THE NOTION this week’s sensationally leaked conversation between a journalist and a former Premier may have been motivated by abortion as an issue is, as things stand, as plausible an explanation as any; should it prove to be so, the culprits must immediately be rounded up, dismissed from their jobs and sinecures, and expelled from the Liberal Party. Abortion is an explosive social issue. It is not suitable ammunition for public factional brawling.
I acknowledge I have remained silent for a few days this week (busy, busy) but readers will know that as ever, I have been keeping an eye on events; I received the now-infamous email on Tuesday morning from a non-existent member of the Liberal Party seeking to distribute the conversation between former Premier Ted Baillieu and The Age‘s reporter Farrah Tomazin — and I do not intend to oxygenate the recording, its transcript or the email within which they were disseminated by republishing them here.
In fact, it had been my intention not to comment on the issue at all; whilst I am personally outraged at what appears to have been a stunning act of bastardry committed against the Victorian Liberal Party ahead of a difficult state election, I was initially disinclined to draw any further attention to it by discussing it, and I indicated as much to the party’s State Director, Damien Mantach, when he contacted me earlier in the week as part of an audit to establish which party members had received the offending email and which hadn’t.
But in light of a conspiracy theory that emerges in the Editorial of today’s edition of the Herald Sun in Melbourne, I wanted to make some remarks in reply.
Broadly, it has been speculated in the mainstream press this week that the potential culprit (or culprits) at the top of the “suspect list” were senior advisers working out of a federal Liberal MP’s electorate office in Melbourne; whether that eventually proves to be so or not, the Herald Sun has today made the case that the entire episode may have been driven by anti-abortionist elements within the party rather than a more orthodox factional ambush aimed at crippling the obvious target, Premier Denis Napthine.
Whether Ms Tomazin’s tape recorder was stolen, as it has been claimed, or that a more sinister explanation lies behind an incendiary background conversation between herself and Baillieu becoming public, there are two facts that seem set in stone: one, that an attempt to derail the Coalition’s campaign for re-election in what was already a tough political environment has been made; and two, that the private contact details of grassroots Liberal Party members have been accessed and obtained for the purposes of making that attempt.
It is my view that once the person (or persons) responsible have been identified, the Party can and should humiliate them publicly, dismiss them from any paid employment they hold at the discretion of either the party or an elected representative, expel them from the Liberal Party, and — if it can be established that offences may have been committed — to take any and all available steps to have them prosecuted.
I conveyed this view, in similar terms, to Mr Mantach in my email to him on Wednesday night.
The abortion angle raised by the Herald Sun simply adds another piece to the puzzle; it, too, may be a correct assessment or it may prove to be a red herring. Either way, with that explosive issue now squarely on the table in the context of the investigation, there are a few points that have to be made.
I think readers know that my personal position on abortion is a reasonably conservative one; with the exception of cases of rape or incest, or where carrying a foetus to term would either endanger the life of the mother or result in a severely disabled (or still) birth, I am not in favour of abortion and would never utter a syllable to advocate abortion on demand.
Having said that, my opinion is exactly that: my opinion. Others will make their own judgements according to their values, and their own decisions; and I phrase it thus because those who wish to procure an abortion will do so irrespective of whether it is safe or not, legal or not, and regardless of the proliferation or otherwise of facilities at which to do so. I’m not having a bob each way in making that observation; it is a recognition of the reality that whether you like it or not, the continued occurrence of abortion is a hard, cold fact.
If a situation is to exist in any mainstream political party whereby hatchet jobs, factional ambushes and the attempted termination (sorry for using the word) of the political careers of opponents are pursued on the basis of such an inflammatory issue, then as a society we’ve got a very, very big problem.
The Herald Sun is right; if advisers to federal MPs (or to cabinet ministers) are pursuing an internal agenda with engineering a savage lurch to the Right over abortion as its objective, they must be dismissed from their positions; if an actual federal MP is directly involved, then disciplinary action including disendorsement and expulsion from the Liberal Party must also be pursued.
Aside from anything else, there is a clear delineation of jurisdictional responsibilities in relation to abortion: it is the preserve of the states, and as much as people involved in federal politics might protest that they remain members of a state-based division of the party, the fact is that from the perspective of operational executive government a line would have been crossed if their involvement were to be confirmed.
And it goes without saying that any other members, employees or associates of the Party found to have engaged in this stunt should be thrown overboard without delay or compunction — irrespective of whoever they are.
Much has been made in recent months of the intention of disgraced renegade MP Geoff Shaw’s intentions to introduce a Private Member’s Bill into state Parliament, seeking to alter Victoria’s abortion laws and tighten them to reflect his deeply held, fundamentalist Christian views — a charade, if and when it eventuates, that the Napthine government will need like the proverbial hole in the head.
Stirring up the passions and hatreds that invariably accompany debate of this issue is irresponsible and counter-productive at the best of times; making it an explicitly targeted political football aimed at sabotaging a government led by moderate Liberals is reprehensible.
And the Coalition government in Victoria faces a fight to be re-elected: invigorated by the ascension of Napthine to the Premiership last year, blessed with what barely passes for “an opposition” and a ridiculous, puerile incompetent as opposition leader — and armed with the best budget position of any state — Napthine should be an unbackable favourite to win.
Despite the problem of Geoff Shaw and the political trickle-down effects of the Abbott government’s budget, I believed until recently that Napthine was a certainty. Now, I’m not so sure — and if the Coalition loses office, this episode over the leaked conversation with Baillieu will probably be seen as the final nail in its coffin.
To be fair, there are a couple of the items on Shaw’s list of demands that could be readily agreed and implemented to try to shut the matter down without causing an almighty detonation in the immediate runup to the state election in November; for example, the requirement that a doctor opposed to abortion be legally compelled to refer a patient requesting it to another doctor who will provide access to one can and should be rescinded.
Doing so would remove a moral and ethical imposition on the doctor opposed to abortion, whilst making no practical difference whatsoever: the reality is that doctors prepared to provide access to abortion services are publicly known, and will continue to be so.
But for the most part, abortion is a matter last dealt with extensively in Victoria just a few years ago. Little meaningful purpose is to be served by reopening the can of worms now.
Aside from what I have said in this article I will make no further comment on the Baillieu tapes scandal until the investigations to identify those responsible have been concluded.
But if the Herald Sun is right — and the whole thing was orchestrated as part of a push for hardline abortion reform by elements inside the Liberal Party with too much of an idea of their own importance — then that’s pretty sick, the outrage of the injury the matter seems certain to inflict on the Napthine government notwithstanding.