A Message To The Liberal Party’s Current And Former Conservatives

WITH A new Essential poll showing Labor leading, 52-48 — bringing polling aggregates to an election-winning 50.9% for Labor — we reach out to the Liberal Party’s disgruntled conservatives (and those who’ve stomped out) in an attempt to avert disaster. Some are angry with Malcolm Turnbull, but the alternative promises only the ruin of a great country: allowing the ALP raze Australia’s interests in an act of petty revenge would be a travesty.

In what seems like the refrain of a broken record, I must yet again apologise to readers for the paucity of content on this site in recent weeks; the ramping up of other (revenue generating) commitments last year means that even milking more hours out of a day than there are to milk as I always do, something has to give.

But it is timely — in the context of continuing poor polls for the government, and as someone who campaigned resolutely to prevent Malcolm Turnbull from becoming Prime Minister over a period of years — to directly address the elephant in the room with an eye to the disgruntled, angry and/or departed conservatives who are determined to use the 2 July election as an opportunity to vent their spleens and to kick Malcolm, metaphorically, in the nether regions.

It doesn’t take me to tell a great many people that the humiliating spectre of first-term election defeat is very much a possibility: forgetting opinion polls altogether for a moment, the mood on the streets, among ordinary voters with little or no particular affinity with politics and/or politicians, is unmistakable, although I would note there is none of the grudging respect that marked the feel of the crowd when it resolved to despatch John Howard almost a decade ago.

Even Howard’s bitterest opponents had to concede (if privately) that their lives, and the lot of so many of those they fought against him to advance, had improved — however debatable they considered the increment — whereas today, after three years of drift under two Prime Ministers, despite much of the blame being attributable to those bent on gratuitously destroying a conservative government, there is no appetite for such sentiment at all.

Over the past week, we have missed several key issues: yesterday’s state budget in Victoria, for example, built on property tax revenues that would not exist under Bill Shorten’s plans to mostly abolish negative gearing incentives; posturing ahead of a make-or-break federal budget to be delivered on Tuesday; the letting of contracts to build a dozen new submarines; and the decision by the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court to declare the detention facility established on Manus Island by the Rudd government unconstitutional.

All of these matters we will inevitably touch upon, and selectively revisit, moving forward.

But with yet another poll yesterday showing the Turnbull government falling further behind the ALP, with Essential’s rolling survey finding a two-point gain for Labor in a week to lead 52-48 (and remember, half of that “finding” is last week’s: the most recent Essential result could have been as bad as 46-54 for the Coalition to balance out a 50-50 result a week ago) it seems clear that whilst trouble now confronts the Liberal Party on a rising number of fronts, one group that could help the party can and indeed should make its peace with the continuing government.

And that, in short, is the enraged conservative flank that has threatened to abandon it (or has already done so) over the dumping of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister: the so-called “Del-Cons,” as Daily Telegraph columnist Miranda Devine calls them, who inexplicably believe that were Abbott in charge now the government would be cruising toward re-election.

Regular readers know — and as I seem to be reiterating a lot lately — that I was a trenchant supporter of Tony Abbott for decades: not just as Prime Minister, or as Liberal Party leader, but as an agent for the conservative cause as far back as his entry to Parliament in 1994.

When he won the Liberal leadership I spent an inordinate amount of time behind the scenes working to build support for a man whose public persona had already been gleefully (and unjustly) tarnished by political opponents astute enough to recognise the electoral threat he potentially posed to them.

And for perhaps too long during his two-year Prime Ministership, this column continued to defend him and the misfiring administration he headed.

In both reaffirming support for Abbott in the aftermath of the “challenge without a challenger” in February last year and in withdrawing that support before he was ultimately dumped in September, I was explicit that the central defect in the Abbott government was the appalling quality of the support available to it: on strategy, on tactics, on policy, and on mass communication and salesmanship, Abbott’s government was shockingly advised, and the responsibility for this eventually fatal impediment lay with the official to whom that responsibility had been entrusted in his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin.

My position at that point was that either Credlin had to go, and the entire artifice of the advisory corps rebuilt from scratch, or that Abbott had to go to enable the termination of Credlin’s services, and at no time did that position coincide with any endorsement of Malcolm Turnbull. In fact, the utterances from this column explicitly emphasised anything but.

And it goes without saying that the Turnbull experiment — marked by gaffes, unforgivable lapses of judgement, mistakes and a sense of directionless drift — has hardly been a rip-roaring success, although today’s article isn’t about pointing fingers and doling out blame.

The upshot is that an unquantifiable number of previously rusted-on conservatives — be they from the party’s membership base or simply former Liberal voters — have noisily and viciously turned on the party, and continue to spray vitriol in the Turnbull direction at any and every available opportunity: understandably aggrieved that Abbott has not only been replaced, but replaced by a man many of them regard with unbridled contempt, these people are hellbent on engineering a change of government to ensure Turnbull is ejected from the office they believe he stole, and humiliated as badly and as thoroughly as possible.

I have to say that whilst I disagree with Malcolm on a lot of things — passionately in some cases — I do like him enormously; the times I have had cause for direct dealings with him (which admittedly were now more than 15 years ago) I found him engaging, amusing, and very intelligent indeed. My distinction between personal and political estimations of Malcolm are not a convenient fig leaf for my position on the Liberal Party leadership. It is possible, and not inconsistent, to draw such distinctions. But many of the people who profess to “hate” him have likely never met him, and if they have, one wonders whether their approach mirrored the tenor of their language toward him now. If it did, it should surprise little if the reception they elicited was frosty.

But look at Turnbull’s government. What has it done?

To date, it has maintained Abbott policy settings on gay marriage, offshore processing of asylum seekers, and the Direct Action package to deal with carbon emissions: part of a deal with conservatives to seal the leadership, perhaps, but for now at least these key settings remain in place. Changes later would rightly attract the charge of betrayal. But that is a question for another time.

Certainly, had Turnbull called a double dissolution for December — as repeatedly demanded by this column — we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all, for a December election was the one window open to the Coalition to capitalise on Turnbull’s honeymoon and cruise to a thumping election victory.

It didn’t, and poor performance this year has been reflected in opinion polls, which are suggesting a Coalition defeat. Polls under Abbott also suggested defeat, and by a wider margin than Turnbull is facing — for now — had he remained in place.

And just as there are a lot of things people (including me) want and wanted to see the government tackle — changes to laws governing free speech, labour market reform, tax reform, and the unsustainable overall level of government spending and debt bequeathed to the country by Labor — an even judgement suggests the present Senate was never going to allow any of these things to be attempted, although I would add that meaningful reform proposals could have served the dual purpose of giving the government a reform agenda and a bundle of extra double dissolution triggers on which to fight.

I agree that time — to say nothing of opportunity — has been wasted.

But whilst conservatives are entitled to vote as they see fit, and whilst the dissidents are perfectly entitled to facilitate the election of a Shorten government if that’s what they really want, I want to appeal to these people today to be more pragmatic than that — and to come back into the fold, even if it is with a peg affixed to their noses.

Fellow conservatives, just think about what you are considering.

Bill Shorten is a nihilistic, self-confessed liar who is known to harbour the delusion that the Prime Ministership is his destiny: he doesn’t give a damn who or what he has to walk over to achieve it.

He is a philanderer, a union thug, both puppet and puppeteer of the union movement, and an apologist for the worst excesses of unlawful and violent union militancy that have no place in a civilised, decent, and modern democratic society.

So confident is he of victory that he openly promises — nay, boasts about — $102 billion in tax slugs to be extorted from the Australian public over the next ten years: that’s $400 for every man, woman and child living in Australia today, year in and year out, every year, for ten years.

Not one cent of these proposed revenues is earmarked for budget repair or debt retirement: it’s just spend, spend, spend, which is the last thing Australia needs.

Under his “leadership,” the ALP continues to deny there is a problem with government debt, despite Australia now owing the rest of the world half a trillion dollars (when it owed nothing nine years ago) and despite average annual budget deficits adding another $50 billion to that figure each year for as far into the future as the eye can see.

Under his “leadership,” the ALP continues to peddle the lie that it isn’t responsible for this; to Labor, it was able to wash its hands of its dirty acts the day it returned to opposition.

Hundreds of billions of dollars in unfunded spending programs were legislated before the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd regime was turfed out; those criminally irresponsible acts of economic sabotage are and were nothing less than the price the ALP was prepared to pay to ensure it could kill off a Liberal government in a single term.

Incredibly, Labor’s efforts to pin responsibility for the budget and debt mess on the Coalition have largely resonated: not least, because the wrong people were charged with devising and selling the Coalition’s message, and fucked the job up completely.

Shorten Labor will hobble Australia with not one economy-destroying carbon tax if elected, but two.

It floated a policy two years ago (since hidden, for obvious reasons) to abolish the private health insurance rebate, which would cripple healthcare in this country and destroy the capacity of the Medicare to cope with the mass exodus from the private system.

It advocates changes to negative gearing that, if implemented in their current form and on timelines currently suggested, would have economy-wide reverberations that could induce a recession, in addition to causing a crash in the property market (irrespective of what Labor says) and destroying the value of the homes of hard-working mums and dads.

And the most disgusting thing of all is that having gambled when in office with Australia’s financial welfare and having shown no inclination to fix its own mistakes, Labor on Shorten’s watch has refused to permit any attempt by the Coalition to do the job at all: yes, the Hockey budget of 2014 was political cyanide, and its measures poorly targeted and badly framed.

But for the life of this Parliament, Shorten has been instrumental in seeing that any Coalition bill that raised spending was passed, whilst anything that sought to cut it was voted down in the Senate, and anyone tempted to flirt with a Shorten government — especially Liberal Party conservatives either walking out the door or already outside the tent — should bear all of this in mind.

I understand how aggrieved some of these people are; but really — weighed against the perhaps irretrievable additional damage another Labor government would now inflict — surely Malcolm, faults and all, must constitute the lesser of two evils?

Win or lose, his days are already numbered; if he loses the election, his departure from Parliament could come as soon as the evening of 2 July.

Win very narrowly, and there’s no guarantee he will be permitted to serve out a full term.

And even if he defies the polls and wins in a canter, Malcolm will be 62 in October: it is a cruel reality of Australian politics that Prime Ministers rarely survive in office much longer than that even in the best of times.

Excluding Bob Menzies (who was lucky to enjoy very poor opponents for much of his period in office, especially in the final years of his tenure), John Howard was shown the door by voters at 68. Bob Hawke was jettisoned by his own party at Turnbull’s age. The ridiculous Bill McMahon was dispensed with at 64 as soon as voters had the opportunity to do so. Fraser and Whitlam didn’t even make it to 60 in office.

My point is that Malcolm isn’t going to be around forever, but the Liberal Party will be; and whilst the ebbs and flows of political process have been unkind to its conservative wing in recent times, ultimately the party’s need for its conservative flank is greater than the recent sequence of events might suggest.

I don’t necessarily agree with any of the measures I’m going to now list: I’m not deserting the Liberal Party and I’m committed to getting it re-elected irrespective of my thoughts on its present leader and some of the more dubious appointments he has surrounded himself with.

Those who are angry could vote for the National Party in the Senate, unless they live in SA or Tasmania: keeping it “within the Coalition” but making a symbolic protest felt over the dumping of “their elected Prime Minister.”

Those who simply must vote against the Liberals in the lower house should still preference the Liberal Party above both Labor and the Greens: the consequences of Bill Shorten as Prime Minister would be cataclysmic.

If angry conservatives don’t want to help on local seat campaigns where a moderate candidate has been endorsed, get in the car and go and help a conservative Liberal out: again, at least keep it within the tent, even if the displeasure you feel must be made obvious in doing so.

But more than anything — even if you can’t bring yourself to say anything nice about Malcolm at all, even in the name of hunkering down and making sure the Left is locked out of government — then for God’s sake harness your hatred and unleash it toward Bill Shorten and the ALP, for any government formed by that group would amount to an unmitigated disaster from which Australia might not recover.

To the conservatives who are determined to desert the Liberal Party right now — over the identity of its current leader — I say the party needs you, and needs you badly.

I understand your grievances and to the extent I share in them have myself taken enormous reflection to make the appeal I now make.

Bill Shorten and Labor have no care for the long-term welfare of this country: if elected, they will lay waste to it in a naked lust for power for themselves, the union thugs and bastards who fund and control them, and with an utter disregard for its best interests for generations to come.

The grievances of conservatives deserved to be aired, debated and dealt with, but not now: after an election, with the Coalition re-elected, is the time for such discussions to occur.

In the final analysis, it is no exaggeration to suggest that defeat for Malcolm Turnbull at this election could well herald Australia’s ruin, and if hacked-off conservatives are as true to the values of duty and country as they are rightly proud to insist, then the Liberal Party’s need for their help — and their own interests in forever preventing Shorten from “leading” Australia — are complementary, if not identical, considerations.

For those on the Liberal Right who have walked away, it’s time to return to the fold.

 

Bjelke-Echo: Qld Labor’s One-Fingered Salute To Democracy

IN THE CONTEXT of post-Fitzgerald Queensland politics — emphasising clean and transparent government — Queensland Labor has committed a brazen act of electoral self-interest that would make Russ Hinze and Joh Bjelke-Petersen blush; the abolition of optional preferential voting at 15 minutes’ notice is a shameful act that merits retribution from voters, but the poorly led LNP has made itself implicit in an outrageously indecent event.

When I first heard on Thursday (appropriately enough, whilst wandering around in Brisbane) that Queensland had abolished optional preferential voting (OPV), I thought there must have been some kind of belated April Fools’ prank played on news services, but regrettably, the news was no joke.

OPV — introduced by Labor in 1991 by the Goss Labor government as part of sweeping Fitzgerald reforms to clean up the rotten state of governance in Queensland after the Bjelke-Petersen era — has long since become a headache for the ALP, as the effects of its left flank being hived off by the Communist Party Greens was compounded by the merger of the Liberal and National Parties north of the Tweed in 2008 as a response to the impact of OPV on traditional three-cornered contests in seats featuring both Liberal and National candidates.

Even so, Labor has prospered in Queensland over the quarter of a century since OPV was introduced; so much so that it has held office for all but five years since 1989, and so much so that Queensland’s only rival for the mantle of Labor’s best mainland state* is Victoria: and in Victoria, the Liberal Party has governed over the same period for more than twice as long as its northern counterparts.

At every turn, Queensland Labor has paraded itself as an unimpeachable beacon of post-Fitzgerald integrity and virtue, so much so that it has had little reticence or compunction in falsely labelling its opponents as corrupt on the most spurious grounds ever since, with an endless stream of referrals of conservative identities to the state’s anti-corruption watchdog that have invariably been found baseless, and even to the point of smearing former Premier Campbell Newman as “little Bjelke.”

Bjelke-Petersen — and the stench of corruption that forever stains his legacy — indeed lives on, it seems, through an act of wanton electoral fixing that would make even Bjelke-henchmen Russ Hinze and Don “Shady” Lane blush, with the wildcat abolition of OPV on Thursday afternoon in an unforgiveable attempt to entrench the ALP in office in the Sunshine State.

First things first: readers can peruse some additional coverage from the Courier-Mail here and here; that paper’s characterisation of this distasteful episode as a “dark chapter” in Queensland politics is absolutely correct, and anyone remotely interested in standards in public life is entitled to be outraged.

The indecently subterranean manner in which this disgrace has been foisted on unsuspecting Queenslanders and on an unsuspecting Parliament is one of the more insidious aspects of the sordid affair; confronted by the knowledge that the LNP-sponsored bill to enlarge the Legislative Assembly from 89 to 93 seats had secured crossbench support, the Palaszczuk government did a secret deal of its own with the crossbench to pass an amendment to restore compulsory preferential voting (CPV).

(For those in the southern states who don’t know, the LNP wanted the parliament enlarged slightly: not to rig it — by the party’s own admission, it knew the extra seats would appear in and around Brisbane — but in the hope the “ripple effect” on boundaries pushed outwards would result in slightly smaller rural electorates, geographically, for its MPs to need to travel across to cover. “One vote, one-value” was never at risk in this scenario).

There was no warning, no debate, and no public discussion whatsoever; there has been no groundswell of support in Queensland for the restoration of CPV either. Quite the contrary, for the “exhaust” rate at Queensland elections now averages 50%, which is solid evidence that Queensland voters increasingly do not wish to allocate a preference to candidates other than the one they opt to vote for.

This, in turn, destroys the argument used by Labor hacks that CPV is the “most democratic” option: yet forcing people to express preferences for candidates they have no interest in voting for is not at all democratic. Clearly, those who wish to do so under OPV can, but the rest aptly exercise their democratic right by choosing not to. In my own case, I vote Liberal. The rest of the candidates on the ballot paper can go to hell. There are millions of voters in this country who take a similar approach to the voting process. Forcing them is simply not on in my view.

But the introduction of OPV was the direct result of the reform process overseen by Tony Fitzgerald QC at the end of the 1980s, and OPV was an explicit recommendation of the Electoral and Administrative Review Committee (EARC) charged with the abolition of the zonal electoral system (the gerrymander) and its replacement with an open, transparent system that was most democratic and which sought to most accurately produce results that reflected the “one vote, one value” principle.

The Queensland ALP has now thoroughly trashed that principle. CPV, had it applied at last year’s state election, would have netted Labor nine extra seats and a solid majority. It’s not difficult to ascertain the motivation for this change.

Even so, any measure of public policy that becomes known just 15 minutes before it’s dropped like a bombshell in Parliament — and the bill presented as a fait accompli — is inherently malodorous, to say the least.

But Labor doesn’t seem to care, and indeed is jubilant about the rort it has just implemented; Transport minister Stirling Hinchcliffe — the so-called architect of the plot — dismissed the Fitzgerald reforms as “something that happened 25 years ago,” to which I can only respond, as someone who grew up in Brisbane in the 1970s and 1980s and witnessed the worst excesses of Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s junta first hand during my formative years, is that those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.

In deference to the late Lane, perhaps Hinchcliffe should, in future, simply be referred to as “Shady.” After all, if the shoe fits…

It is not the place of the electoral system to do the bidding of any particular party (although an earthy view compels me to note that the evolution of Australia’s voting systems has mostly been driven solely by self-interest); Labor — with the three-cornered contests once fought out by the Liberals and Nationals a thing of the past, now finds itself bleeding on account of the quarter of its vote that has been annexed by the Greens over the past 20 years and the increasingly unreliable flows of preferences that have derived from them under OPV.

The Liberals and Nationals found a solution that involved adaptation on their own part rather than rorting the system: amalgamation, whether you’re a fan of it or not.

Labor’s solution? Rig the electoral system.

It comes as no surprise that critics and sometime allies alike have condemned the Palaszczuk government over the past 48 hours; even Fitzgerald — who over the years has done nothing to actively dispel public perceptions of passive support for the ALP — has indicated he is disgusted, stating that he “has found refuge in a zone of indifference.”

But probity and decency have never meant much to the ALP in Queensland; the party that rigged the electoral boundaries in 1947 in the first place only became indignant about it once it discovered someone else — Bjelke-Petersen and his Country Party — was even better at “fixing” things than Labor was. The fact Labor was the beneficiary of the fallout at the 1989 election had more to do with being in the right place at the right time than with any particular standards of principle or decency.

It is to be hoped Queensland voters respond with a violent lurch against the ALP when next it goes to the polls; to say Labor is now thoroughly unfit to govern Queensland is an understatement, but unless it is hit by a massive backlash — and quickly — it will be entrenched in office for the foreseeable future, stitched up with a rock-solid flow of Greens preferences in marginal seats, and shutting the door on the LNP for another generation.

This is, of course, precisely the desired outcome.

In closing, I ask readers (and especially those floating around the LNP, telling themselves how brilliant and politically astute they are) to spare a thought for embattled LNP leader Lawrence Springborg.

Once it became obvious what Labor’s game was, neither Springborg nor his minions made any attempt to withdraw their bill; hurried “negotiations” on the sidelines with the pivotal Katter MPs, yes, but no attempt to kill the whole thing off.

As a consequence, Springborg got his four extra seats in the state Parliament: but his bill, violated and exploited to permanently advantage the ALP, was allowed to sail through passage unmolested. Yes, any attempt to withdraw it might well have failed, but Springborg didn’t even try to stop it.

It speaks to the truly shocking lack of political judgement that characterises his leadership of the LNP, and underscores in graphic detail the reasons this column has called for him to be replaced (or preferably, to never have been restored to his post at all after the defeat of the Newman government).

Labor has engineered a ruthless and ethically bankrupt coup in an area that should have been off-limits in a state with such a protracted history of institutionalised corruption, and should have been beneath it to even contemplate had its hot air and bullshit about standards been based on conviction rather than expediency.

Springborg, for his part, has the four extra seats he wanted added to the chamber as part of the upcoming state redistribution: but he is also the sponsor, and now the proud owner, of a tarnished set of electoral laws that will put future elections beyond his party’s reach.

That’s a hell of a price to pay for enlarging the size of Parliament.

My final thought is that with such a fatally flawed and chronically defective leader, the LNP simply doesn’t have the mettle to fight the fight over this issue at a state election: the only way to reverse the travesty sprung on Queensland by Labor is to so turn public opinion against the government that it loses — and loses so badly the ALP will never attempt this sort of stunt again.

Springborg can’t convince voters in Brisbane to vote against Labor at the best of times, as has been shown at all three elections he has previously contested as leader. If he couldn’t prevail at any of those — two of which should have been unloseable — there is no reason to believe he could make a decent fist of trying to capitalise on a political gift like this either.

 

*I’m not counting South Australia, with its rigged boundaries and the supposedly “fair” process that contrives to entrench the ALP in office: little better than an actual gerrymander, nobody can seriously claim South Australian politics — despite the ineptitude of that state’s Liberal Party — operates on anything less than an institutionalised stitch-up.

 

 

Credlin Controlling Coalition Campaign? It’s Worth A Thought

THE NOTION of controversial former Chief of Staff to Tony Abbott (and one-time Turnbull adviser) Peta Credlin running the Coalition election effort to instil discipline and consistency is not as ridiculous as it sounds; Malcolm Turnbull will have Credlin nowhere near his government, and usually, we would wholeheartedly agree: but the divisive former aide’s campaign skills will be sorely missed in a tight contest, where the risk of defeat is real.

This column — as regular readers know really, really, really well — evolved over the two years following the 2013 election into a staunchly implacable critic of the Chief of Staff to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Peta Credlin; the operating methods of the government under his leadership were amateurish, counter-productive, and in terms of the Coalition’s public messages were almost invariably of more benefit to the ALP than they were to the Liberal Party, the Prime Minister, or to the voters who elected them to office in a landslide.

Indeed, it was Abbott’s refusal to redeploy or replace Credlin that led me to withdraw my decades-long support for Abbott as Liberal leader, although I was at pains to stipulate that this did not equate to an endorsement of Malcolm Turnbull.

Even so, we have always been careful to acknowledge the one strength (and triumph) that can never be taken from Ms Credlin: the welding of the Liberals into a cohesive, disciplined fighting unit that (mostly) remained focused and on message leading into and during the 2013 campaign; I have often opined that Credlin was an ideal spearhead for an opposition, or for an election effort, or both; the great shame is that it appears to have been one of those situations where what was brilliant in opposition did not translate to government: and refusing to exercise the foresight and perspective to recognise as much, Abbott and Credlin together paid the ultimate political price.

On this basis, it is difficult to argue with the sentiments expressed today by Herald Sun commentator Andrew Bolt, who argues Credlin (or someone like her) should be running Turnbull’s re-election campaign which, lamentably and to put it most kindly, is all over the shop.

As Bolt notes — and despite explicit and repeated threats to call a double dissolution election if his legislation to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission was defeated — Turnbull couldn’t even confirm the poll would be held on 2 July as previously indicated, a state of confusion echoed by other senior Coalition figures from deputy Julie Bishop down.

Despite a reasonable suite of reforms to overhaul the corporate regulator, ASIC, and give it more teeth to act on real and/or alleged misdemeanours by Australian banks, the government seems unable to present a united position on whether the planned changes are sufficient or whether a Royal Commission into the banking sector should be held instead.

And instances of ridiculous Coalition disunity — such as the one cited by Bolt that featured Queensland backbencher Warren Entsch bragging about hanging up on Turnbull “in disgust” over his marginal electorate missing out on “a share” of a lucrative shipbuilding contract — are unforgivable, heading into a difficult campaign the government may struggle to prevail in.

Meanwhile, opposition “leader” Bill Shorten is being allowed to escape, scot-free and with no accountability applied to him by the government, as he works his way through a series of emptily populist ruses that he thinks may yield votes: hitting multinationals (which no Western country has successfully “hit” to date), hitting “rich” people’s superannuation, hitting the “rort” of negative gearing, hitting smokers, hitting “high” income earners — you name it.

Unwisely, but perhaps as a result of its own systematic slash-and-burn approach to potential reform options, the Coalition has too often danced to Labor’s tune rather than articulating its own vision — opening itself to the charge of having no ideas — and when it has presented its own ideas (read: income tax powers for the states) the result has been a big old mess.

And it has let Shorten get away with brazenly boasting about the $102bn in new taxes a Labor government would raise over the next decade, which Labor itself makes no effort to deny is earmarked solely for more lavish, wasteful spending programs, with no firm pledge to repay any of the half-trillion dollars either borrowed on its watch last time or embedded into legislation to force the Liberal Party to its will.

I’ve been calling this obscene intended tax slug what it is: a $400 raid per year, every year for ten years, on every man, woman and child living in Australia today.

Given half the population already subsists exclusively on one government payment or another, in reality this is more like double that amount for the rest of us: $16 each, each week for ten years, for a Labor government likelier than anything to finish the job of destroying Australia that its Rudd-Gilard-Rudd forbear started.

Can anyone seriously believe Mr Three-Word-Slogan — Mr Great Big New Tax — would be letting Shorten and his accomplices get away with such a brazen exercise in chasing power at literally any price?

More to the point, can anyone seriously believe that a Credlin type would be letting her Prime Minister vaccillate and ramble on the stump — with no consistency other than to be consistently fickle — for a second longer than the blunt conversation to “tell” him to stick to the script?

The Abbott forces — which, of course, include Credlin — are (understandably) believed to remain highly aggrieved and very bitter over their unceremonious dumping last September, a disproportionate share of the reasons for which emanated directly from Peta Credlin herself.

Yet even Abbott, in a column appearing in Sydney’ Daily Telegraph today, continues to show that whilst he may no longer be Prime Minister and may well be possessed of a mouthful of sour grapes, he remains more able than Turnbull to at least identify the key issues the government should be targeting — even if, on his own government’s watch, the communication and strategy apparatus at his disposal to prosecute them was useless.

Could there be a one-off, short-term role as a campaign strategy consultant for Credlin? It’s doubtful. Not only is she unwelcome in the engine room of the Turnbull government, but common sense suggests (with no slight to Ms Credlin’s sense of professionalism intended) that putting such an embittered and jaundiced individual anywhere near the drivers of the continuing administration would be too great a risk to justify it.

Just look at what Kevin Rudd and Shorten got up to as Cabinet ministers last time. The principle is identical.

But one of the glaring deficiencies in Turnbull’s — well, you could hardly call it a campaign strategy — is the ostensible absence of anyone who might haul the entire enterprise onto a far more professional (and not least, effective) footing.

In this sense, Bolt is dead right, and with electoral defeat a very real risk for Turnbull, the imperative to remedy this problem is beyond urgent. The fact the problem even exists at all is beyond belief.

If nothing is done, Turnbull and his acolytes will stumble, bumble, contradict and waffle their way all the way to 2 July. If this methodology indeed proves the route they traverse to get there, the humiliation of defeat will loom large.

Shorten is running all over the government with a message that is one half bull and the other half shit, to paraphrase a rather indelicate ditty from the 1980s.

The only people who can win this election for the Coalition are Turnbull and his colleagues. If they are serious, and if they want to win (which from outside the Canberra bubble is a devastatingly valid question), then it’s time to start to behave like it.

If that means providing a temporarily renewed lease on life for the adviser this column once characterised as the creature from beneath the septic tank, then so be it.

 

Double Dissolution: Why Turnbull Was Right To Confront The Senate

NOTWITHSTANDING signals from some polls — and some pundits, including myself — of a tight election that may yet see Labor triumph, an issue that will receive scant attention in this campaign is the role of the Senate, and the bluntly pro-Left battering ram it has become. The present Senate is not “democratic.” Electoral laws that allow its abuse by the Left have been axed. Win or lose, Mr Turnbull has rightly bleached a stain on Australian democracy.

There is a scenario doing the rounds in the mainstream commentariat this week — not without reason, I might add — that having invested so heavily in engineering a double dissolution and having so emphatically framed it as a battle to eradicate lawlessness in the construction industry, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull could win a narrow majority in the House of Representatives that is insufficient to overhaul its minority in the Senate, making it impossible to muster the numbers to pass bills at a Joint Sitting of Parliament: rendering the disputed bills, and the entire pretext for a double dissolution, redundant.

It would amount to a humiliation that, were this nightmare scenario to materialise, would justify (if not demand) Turnbull’s resignation.

Yet the truth is that most voters — generally uninterested in politics and often resentful at being forced to pay it any attention at all — won’t even consider the context of a double dissolution election even this closely, let alone delve deeper into the issues that have led to Parliament mostly being an unproductive quagmire for the past three years.

I have been reading an article by Paul Kelly in The Australian this morning, and given we’re embarking on an election campaign of unprecedented duration, I thought it might be an opportunity to revisit the fraught issue of the Senate; the double dissolution itself is only half the story, for this election will take place under amended electoral laws that dispense with group ticket voting (GTV) that relies on preference deals determined in advance by parties and independent candidates, and allows for the first time voters to optionally allocate their own preferences to control where their votes are ultimately directed.

Back in the early 1990s, I was a very hotheaded member of the (sizeable) contingent who found it outrageous that then-PM Paul Keating should dare to describe the Senate as “unrepresentative swill;” of course, the subsequent years have shown Keating was absolutely correct, and the chief role of the Senate seems to have evolved over the ensuing 20-odd years to amount to little more today than a battering ram to bludgeon and seek to destroy a conservative government by making it impossible for it to govern.

Before any of our friends on the Left who read my stuff start protesting, I should restate my long-held belief that a government elected to power with a majority in the lower house should generally be entitled, in ordinary circumstances, to be able to govern for three years at a time and to secure the passage of its legislation; there is no codified status as a “house of review” ascribed to the Senate in the Constitution, for the true role of the upper house — long since usurped by the two-party system — is as a States’ House.

It goes without saying, of course, that no political party will ever legislate to force the Senate to act purely on the basis of state interests, for to do so would be to necessarily remove the presence of political parties from the Senate altogether. It ain’t going to happen, and so the next best thing is to ensure that without creating an automatic rubber stamp, the composition of the Senate broadly reflects the wishes of the Australian public as expressed by their preference for a government at the ballot box.

In this sense, it should also be noted that there is no right to seats in Parliament for micro-parties, Independents or selected minorities embedded in the Constitution either: and those who wheel this fatuous argument out to decry “authoritarian” Senate reforms that “diminish diversity” need to get a handle on both themselves and the fact that elections are chiefly concerned with choosing governments — not with the execution of left-wing social policy.

That comes later, if indeed it must.

Kelly tells the story today (that we have sporadically touched upon here) of the bills to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission: taken to the people as a promise by the Tony Abbott-led Liberals in 2013, the Coalition’s mandate on this issue was flatly ignored by a Senate bent on trying to destroy the government as much as with safeguarding the unregulated environment in which unions presently operate.

He tells the story of the Heydon Royal Commission into the union movement — another promise taken to the electorate in 2013 by Abbott — and the reprehensible lengths the Senate, stewarded by Labor’s Penny Wong and abetted by the Greens and a large contingent of the crossbench, went to in trying to have the Inquiry shut down and/or Heydon’s position terminated: including the improper and undemocratic attempt to politicise the office of the Governor-General in seeking to have Sir Peter intervene in a breach of both protocol and convention.

The attempt also shattered forever Labor’s long-held position that the Governor-General “takes advice from his Prime Minister and from no-one else” — invalidating, at a stroke, 40 years of bitching and complaining about the legal and perfectly proper actions of Sir John Kerr in dismissing the Whitlam government over a parliamentary deadlock in 1975.

He makes the point, implicitly, that Labor’s actions betray its utter enslavement to the agenda and interests of the union movement, be they democratic or otherwise: I don’t think it’s an unreasonable inference to suggest that even if allegations of heinous crimes such as rapes and murders and the like had emerged from the Heydon Commission (which they didn’t, just to be clear) then the ALP would still have acted as an apologist hand puppet for its union masters and assisted their endeavours to evade enforcement of the law.

And he correctly asserts that the antics of the Senate over the past three years — blocking, for example (and this is an old story) virtually every Coalition measure to rein in expenditure whilst allowing anything that increased spending to pass, in a brazen enterprise to perpetuate the vandalism and sabotage Labor deliberately wrought on the federal budget once it knew it was returning to opposition — belie a realignment of power between the Senate and the House of Representatives, with the former strengthened in relative terms against the upper.

The structure of the Senate and the system used to elect it, as regular readers well know, has long been a particular bugbear of mine; we have discussed these matters often over the past five years, and newer readers can peruse a small selection of historic material here, here and here: some of which touches directly on the matters at hand this morning.

The great villain in the piece — and which has enabled the Senate to evolve into the shameful stain on Australian democracy that its current incarnation represents — was the suite of reforms introduced by the Hawke government in 1984 (with the foolish support of the National Party guaranteeing their passage) which enlarged both Houses of Parliament, introduced the now-familiar options for voting above or below the line, and which established the GTV scourge that has in recent years spawned the phenomenon of “preference harvesting” or “preference whispering” and ultimately led to the cesspool the upper house is today.

To be fair, the House of Representatives needed to be enlarged in 1984, having remained relatively unchanged in size for almost 40 years whilst the Australian population exploded, and it needs to be enlarged again now; after the 1984 charges, a lower house MP was responsible for the service of roughly 60,000 electors; today, thanks to population growth, each MP is responsible to almost double that number. The 125-seat House that grew to 150 in 1984 should really now be expanded to 180 seats. In 20 or 30 years’ time, it will need to be enlarged again.

But the Constitution (and specifically, S24 of it) mandates that “as nearly as practicable” the House of Representatives should be composed of double the number of Senators — the so-called “constitutional nexus” — which means that to enlarge the lower house is to also enlarge to upper, cutting the required quota of votes under the proportional system used to win election to the Senate, and perpetuating the dysfunction that has marked the upper house for too long in recent times.

A kind view says that the 1984 changes could retrospectively be seen as having had the unintended effect of creating the mess the Senate has become.

But Labor — whose fury over what happened in 1975 has dimmed, but will never really diminish — was hellbent on seeing to it that such a fate could never again befall a government it formed, and I have always believed the splintering effect upon the ability of major parties to win Senate majorities that has flowed from those changes was deliberate.

Yes, the Howard government won a Senate majority for its last term in office; this was an anomaly, not a readily replicated precedent.

But for the past 40 years, the splinter parties that have emerged in Australian politics have mostly sprung up on the Left — the Greens especially — and by lowering the bar to parliamentary entry, the likelihood was always that unless the Coalition could corral close to 50% of the upper house primary vote at consecutive elections it could never achieve a majority there, whilst the proliferation of new left-leaning entrants to the Senate offered the ALP the eventual prospect of control of the Senate (in partnership with some of these minor entities) whether it held office or not.

And that is precisely where the Senate result in 2013 — added to the Senate results in the states from 2010 — sees us today.

The long and the short of all of this — until Turnbull’s legislation to overhaul Senate elections was passed — is that the upper house has morphed into an institution likely to deliver effective control of the Senate (with the Greens) to any Labor government formed in the lower house, whilst providing the muscle to block anything introduced by a government formed by the conservative parties.

This power has been repeatedly abused over the past three years, although the tactical and strategic ineptitude of the Abbott government’s “brains” trust meant that it was never exploited and turned to the Coalition’s advantage: instead, every defeat inflicted on the government simply emboldened the Senate, rather than spurring the Coalition to a public discussion of the role of the Senate to turn opinion in its favour, quickly engineering a pile of double dissolution triggers to give itself recourse against the upper house, and setting the crossbench up for an electoral mauling when it next faced voters.

You can’t say the government has demolished the standing of the crossbench even now: still behaving as laws unto themselves and spared any meaningful scrutiny in a huge portion of the media, most of its members are openly campaigning for the protection of their well-remunerated sinecures with a near-total disregard for the national interest.

And in my view, the only surprise to emanate from the Senate since the ALP lost power three years ago is that it didn’t try to force an election by blocking one of the Abbott government’s budgets. It astounds me that no attempt was made to do so. But it is the only mechanism for attempting to destroy an elected government through sheer bloody-mindedness that it hasn’t tried.

At the very minimum, the nexus of S24 must be broken, so the House can be enlarged without the need to bloat the Senate any further: the change will require a referendum, and it will require wiser heads than presently reside in Canberra to make the public case for it. In any case, the promise to freeze the size of the Senate at 76 members (or to cut it back to the 64 that applied before 1984) would go a long way to winning public favour. Australians don’t like politicians. Promising to limit increases in the number of them, or even to cut the number of them, are likely to be well received.

It is a great shame that so few will give a second thought to these issues, as Australia’s date with the polling stations on 2 July approaches; paradoxically, the voting public that may yet react against the Coalition over perceptions of chaos, the inability to pass its legislation and the sense the government “owns” the embarrassment the Senate has been will probably give little or no consideration to the fact Turnbull has had the bottle to finally push through changes that should sound the death knell for the kind of shenanigans the Senate has chosen to engage in.

But the bigger issue is what we actually elect MPs for: it might be legal to stonewall, to defeat, and to seek to destroy a government by rendering the Senate so uncontrollable as to sabotage that government, but it isn’t right.

Yes, Lefties, I know what you’re going to say; how can I suggest such a thing when I’m an ardent supporter of what happened in 1975? But two wrongs do not make a right, and in any case there was a real crisis of governance in the latter stages of the Whitlam government: the country was in chaos, and the Whitlam government had descended into little more than an unending string of ministerial scandals. Labor’s (and the Greens’) beef with the Abbott government boiled down to no more than a dislike of his government’s agenda. They were entitled to take such a view, of course. But their charge against Abbott paled in comparison to the track record of Whitlam and his cohorts.

Either way, events some 40 years ago do not justify the Senate being turned into a blatant battering ram or blunt object for the exclusive political benefit of the ALP and the Greens.

Nobody owns the Senate, although for the past six years, it has been held in an iron grasp by the forces of the Left: and their number — aided by left-leaning micro-parties and Independents, whose election was only possible due to a self-interested fix by the ALP 30 years ago — has grown to the point that it had become virtually impossible to remove the Left’s control of the chamber at an election once the preference games that GTV made possible had been initiated.

And it should be noted that Turnbull — even in an (unlikely) thumping victory in July — stands little chance of winning a Senate majority. That isn’t the point.

With a quota for a Senate place now much more likely to amount to exactly that in practice — and to hell with “diversity” arguments to justify Senators winning spots with half a percentage point of the vote — the result of the coming election will more closely (but of course, not precisely) reflect the broad wishes of a majority of the electorate, and that is just how it should be.

Whether you plan to vote Liberal, Labor or for someone else — and irrespective of what you think of Malcolm Turnbull personally — he deserves credit for the changes that have been legislated, and the contribution to improving outcomes of governance in this country that will flow from them will be an enduring one.

 

Election 2016: As The Curtain Rises, Turnbull Gamble May Backfire

THE SENATE — in defeating legislation to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission for a second time — has handed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull the pretext he sought on which to call elections for both Houses of Parliament; obliged by explicit public threats to take the matter to the people if the Senate voted it down, Turnbull is locked into a 2 July double dissolution. The campaign begins now. The election is Labor’s to lose.

And so it begins: on the first day of a three-week “special sitting” of Parliament to canvass, among other things, bills to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission — an Abbott government promise that received an electoral mandate in 2013 — the Senate has obliged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in record order, voting the ABCC legislation down last night and handing Turnbull the double dissolution trigger he sought in so doing.

Today’s article is really only intended to give form to some reflections on the contest that now begins; an election campaign that is effectively more than 10 weeks in length — and an actual campaign period that will still exceed seven weeks once formalised on 10 or 11 May — is an Australian record, and most voters will be heartily fed up with politics by the time the polls close on 2 July.

Leaving aside who did what, to whom it was done, or judgements about the validity or otherwise of the sequence of events that brings us to this point, the brutal truth is that the Liberal Party has spent its first term in office behaving in precisely the fashion Labor did between 2007 and 2013, which it has repeatedly protested it would never do.

A leader led the Coalition back into office at an election after multiple terms in opposition; for a short period, the government fared well and was popular, before an event caused its poll ratings to collapse: and his colleagues, panicked that the party would lose an election (or that more particularly, that some of them would lose their seats) effected a surgical and vicious snap coup to replace their Prime Minister with a man opinion polls suggested was far more likely to resonate with voters: and to win a second term.

Sound familiar? It should. Replace the word “Coalition” with “Labor” and extend the happy phase of government from three to 18 months, and you have the same storyline followed by the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government.

Like Julia Gillard in 2010, Malcolm Turnbull enters his first (and perhaps only) election campaign as leader with blood on his hands.

Turnbull came to the Prime Ministership far more popular than Gillard could ever have dreamed of being, but this esteem quickly proved illusory and transient: both Prime Ministers are and were deeply defective, albeit in different ways. Gillard’s political limitations quickly hobbled her government. Turnbull’s were on full display during a disastrous 14 months as Liberal leader in 2008-09. Both quickly squandered the initial goodwill voters were inclined to bestow upon them despite the grimy manner in which each ascended the greasy pole.

Gillard erred in rushing to an election a month after knifing Kevin Rudd; Turnbull has erred by waiting more than six months to go to the polls.

And whilst the Gillard campaign was a disaster — and seemed set to end stonily in defeat, with many crediting her notorious promise not to introduce a carbon tax (in response to an Abbott scare campaign) as the difference between salvaging enough seats to cobble together government from a technical loss or losing outright — it is here the parallels diverge, for now at least: the Turnbull campaign sits at the foot of the runway, and faces a three-week wait in the form of the remainder of the special sitting before it is really clear for take-off; nobody knows whether Abbott will play the subterranean wrecking role Rudd did in 2010, for example, or whether some Cassandra of the Liberal Party will seek to publicly humiliate Turnbull in the way Mark Latham did to Gillard three years ago.

This election is Labor’s to lose — unbelievably, after the tumultuous and unruly spectacle it indulged itself in before voters in office, and despite the reprehensible damage it inflicted on the structural integrity of Australia’s previously sound financial situation — for no better reason than the fact that in spite of the vapid, vacuous and often ridiculous drivel it has served up from opposition as “policy,” the message of “leader” Bill Shorten has been consistent.

Nobody can say that of Turnbull.

The Coalition starts this campaign with 90 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives; Labor has 55, the Communist Party Greens one, and there are four “Others:” of the four, one (Clive Palmer’s seat of Fairfax, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast) is a certain gain for the government, but beyond that, it is difficult at the outset to see Turnbull winning any new seats in any state or territory. Less than six months ago, there was a sound case to suggest it could take up to an extra dozen seats from Labor, all but wiping the ALP out in WA and Queensland in the process.

A uniform swing of exactly 4% would deliver the 21 seats Labor needs to secure a bare outright majority — and government — in the House of Representatives.

I don’t propose to spend much time discussing the Senate this morning; there will be ample time for that as the campaign progresses, and in any case my remarks today are meant only as a curtain-raiser to what will be a gruelling (and possibly quite nasty) campaign.

But with the reduced Senate quotas that apply at a double dissolution and considering the same foolish delay in calling an election that will cost Turnbull lower house seats, I can see the government winning five Senate spots in every state, plus one in each of the territories, and a sixth spot in WA and possibly — possibly — NSW and Queensland. This makes the best-possible return for the Coalition 35 of the 76 Senate spots: two more than it currently holds. Had this double dissolution been held in December like it should have been, six Senators in WA, NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria were all realistic propositions, and we would be talking about the possibility of 37 Coalition Senators and a far stronger position in the upper house than the advance by one to two spots that seems the government’s best hope now.

I am told Coalition strategists outside Canberra are increasingly pessimistic about the government’s prospects, and so they should be: for on its merits, the Coalition does not deserve to be re-elected, and the only thing it has going for it in terms of electoral appeal is that none of its MPs are Bill Shorten.

The government which — under two very different leaders — has proven singularly unable to deliver politically palatable policies, sell anything to a sceptical electorate, deal with a hostile Senate in any meaningful sense until the horse of public opinion had bolted (and changes to the way the Senate is elected, whilst crucial, appear in the eyes of the public as panicked self-interest) or to execute strategic and tactical manoeuvres in a manner that establishes and maintains ascendancy over its opponent is a government that staggers to its first re-election hurdle when it should be ready to jump.

This government has enjoyed not one, but two opportunities to capitalise on a deep reservoir of voter goodwill, and has managed to squander both; the orthodox wisdom is that the Coalition will be re-elected, for no other reason than “everyone gets two chances,” although that myth was exploded in stunning fashion last year by the LNP state government in Queensland.

None of this, of course, is to say that Labor represents the better proposition at this election — it doesn’t — or even that it deserves to win at all, which it certainly doesn’t.

As promised, over the next few days I will be publishing a piece discussing what I believe has been Labor’s “grand strategy” during this parliamentary term, and why simply sticking to the script has placed the ALP in a position to potentially win an election at which it should have no right to even contemplate victory.

The ALP has spent its term in opposition advocating “policies” that are little more than a sop to the Greens and the hard Left, with promises of multiple carbon taxes and 50% renewable energy targets that would decimate Australia economically and push the cost of living for ordinary folk through the roof.

Its only promises worthy of belief are those that threaten $102bn in new taxes on Australians over the next ten years: $400 per year for every man, woman and child living in this country today, every year for ten years.

It has obstinately refused to acknowledge its mistakes in government, or to apologise for the debt abyss into which the country’s affairs threaten to disappear, or even to show more than scant regard for the millions of ordinary voters who can’t be bribed with promises of endless welfare beyond vapid slogans based on assertions the Coalition would destroy healthcare, education and the welfare system generally if it’s re-elected.

At times, the shrill pronouncements of Shorten on labour market policy have bordered on the suggestion Australian workers will return to slave conditions under a re-elected Coalition government: the message from the opposition has been that crass.

And Shorten — a lying and conspiratorial union thug with the morals of an alley cat on heat and a cavalier disregard for anything and anyone other than himself, the exercise of power and his union buddies in that order — is hardly a suitable candidate for the Prime Ministership on any criteria grounded in principle, decency, or on a reasonable assessment of his likely performance if elevated to the office.

But Shorten has weathered multiple personal scandals that could (and probably should) have destroyed his “leadership;” he was perhaps fortunate to be untouched by the Royal Commission into the trade union movement, although he sustained considerable short-term collateral damage when its damning findings were released; and whilst he is just as reviled personally by the electorate as he saw to it Tony Abbott became, if the polls are any guide, the fact is that Shorten remains vertical: in the contest, hungry, and determined to win by any and all means possible.

By contrast, the misguided loyalties and misdirected energies of the Abbott era have given way to the dithering, tentative indecision of Turnbull; the Prime Minister’s stellar opinion poll bounce has evaporated, as this column repeatedly and correctly predicted, and despite a change in the guard in the government’s back of house, the government has remained poorly advised, appeared flat-footed, and Turnbull himself enters the campaign his own handiwork obliges him to embark on as the unpopular leader of a government that is sinking, and gives every appearance of a sense of entitlement to be re-elected, if not simply of a lame duck.

The point is that in a contest between two sides that have both exhibited division, unrest and disunity, I believe such circumstances favour the challenger: it isn’t through any sense of wild enthusiasm (or any enthusiasm for him at all) that Shorten finds himself in such a position. But the sentiment in voterland that “the other lot” can’t be any worse is exactly the millstone Turnbull has allowed to be slung around his, and his government’s, collective necks.

Without a hint of irony and in deadly seriousness, I believe the consequences of a Labor government — and especially one “led” by the insidious Shorten — would be so dire that I would give thought to emigrating were this nightmare scenario to materialise: I don’t think I could stand to watch Australia ravaged by yet another Labor outfit vying with its predecessors for the mantle of the worst government in its history, and a defiant refusal to have such a government adversely impact me personally would make the one-fingered salute relocation to the UK would constitute a worthy message to send to Canberra.

And those staunchly pro-Abbott members of the Liberal Party who think a Labor government — and a Shorten government, no less — is preferable to one headed by Turnbull had better wake up to themselves, and quickly.

Malcolm won’t be around forever; if he loses he will leave Parliament immediately; and if he wins narrowly, the chances of a mid-term replacement are high. There will be no landslide Coalition win this year. And even if there was, Malcolm will be 62 in October: in 2007, voters showed all too decisively what they thought of re-electing a 68-year-old, and Turnbull isn’t one-tenth the leader John Howard was. His time is going to be relatively short, however things play out. The relatively small but viciously fanatical rump demanding “(their) elected Prime Minister back” could pointlessly inflict great harm on the country by preferencing the ALP above the Coalition.

Yet when all is considered — at the outset of a campaign so long that literally anything could happen — the bottom line is this.

Were the election set for this Saturday, Labor would have to be favoured to win by a nose; this election is Shorten’s to lose, and whilst the benefits of incumbency and tools like the imminent federal budget are in Turnbull’s hands, he has shown to date a near-total inability to exploit such advantages.

Turnbull’s trajectory — for almost six months — has been steadily downwards; it is taking the government with it, and the danger of defeat now looms large.

At the start of the campaign — and whilst I will personally take no steps to help facilitate a change of government — I would find it difficult to publish an endorsement for either side were polling day scheduled for this weekend rather than 2 July.

It promises to be a pretty uninspiring period in what should be the pinnacle of Australia’s political cycle: insipid indecision and nothing to get excited about versus blatant opportunism, a naked lust for power at literally any cost, and a sackful of big sticks to hit people with if the insidious enterprise pays off.

What a choice.

But momentum at the outset is with the opposition, and it would be dishonest to try to suggest otherwise.

Time will tell whether this alarming state of affairs is remedied over the next ten weeks, but whether it is or whether it isn’t, Malcolm Turnbull will be responsible for it — either way.

 

Ipsos, Newspoll: Turnbull Election Loss A Distinct Possibility

MUCH AS IT PAINS some in the “brains” trust of the Liberal Party, this column calls political life as it sees it, and is uninterested in rah-rah propaganda for its own sake; today, with new polls from Ipsos and Newspoll, the trend we’ve been charting — a collapse in the Turnbull government’s standing — persists, with those figures (and some gut instinct) suggesting the Coalition, whilst not yet dead in the water, may nonetheless just about be cooked.

Exactly eight months after the Queensland LNP won a state election — ending 14 years of ALP government in the biggest landslide in Australian political history — I raised in this column the prospect, despite the 12.2% swing required, that it would lose the following election in 2015: and despite the torrent of abuse that poured through my phone in the days immediately afterward, along with a steady dripfeed of stories filtering south about what a fuckwit I was, on 31 January last year the LNP did precisely as I had predicted. It lost a state election.

The problem in commenting on (and making predictions about) a business as infinitely changeable and subject to wildcat acts of treachery as politics is that inevitably, some calls will be right and some will be wrong; we’ve nailed far more than we’ve missed here over the past five years, and if some in my own party resent the fact I make tough calls on the Liberals as much as on our opponents, then so be it. After all, I’ve been excluded from the inner sanctum; it’s a bit rich to then complain that I don’t regurgitate what’s on the song sheet. You can’t have it both ways.

Regular readers will know that I wrote the Abbott government off as terminal not too long after its politically disastrous 2014 budget; had it been implemented (and the merits or otherwise of the Senate’s behaviour notwithstanding) it would have gone some way to redressing the balance sheet, but not as far as required. In any case, then-Treasurer Joe Hockey had produced a politically incendiary package that targeted swinging Coalition voters in marginal seats, and backed by a thoroughly dysfunctional political machine in almost every conceivable sense, was unsaleable.

And whilst flatly opposed to the ascension of Malcolm Turnbull (and having said so repeatedly up to and including the day before he became Prime Minister) I was nevertheless emphatic that if he went to a pre-Christmas election last year, the Coalition would translate a quick sugar hit in public support into a sizeable election victory…but that the longer Turnbull delayed, the more support he would lose, the more his unreconstructed failings from his first stint as Liberal leader would resurface, and the likelier it would grow that the government would be defeated.

Two days before he rolled Tony Abbott, I published an article that comprehensively set out my reservations about (and my opposition to) a Turnbull Prime Ministership, and having looked it out to link into today’s piece, the arguments against Turnbull back in September look positively prophetic.

My reason for opening with this coverage of old ground (and a little self-defence) is that I think the federal Coalition is wandering very close to the point now at which its election prospects will become terminal: just as they were terminal under Abbott, a temporary reprieve from which was (ironically) delivered by the Turnbull coup, they are becoming so again as all the risks and flaws I warned about (as did other conservative commentators across the country) spring sharply back into focus.

In short, a Turnbull election loss is now a distinct possibility; some would argue it is probable. We will come back to that in a bit.

But it is against this backdrop that two new polls surface this morning — Newspoll in The Australian and the Fairfax-Ipsos poll — and whilst they show the government remaining competitive (on 49% and 50% of the two-party vote respectively), the bottom line is that if replicated at an election, the Coalition would probably lose narrowly. Across the basket of reputable polls we monitor in this column, the average two-party figure for the Coalition remains locked below 49.5%: leaving it dependent on enough votes in a tiny handful of key seats to fall across the line.

First things first: readers can access the Newspoll tables and the Fairfax press’ coverage of the Ipsos poll here and here respectively; I’m only going to allude to the findings rather than replicate them in full, so if the details are of interest please feel free to click through.

There are some really dangerous (or downright stupid) assumptions being made that find wide acceptance as common wisdom as to why Turnbull can’t lose, and before we get to talking about issues, or — again — the unforgivable drift and dithering of Turnbull’s government, I want to explode a few of them.

  1. Labor’s primary vote is too low to win an election

At 33% in Ipsos and 36% in Newspoll, in ordinary circumstances it should be too low to win; Essential (for what it’s worth) has seen it fluctuate between 35% and 38% over the past month, and my own “guesstimate” of the trend figure puts it at about 35.5%.

Yet with the Greens averaging 12% across all polls and the ALP guaranteed of 75-80% of these votes through preference flows, this lifts the “underlying” Labor position to 45%: from there, and with “Others” averaging 11% across all polls, the ALP need only attract 45% of those preferences to reach the 50% mark. As it usually scores 50-55% of these votes on preferences, the contention Labor can’t win with 35.5% of the vote on its own (if that proves the eventual figure at the ballot box) is simply untrue.

2. Malcolm Turnbull is the Coalition’s secret weapon

To achieve what, exactly? Ipsos is kinder to Turnbull than Newspoll, but the trend downwards is identical; even so, Newspoll — which is generally the most accurate survey of federal voting intention — shows Turnbull is not popular at all, with just 36% of its respondents (down another 2% in a fortnight) approving his performance, and 49% (+1%) disapproving. And in case anyone quibbles about margin of error, the resulting net approval score of -13% is a full 51-point turnaround in just five months: hardly the stuff of statistical blips.

Both of today’s polls show Turnbull with handy, but unconvincing, leads over Shorten as “preferred Prime Minister,” but in both cases those leads are diminished: Newspoll has it 47-28, whilst Ipsos (again kinder to Turnbull, but consistent with Newspoll on trend) finds it 54-27. It is rare for opposition leaders to win this measure, especially against first-term governments. That Shorten did so intermittently against Abbott speaks to the dysfunctional nature of Abbott’s political apparatus more than anything. Shorten’s numbers against Turnbull may be poorer, but they are not extraordinary in cyclical terms. Importantly for Labor, they represent a sharp upswing from their nadir prior to Christmas.

3. Bill Shorten is unelectable

Generally, I agree. Certainly, in my view, he is the least suitable candidate put forward for the Prime Ministership by any major party in decades, if not ever, although I’m not going to rehash those arguments today: there’s a wealth of articles dealing with Shorten and what should be his terminal defects readily accessible in the archives to the right.

But if we’re going to talk about “unelectable,” the Left spent three years screaming the same accusation against Abbott, going out of its way to smear and defame him to substantiate their charge. Nevertheless, Abbott won a thumping victory in 2013.

And if being “unelectable” is a bar to election victory, let’s consider a few other names. Steve Bracks. Bob Carr. Colin Barnett. Paul Keating. Jim Soorley. People forget that John Howard was “Mr 18%” and widely regarded (and lampooned) in the late 1980s as joke, or that Jeff Kennett lost two state elections (and, temporarily, his leadership of the Liberal Party) before storming to office in Victoria in 1992 and becoming a political titan. Admittedly, none of these men were as abjectly contemptible as Shorten.

Yet stranger things have happened.

4. Labor has no policies and is unfit to govern

Oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them: and Shorten knows this all too well.

As I argued last week, Labor’s program boils down to two words — new taxes — and a lot of new taxes at that: some $102 billion of them over ten years.

And it’s certainly true that the last Labor government committed unprecedented acts of economic vandalism on the federal budget, compounding this by its antics in opposition in marshalling obstruction to virtually every attempt to undo the damage in the Senate.

The country can’t afford another Labor government if it behaves as the last one did, obsessed with power to the exclusion of responsibility, and obsessed with socialist frolics and the empowerment of union thugs to the total exclusion of the national interest.

But — and this is a sad reality — the Coalition doesn’t exactly ooze policies either; three months of dithering, obfuscating and inaction over tax and budget policy means that a budget in 15 days’ time is going to have to produce a rabbit from a hat.

And the Liberal Party — through its knifing of Abbott, the mediocrity the Turnbull regime has proven to be, and the malicious preselection battles being fought out to knife conservatives in order to shore Turnbull’s position up — has gone out of its way to demonstrate that “unfitness for office” is not an epithet that applies exclusively to the opposition.

 

I must apologise to readers for my silence once again since my article on Thursday; that piece — written whilst sitting on the tarmac at Melbourne Airport in an A320 for 90 minutes, waiting for my delayed flight to Brisbane to get underway — provides a glimmer of insight into what awaits Australia if, God forbid, Shorten should be Prime Minister when we all wake up on 3 July.

I have in fact been preoccupied with other matters, and I have always made it plain that as this column is not a revenue-generating activity, other things that pay my bills must take precedence.

Time and other political events permitting, I will be publishing something during the week about Labor’s “grand strategy” during this term of Parliament, for I believe this has become increasingly clear over the past few months: and right now, one would have to say that it’s working.

Certainly, Labor’s political agenda — as fatuous and vacuous as it often is — is proving more fruitful at this point in the cycle than the Coalition’s, although as someone disinclined to buy into rah-rah propaganda and other self-congratulatory bullshit, I’ve long thought the defects in the way the Liberal Party has approached political strategy since roughly the midpoint of the final term of the Howard government have been obvious, although not as obvious to some as they should be, clearly.

Right now — after wasting a huge surge of electoral support, botching a series of ministerial appointments, eschewing hard conversations about the financial state Australia is really in and vacillating over what to do about it through tax reform — I think the Turnbull government is very, very close to the point its electoral position will become terminal.

It might not be showing up quite so starkly in the polls — yet — but since Christmas, every opinion poll in the country has contained at least one item of bad news for the government, if not several.

The Coalition’s primary vote is already down to the level at which Howard lost government in 2007; Labor support might be lower, but it has the Greens to guarantee it another 8-10% through preferences, which the Coalition does not.

Turnbull, personally, is every bit as unpopular as he was when booted from the Liberal leadership in 2009; he is little more popular than Shorten now, and faced with an opponent as cringeworthy and lamentable as Shorten is, that fact is an indictment.

Even Turnbull’s “preferred PM” numbers — the last sanctuary of the unpopular leader of an unpopular government — are drifting further and further downwards, and anyone who stakes the government’s re-election on a bet based on this particular index is delusional.

Today’s polls merely reinforce these observations.

The Coalition might not quite be dead in the water, but it has spent the year to date apparently determined to flirt with its political mortality, and to experiment with just how much water must be inhaled to induce drowning: its inability to make decisions, articulate policy or to sell its position convincingly is almost politically suicidal this close to a 2 July election its own handiwork has effectively locked it into.

Competitive as an averaged 49.4% across the full gamut of polls might appear on the two-party measure ten weeks from an election, the bigger question is whether the government is already cooked even if it isn’t running dead.

One of its signature tactical moves — a special sitting of Parliament, with plenty of inherent capacity to explode in Turnbull’s face — commences today, and concludes with an early budget on 3 May that possesses as much or more explosive potential.

In the next few weeks things will grow clearer, but for now — if you are wont to bet and looking for tips — I’m reticent to put my standard wager of a tenner on the Coalition just yet.

Oh, and for those who beg to differ, if Tony Abbott and his Prime Minister, Peta Credlin, were still leading the government today, it would be careening downhill toward certain defeat. Its policies may continue, but its political smarts in office were non-existent. On the latter point, Abbott and Turnbull might have more in common than they care to admit.

 

Memo Pinko Socialists: Australia Does Not Need More Tax

A LETTER — from 50 socialist activists — calls on Canberra to collect “more tax, more equitably” to pour more money into Health, Education and Transport whilst maintaining welfare spending. Ostensibly aimed at Coalition plans for a stimulatory company tax cut, the letter does not mention efficiency, is mute on waste inherent in current expenditures, and shows ignorance of cost of living pressures already hurting ordinary Australians.

The problem with socialism, as Margaret Thatcher famously observed, is that sooner or later you run out of other people’s money to spend; here in Australia, this truism — combined with the ingrained notion that the state knows best, and that alleged elites of the Left know best how to direct it — has seen a situation where simply flinging billions of dollars of taxpayer money at a time has become the entrenched norm whenever a problem or spending deficit is identified: whether real, imagined, or invented through political expediency.

I have been a consistent critic of blatantly political government expenditures in this column, with some of that criticism applying to the middle class welfare measures introduced by the Howard government as much as to the electoral enslavement of poorer people through recurrent largesse financed on international money markets by the odious Rudd-Gillard government; the merit, at face value, of some of these measures is not questioned, but the practice of simply borrowing infinitely to fund socialist pedagogy is a blight this country neither needs nor can afford.

And taxing people more, when Australia is not a low tax country as many assert — when the Medicare levy and GST are included in such pronouncements, from which they are usually omitted — but one of the higher-taxing OECD countries, is no solution either.

First things first: The Australian has coverage of this issue that readers may access here, with the actual open letter able to be viewed here.

And just in case anyone was deluded enough to think this stunt was independently motivated…the same newspaper covers opposition “leader” Bill Shorten “warning” about mooted Coalition plans for a company tax cut here.

Heaven forbid the Left should neglect to co-ordinate and synchronise its crap.

I saw a report earlier in the week that noted the program instituted by the Coalition to weed out disability support pension recipients who didn’t qualify was on track to save $680 million per annum; this is one spending program, one bloated, wasteful budget, and one sacred cow of the Left among thousands of others on the statute books.

These are people who — rather than take the government assistance they are entitled to, and do the right thing by not pushing the favour — have simply been found to be overclaiming on welfare or, even worse, claiming payments to which they were not entitled at all.

And the Left — including many of the names on that letter — opposed the crackdown to the hilt.

If you have a look at the names on the letter, none of them are what a reasonable person would describe as being in any way right of centre; most are openly or latently hostile toward the Liberal Party, and none is so insufficiently remunerated as to be in any way adversely impacted by their own calls for big tax hikes.

These are the people who, in the main, are already loaded; that list is heavily comprised of people who have made millions off the back of one form of constituent contribution or another. It’s not that I necessarily begrudge them their wealth — with a few exceptions, I don’t — but to have these people shaking their fingers at the rest of us whilst agitating to get their filthy paws further into our pockets is inappropriate.

These are the kind of people who are utterly resistant to any attempt at getting value for money; the $680 million saved by not paying disability pension recipients who could only be described as rorters is, to them, proof of what nasty arseholes the Liberals are: a rorter and a bludger addicted to welfare rather than trying to help themselves is a rorter and a bludger who will vote for the Left, which is the only group prepared to further the scam when in office.

Any suggestion for these people that perhaps Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan didn’t get it right first time around with the NDIS — and that at least a few billion could be chiselled out of its obscene $24 billion eventual cost without making an iota of difference to service delivery — is jumped all over as evidence of how heartless “non-believers” are, replete with vicious declarations about attacks on the sick and suggestions those who merely wish to ensure good value without jeopardising the scheme in any way are willing disabled people to die.

It’s the same over at Health, where billions of dollars are wasted through duplicate state-federal bureaucracies, and armies of well-remunerated pencil pushers soak up disproportionate amounts of health budgets that could and should be diverted to frontline service delivery if the back office wasn’t filled with unionised personnel hiding from the real world at taxpayers’ expense.

Over at Education — where, like Health, more money is being spent in real terms than ever before — there is a huge problem: despite the largesse, record teacher numbers, record real teacher salaries and record low teacher to student ratios, educational outcomes at Australian schools are falling fast, with ballooning numbers of school leavers unable to read, write or add up properly.

You only have to read the first few articles in any Australian news portal to spot the problem. If, that is, you are literate enough to know the difference between proper English and what some of these sites publish in the first place.

But suggest paying the best teachers more than the also-rans — or even getting rid of the worst of them — is to invite a barrage of militant bullshit from powerful education unions, which arguably have been the greatest beneficiaries of the various Labor governments that have ruled most states for a majority of the past 30-odd years.

You hear how hard teachers work, despite the fact teaching contact hours are now just 20 hours per week to free up time to stop them having to spend much of their own time on the job at all.

You hear how nasty Liberals have “secret agendas” to smash education, destroy public schools, and “divide and conquer” teachers by paying some more: not that the no-hopers in their ranks deserve to be paid at all.

Meanwhile, the best teachers (and there are many) are unable to earn more to reward their competence, and are forced to watch on as the clods in their staff rooms turning out kids who are not adequately equipped for life get paid exactly the same money as they do.

It’s a bit rich for the 50 socialists behind that letter — and I am not going to dignify any of them with  the publicity they clearly seek by naming them, except to say some, like Ged Kearney, are no more than jumped-up noisemakers who should simply be ignored — to assert the current federal government is somehow defective because the budget deficit has increased during its tenure.

After all, it was their friends and henchmen who created the problem in the first place, and their friends and henchmen — in the form of the insidious Shorten and his colleagues — who have led the charge to ensure the present Senate denies the present government virtually all of the savings it has sought to achieve in order to fix the deficit.

And it is perhaps no surprise that the “policies” announced to date by Shorten boil down to just two words.

New taxes.

If these people want more spent on Health, Education, and those who would rip the taxpayer off by claiming more than they are entitled to, they should first be prepared to accept a rigorous, line-by-line review of the record monies already being spent, for nobody (except those with their snouts in the trough) could credibly suggest adequate value is being realised from that expenditure.

There is no such thing as “government money:” there is revenue collected from the payments of wage and salary earners, consumer spending, and businesses. Every dollar spent by a government has been paid for by someone, and the cavalier assumption the pot is endless is obscene.

The idea people can simply be fleeced more to pay for this week’s Utopian fantasies is even worse.

This “open letter” (a tactic that is becoming as overused and clichéd as sealed sections in teenage magazines) purports to be aimed at rumoured Coalition plans — yet to be confirmed — that the company tax rate is set to be cut from 29% to 25% in Treasurer Scott Morrison’s looming pre-election budget.

Of course, anything that might grow non-unionised businesses must be belted out of existence using any and all means available.

Anything that might help create non-unionised jobs must similarly be smashed into pieces using any and all means possible.

And, naturally, anything that allowed non-unionised businesses to give their non-union staff pay rises, without Trades Hall being able to claim bragging rights for them, is an absolute no-no under any and all circumstances.

Whether they care to admit it or not — given everything that is wrong with government funding, the waste and inefficiencies involved, and the fact such expenditure is already running at record levels in real terms — what these people are really advocating is the ability to stack even more cronies and fellow travellers into unaccountable jobs at public expense, away from prying eyes, but whence unions can take aim at any government with the temerity to come looking to upset the apple cart.

Don’t believe it? Then let’s have these people jointly declare for an efficiency drive to free up some of the funds to cover the new measures they want and/or to enact budget redress. After all, it doesn’t take a genius to surmise that the scope to realise efficiencies — without jeopardising services, if not, perhaps the jobs of socialist stooges — runs to the tens of billions of dollars.

Don’t hold your breath.

Until or unless that happens, Australians are taxed quite highly enough as it is: and if 50 pinkos with more money of their own than most normal people will ever have don’t like it, there are plenty of Eurosocialist countries they can move to: where, of course, more of other people’s money has been spent than was ever on hand to begin with, and the ruinous state of those countries is a monument to the end destination people like the 50 pinkos are seeking to push Australia towards.