anyone seems to care to draw the distinction; and rather than bog down in the minutiae of who said what yesterday and what specifics might apply to whom, I thought I’d just point a few examples of workers being disadvantaged by the present system out that unions and Labor don’t just ignore, but tacitly sanction.

First, Sunday penalty rates — as anyone who works in a retail or hospitality business with more than half a dozen casuals knows — are not some across-the-board universal “entitlement:” the playing of favourites, the use of hours on days that are subject to penalty rates to make internal political points through selective rostering, and the presence of staff members of different ages (thus magnifying the cost differential to employers to schedule them) all conspire the ensure some staff get them and some don’t. By standardising pay rates across the weekend, the prospect of all affected workers being given some access to penalty loadings is increased simply on account of the reduced scope to exclude some staff.

Secondly, the insidious practice of making some casual staff full-time employees — often with minor titles such as “shift supervisor” as a sop to their vanity — and placing them on salaries at or fractionally above the minimum wage means that employers can then work them on whatever day they like, as hard as they like, and avoid paying penalty rates altogether (I know — it was done to me a little over 20 years ago). By the letter of the law, the practice is legal; against the spirit of the law, it’s just an old-fashioned cost cutting exercise. Standardising penalty rates over a weekend at least reduces the incentive for employers to do this.

Thirdly, increasing numbers of smaller operators — particularly in the restaurant industry — are choosing to simply remain closed on Sundays and avoid the expense altogether; these business owners are between a rock and a hard place: open on a Sunday and lose money, or stay close and lose what unprofitable trade might have been generated to rival operators, damaging the reputation of the business in the process. I spent some time consulting to hospitality businesses in exactly this situation a few years ago, and there’s no easy answer, although staying shut, and preventing the red ink flowing on Sundays, was almost invariably the lesser of the two evils.

And finally, the point has to be made that the existing penalty rate regime — fashioned in the 1920s and 1930s, when Sunday was almost universally a day to spend with family at church — is an anachronism; the contention that Saturdays and Sundays are virtually identical today where work is concerned is sound, and the only groups who are trenchantly and implacably opposed to acknowledging it are the ALP and the unions.

In today’s modern, open, 24-hour society, it beggars belief that whole cities like Sydney and Melbourne would effectively close every Sunday, as they did until about 20 years or so ago.

Big businesses like supermarket chains have the weight of market power behind them not to feel the effects of having to pay existing Sunday penalty rates (although if you buy takeaway alcohol from a certain large national liquor retailer, pay attention to who serves you between Monday and Saturday, and who serves you on a Sunday: I’ll bet you don’t see many of the uni students on casual wages on a Sunday that you see at other times).

But smaller operators — often mum-and-dad enterprises — simply can’t afford it. Every time the headline hourly rates for their employees increases, those increases are magnified disproportionately when it comes to penalty rates. In the early 1990s, the wait staff at the restaurant chain I worked at were paid $10 per hour to serve tables; double-time-and-a-half was $25. Today, the same staff member earning $20 per hour costs $50 at the higher rate. Australia has had more than 20 years of low inflation growth and, whilst it has slowed now, wage growth that has consistently outpaced inflation. To compound this, retail prices have not been the primary drivers of what inflation has occurred over this period; housing, rents, energy and fuel costs have done that job. In some cases, small businesses are selling goods and services at prices that (in real terms) are the same or less than they were 20 years ago. But the wage bill has, by comparison, exploded.

There is little point trying to make these arguments to people in the union movement or the ALP, whose only real experience of small business has been to either extort it into bolstering union claims of delivering the best wage rises for workers in Australia, or to drive it to the wall: and similarly, I am yet to find an employee who encountered a pay rise they didn’t like, although the end destination of this particular ship is far fewer jobs and far fewer people to benefit from them.

So the Turnbull government, after obfuscating and procrastinating and blaming someone else, will “take the recommendations to an election” after which they will be quietly abandoned; the unions and Labor, as usual, will do all they have to in order to shut this latest eruption of sanity down, safe in the knowledge that irrespective of who it hurts out in the real world, their own cosy sinecures, paid for at public expense, mean they will never be disadvantaged either way.

Maybe, as I suggested not so long ago, the simplest solution would be to abolish Sunday trading altogether, although when the ALP and its thuggy cohorts at Trades Hall jump all over that as “anti-jobs” and “anti-worker,” perhaps everyone else might give some thought to the fact that small businesspeople are not obliged to continue trading if it isn’t profitable to do so, and that unless something is done to restore a bit of balance to an equation that has been overwhelmingly dictated by unions for the best part of a decade, an awful lot of jobs will end up being lost anyway.

And that’s one hell of a price to pay for gutlessness from the Liberal Party and the flat-Earth, scorched-Earth approach to getting what they want from the unions and the ALP.

 

Fairfax Press Fail: Donald Trump Is Not Like Germans, Nazis

AN EXTRAORDINARILY GROTESQUE attempt by the Fairfax press to liken Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump to World War I-era Germans and to Nazis should be sneeringly dismissed; Trump is many things, and some conservatives view his right wing populism with contempt. Even so, Trump’s pitch is grounded in a revolt against the US liberal Left. Fellow travellers in Australia — and at Fairfax — would do well to heed the warning signs.

To date, as readers know, I have declined to comment on the early stages of the 2016 US presidential race being played out ahead of the primary season that kicks off early next year; for one thing, this point in the US political cycle is little more substantial than the silly season now descending on our own polity; for another, and with an eye to the farce that played out on the Republican side four years ago, I’m reticent about declaring anybody to be a frontrunner: last time, just about every starting candidate in the field had their five minutes at the top of the pack before sinking into obscurity, withdrawal and/or disgrace.

However, the likelihood that property and media billionaire Donald Trump will emerge as the GOP nominee for next year’s presidential election — and, potentially, as President of the United States — is growing, and it seems no matter what he says (and no matter what his opponents, both within the Republican Party and elsewhere, throw at him), his popularity among likely voters is proving far deeper and more durable than 2012 flameouts such as Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and the candidate I originally supported, former Speaker Newt Gingrich.

With that in mind, I note the shrill and increasingly panicked denunciations Trump is eliciting from an alarmed liberal* press across America and, indeed, around the world; and it is on account of a particularly insidious piece by Martin Flanagan in The Age today that I find myself commenting on the Republican presidential primary season rather earlier than I had intended.

It seems to be a stock tactic these days, of left wing political parties across the world, to accuse conservative contenders of being likely to start wars; in the US, eventual 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney was pilloried for remarks that bluntly stated Russia was America’s greatest strategic and military threat, and subjected to a diatribe that boiled down to World War III and Armageddon being a mere vote for Romney away; I don’t believe for a minute that Romney would have initiated military conflict with Russia, but subsequent events have shown that his judgement of the threat posed by Russia under Vladimir Putin was deadly accurate.

Similar sentiments were articulated about John McCain in 2008; closer to home, of course, Kevin Rudd baselessly proclaimed in 2013 that an Abbott government would result in a war between Australia and Indonesia (it didn’t).

In this vein, the attempt to liken Trump to Kaiser Wilhelm II — the German ruler who presided over his country’s disastrous military confrontation with Allied forces, at the cost of millions of German and Allied lives — and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party is grotesque, and an unforgivable transgression of the bounds of fair comment by a supposedly professional Australian journalist.

It isn’t hard to ascertain the reason for the latest wave of anti-Trump hysteria among the global left wing commentariat: his recent edict that all immigration to the USA by Muslims would cease if he were elected President in November; the Left has become complacent in lecturing and prescribing social positions aimed at destroying the values and foundations of Western liberal civilisation, and accustomed to having its brilliant pronouncements accepted and implemented, verbatim, as the creeping slither of hard state socialism continues its odious infiltration and undermining of the free world.

Any concerted resistance the Left faces must, it follows, be slapped down at almost any cost, and the more damage it inflicts on its enemies in the process, the better.

But the problem is that all too often, the Left overreaches, and when it does — far from contriving to destroy the opponents of its ugly world view — its ridiculous and sometimes downright dangerous utterances are most damaging to itself.

So it is beginning to prove in the case of Donald Trump.

Likening Trump to the figures responsible for initiating the two most destructive and catastrophic conflagrations in human history should and will backfire, and I would be interested to know whether Flanagan — in compiling his silly and offensive piece — was egged on or otherwise provided with fodder by his counterparts in the USA.

There seems to be a chain of inferences and insinuations that are not explicitly spelt out in Flanagan’s piece, which I gather the reader is intended to play “connect the dots” with, and to heed the dog whistle it constitutes. The concept of Social Democrats as the enemy. Talk of the Kaiser becoming a rabid anti-Semite. The introduction of the Kaiser’s war of “Slavdom against Germandom” as a casual method of accusing Trump of racism. The focus on Hitler and on Fascism as the endpoint of this progression, with the clear implication Trump might as well have a swastika tattooed to his forehead.

There is also the small matter of Trump’s ancestry — his great-grandparents were German immigrants to the USA — that Flanagan doesn’t bother to mention (or if he did, would in likelihood simply present as further “proof” of his case against Trump); this is just too subtle an omission to allow to go unnoticed, and illustrates one of the great hypocrisies of the Left: its enemies are to be excoriated for lumping all Muslims into the category of “terrorists,” for example. But as Trump is of German descent, he is basically a German, and therefore as bad as Kaiser Wilhelm II and Adolf Hitler. The fallacious logic and cavalier malice in such blatant double standards are breathtaking.

(Flanagan even sneaks in mention of the Left’s favourite Australian hate figure, Tony Abbott, baselessly and perhaps libellously — in the context of the tone of his article — calling him “another World War I figure” and suggesting he would send soldiers to pointless slaughter just for the hell of it. It is beneath despicable).

Flanagan equates the Kaiser’s “scorn for democracy” with “the way Trump scorns political correctness as an impediment to clear thinking and immediate solutions:” this facile statement is based on a false premise, for Trump — far from attempting to circumvent the ballot box — is seeking to win the potential votes of hundreds of millions of registered voters; the Kaiser Wilhelm II was a hereditary monarch. The real meat in the assertion is that Trump is an enemy of political correctness (read: the prescriptive state socialism of the hard Left) who must be smashed by the clenched fist of the global Left.

Frankly, anyone who stands against such insidious and doctrinaire positions is to be lauded; it remains to be seen whether Trump is electable, but at the very minimum no-one can accuse him of pliability where the anti-Western forces of the leftist junta are concerned, and for that much at least, he warrants a hearing.

It is true that Trump, as voting in the first state primaries draws near, has said things that are outrageous, provocative, and designed to maximise the publicity he attracts, but rather than dismiss him as a lunatic (as the Left is wont to do) a more considered view than idiot-simple rants of the kind Flanagan has engaged in today suggests a shrewd, calculated and intelligent pitch — highly organised and professional, even — that has identified a coalition of voters the Trump camp believes can propel it into the White House, and upon which it has been singularly focused.

Equating him to the historical enemies of the West who systematically raped, gassed and slaughtered millions of innocents is not only offensive, but likelier than not to drive even more American voters into Trump’s embrace. Then again, I did make the point that the Left’s approach to what it believes is the enemy — its own enemies — is more often than not counterproductive, and I daresay Flanagan is simply following the trend.

I’m in two minds about the suitability of Donald Trump as President of the United States — part of me thinks he’d be brilliant, and part of me thinks he’d be bloody awful — but his business nous, his connections, and his undeniable patriotism mark him at the very least as someone with some of the tools required to discharge the post if successful. With 11 months until the votes are counted, there remains plenty of time to ascertain what defects might accompany those virtues, and how deleterious they might prove if Trump is elected: if, that is, he manages to secure the Republican nomination in the first place.

I do, however, think the prospect Trump will prevail is growing more probable, and especially if the Democratic nominee, as expected, is Hillary Clinton: one is the champion of just about everything the liberal Left stands for, and the other the polar opposite of it. Right now, if pressed to pick the winner between the two, I’d expect Trump to defeat Hillary.

With growing evidence in most Western countries that people at large are tiring of being told what to say, what to think, what to do and who to unquestioningly defer to, a candidate like Trump comes to this contest with a rich seam of public anger to tap into.

Former President Richard Nixon used to speak of the “silent majority” in America — it’s also a phrase I have used from time to time in tearing into the same insidious claptrap the Left propagates here in Australia — and it is this constituency of ordinary Americans, disaffected and shunned by the Left’s mission to turn the world into some open-border, wealth redistributing, thought-dictated and tightly controlled illiberal ecosystem that Trump is trying to harness.

Whether the Left likes it or not (and irrespective of who is right and who is wrong) people, broadly, are fed up with attempts to legislate their thought, speech and behaviour out of existence.

They are fed up with having pre-determined positions on issues imposed on them as “fact” — irrespective of the moral, ethical, legal or actual veracity of those positions — and then abused and publicly humiliated as “deniers, “skeptics,” “flat-Earthers,” and other accusations of heresy to paint them as ignorant reprobates and figures of ridicule.

They are fed up with being told their countries are international embarrassments and moral abominations by the Left when its own agenda is to destroy forever the fabric and values that underpins those countries in the first place.

They are fed up with governments that make little secret of their prioritisation of third world countries and sometimes murderous despots over the people who already live in their countries, and their welfare: the first responsibility of any elected government is to its own people, not to someone else, and the will in democratic countries to ensure that responsibility is honoured is growing stronger.

And ordinary people are fed up with a narrow band of chattering elites, drunk on Chardonnay and shaking their fingers at anyone or anything that moves in a contrary direction, telling them that their views, aspirations, and even their existence is meaningless compared to the “superior” agenda they seek to enforce.

America might or might not elect Donald Trump as its 45th President.

Whether it does or not, the popular uprising that buoys Trump’s current public standing is unlikely to be an isolated phenomenon. The “silent majority” — in the US, in the UK, here in Australia and elsewhere — is fed up with the drivel the Left is trying to impose on the free world.

If nothing else, Trump’s rise serves potent notice on the Left that its time is passing, and passing fast; all over the world, those who either seek to spread the Left’s agenda directly or who cheer it on from the sidelines — in a stupid opinion piece in the Fairfax press, for example — would do well to heed the warning signs currently emanating from the Republican nominating contest.

When the “silent majority” turns, its strike will be savage and swift; and the moral poseurs of today will become society’s pariahs tomorrow unless they abandon their seditious subterranean campaign to destroy it.

That is what Trump really represents, and it is why the likes of Flanagan and his brethren across the world are jumping all over him. Their panic is real, and their need urgent. They can hardly say they haven’t been warned.

 

*I use the word “liberal” today, of course, in its classic left-of-centre context, as it applies in US political discourse, and which has nothing to do with our own Liberal Party here in Australia.