Stalemate: Thomson Saga Rolls On…But To Where?

It’s like being in the eye of a storm; Craig Thomson fired his bullets in Parliament on Monday, and despite a lot of rough, tough talk — and the requisite Question Time ruckus — there doesn’t seem to be a great deal happening. Or is there?

Whilst political commentators are at one that the Craig Thomson scandal will now drag in indefinitely, and most — including me — agree that the government will suffer ongoing damage as a result, some have opined that the process of dealing with Thomson has reached a stalemate.

In fact, whilst there has been a lot of noise and chatter in the past couple of days, a number of small, seemingly unrelated events tend to suggest there are more turns in the road ahead in the context of this story.

I want to look at just a few of these; in and of themselves they offer nothing conclusive, but in them is sown the seeds of determining where the federal polity tracks for the next 12-15 months.

Since the melodramatic, accusatory and insult-laden twaddle that passed for the member for Dobell’s grand statement of explanation was delivered to the House of Representatives on Monday, a subtle yet significant split has opened in the ranks of the so-called Independents.

On the one hand, Tony Windsor and Andrew Wilkie reaffirmed their support for the Gillard government in Parliament, ruling out supporting a suspension motion against Craig Thomson and guaranteeing the government’s survival in the immediate term.

Both have made a lot of noise about not being judges, juries and executioners, and both have insisted the allegations against Thomson be tested in Court. Neither has proposed any meaningful way for that objective to be advanced; in fact, neither of them have proposed or done anything meaningful whatsoever.

Indeed, whilst they have opted to prop Labor up in government, they have as a result revealed themselves to be interested in no more than the retention of their seats in parliament for as long as possible: were they committed to integrity and probity in practice, as opposed to the form of words both have adhered to, there would at least be substantive, constructive ideas coming from them as to how to proceed.

Instead, there is nothing.

And on the other hand, there is the “Third Independent,” Rob Oakeshott.

It is generally agreed outside Labor circles that of the Independents who agreed to support Gillard after the 2010 election, Oakeshott was the most politically damaged by the act; in the past week it has become known that Oakeshott is deeply angered by the Thomson saga, and specifically with the length of time it has taken the Thomson to explain himself and with the time it is taking for these matters to be dealt with.

Oakeshott at least proposed to move a censure motion against Thomson, a move since abandoned upon confirmation that Windsor and Wilkie refused to support it. And as consistently critical as I have been of Rob Oakeshott in this column, I think it appropriate to note he was, at the minimum, prepared to do something.

It’s true Oakeshott’s motion, if moved and carried, would not have brought down the government and would not have called for Thomson’s suspension from Parliament. Even so, it remains to be seen whether this display of discord among the Independents is a precursor to them acting alone rather than as a bloc in the future.

An interesting sub-plot has been the referral of Thomson to Parliament’s Privileges Committee to face allegations his speech on Monday misled Parliament, and the route taken to get him there; for reasons of strategic insurance, the Coalition initially asked Peter Slipper — who remains Speaker despite having stepped aside from presiding over the House of Representatives on a daily basis — to refer Thomson, as Slipper is empowered to do.

Slipper refused.

The stench is already emanating from that on streets and in backyards and kitchens well-removed from Canberra; one MP accused of multiple transgressions and possible criminal offences has been seen to shelter another MP also accused of multiple transgressions and possible criminal offences from scrutiny.

It’s not difficult to see what Coalition was up to, but I think we’ll let that one rot and fester on the vine for a while before we revisit it in a later column.

Yet somewhat surprisingly, the government announced it would support a Coalition motion in the House to refer Thomson to the Privileges Committee: my guess is that Labor thinking is that it was the least they could do; to refuse would send a dreadful, dreadful message in light of its already shattered credibility and reputation for sleaze.

Perhaps ALP types are taking solace in the fact that the committee is controlled by the government; of its 10 members, 6 are Labor Party MPs.

This reality has not been lost on the Coalition leadership; the means are there by which Labor can clear Thomson of misleading the House but to do so the government may well be walking into a fatal trap.

To that end, the Coalition has made a change to its numbers on the Privileges Committee, replacing first-term Bennelong MP John Alexander with former Liberal Attorney-General and Immigration minister Phillip Ruddock.

The change is significant: Ruddock, a 39-year veteran of Parliament, has a well-deserved reputation as a tactician and strategist, and remains a wily old political bird; and whilst his presence on the committee will in no way alter the balance of its numbers, it will add an additional layer of forensic investigation and hawk-like sharpness to the Coalition’s arsenal.

Whilst all of this has been going on, a report appearing in The Australian today suggests nominations for Labor preselection in Thomson’s seat of Dobell are open, and already prospective candidates are coming forward.

In an obvious and expected move — but unpredictable insofar as any consequences are concerned — NSW Labor secretary Sam Dastyari has already declared Mr Thomson will likely be ineligible to stand on account of the probability of allegations against him being unresolved when the preselection scheduled for September occurs.

Dumping Thomson from Dobell solves one problem — how to ultimately get rid of him — but raises another for the ALP: what if Thomson himself quits Parliament? He professes to remain a “Labor Man” in spite of everything that has happened, but could  the effective termination of his career tip him to the point of resignation? If so, the government could be forced to a poll before Christmas.

But that, of course, assumes the present Parliament and the current government even make it to an election in August/September 2013; the poll-driven, focus group obsessed ALP will scrutinise the next round of polling figures even more closely than usual, and that means the simmering issue of the Labor leadership will boil over again sooner rather than later.

My tip would be that the next ALP leadership showdown is a matter of weeks away, not months, and it certainly won’t take until a scheduled election loss in August or September next year to materialise.

Irrespective, now, of whether a switch to Kevin Rudd or to another candidate such as Stephen Smith occurs, it is difficult to see how another change of Prime Minister could be anything but a lit fuse beneath the powder keg on which the ALP’s stability as a government sits.

At some point — somehow — common sense will prevail over the self-interest and self-preservation which currently drives the ALP and the equally electorally doomed Independents; if it doesn’t, and even if it takes the death or resignation of an MP through ill-health, the odds on an election sooner than later are rapidly shortening.

As I said, despite the relative lull in events, much has been happening; these few examples — and other events in Canberra — could lead anywhere insofar as the sordid mess that is the Thomson/HSU scandal is concerned. Only time will tell and we will, of course, watch with great interest.

The bottom line remains that a wide majority of the voting public (and even, it anecdotally seems, among some Labor voters tired of minority government) want a fresh election to resolve the instability and the sense of chaos and crisis — to say nothing of the dishonesty of a Labor government rotten to the core — once and for all.

And if the final result of Craig Thomson’s “five minutes of fame” on the floor of the House of Representatives on Monday is to trigger such an election, then maybe he will have effected some good out of this mess after all.

Whichever way you cut it, the stakes — and the bar for survival — just got a hell of a lot higher for Gillard, the ALP, and for the government.

 

Self-Indulgent, Self-Destructive Rant: Thomson Speech An Abject Waste Of Time

Somewhat anti-climactically, today’s speech by Craig Thomson to federal Parliament changed nothing, resolved nothing, and certainly failed to clear his name. Yet there will be consequences; for this speech could be construed as one of the greatest abuses of Parliament since Federation.

And in what proved little more effective than a baby throwing a tantrum, Thomson lashed out in every conceivable direction, throwing allegations and barbs and insults around under parliamentary privilege, but it was the unconvincing speech of a man with little to lose, and little left with which to fight.

Indeed, an associate who missed the telecast asked me for a summary this afternoon. “Two sentences,” I replied. “Everyone’s a bastard. Everyone should feel sorry for me.”

And that was about the extent of it.

I’m going to work through some of what Thomson had to say, and why the only person he is likely to have damaged — apart from the Prime Minister —  is himself; and then outline why I think the exercise in the House of Representatives this afternoon was a flagrant, co-ordinated and outrageous abuse of the Parliament.

The one surprise in today’s speech is that Thomson did not attempt to table incriminating material under privilege, which would have rendered it useless in any future legal proceedings; it would be a very low act indeed were that to have occurred, but this entire drama is such that nothing whatsoever would surprise me now in terms of the tactics that might be used to protect Thomson.

Again, readers will see what I mean later in this article.

In kicking off proceedings by reading out various threats he and his family had received, Thomson quickly rounded on the opposition and the media, saying “you have unleashed the lynch mob. And you have fanned it. And for that, you all, ultimately, are responsible.”

The allegations against Thomson first surfaced years ago, when raised in the Fairfax press and slapped with a defamation action for Uncle Fairfax’s troubles; after the action was settled — Thomson claims he was instructed to settle by the ALP — they have been the subject of endless inquiries and investigations, some of which Thomson has deliberately and consistently refused to co-operate with.

Amid suggestions of a cover-up — and with little forthcoming from Thomson or the government — it always seemed obvious that the media and/or the opposition would pursue him; after all, investigative journalism is exactly that, and one of the roles of an opposition is to hold a government to account and subject it to scrutiny.

Just because Thomson doesn’t like that fact, or that others are simply doing their jobs, does not mean he has been subjected to a “lynch mob.”

Indeed, Thomson has had many opportunities and avenues over long years through which to clear his name if he could do so; the first of these was the defamation action against Fairfax that was subsequently withdrawn.

Thomson’s assertion that it had been a mistake to do so was entirely unconvincing; if one has been defamed, and is suitably aggrieved to defend oneself by way of writ, one does not settle because someone else says so. In any case, the allegations to which the dropped action related are still of current import some three years later.

Many more opportunities to account for himself would follow.

And to attack Tony Abbott — for doing no more than his job — as “(not merely) unfit to be Prime Minister, he is unfit to be an MP” reeks of the pot calling the kettle black, and is the sort of desperate taunt doled out when there is literally nothing else to say.

Thomson held good to his threat to name names in Parliament; it had already leaked this morning, as we discussed, that he would name Health Services Union deputy secretary Marco Bolano, who angrily refuted the claims, describing them as ”fantastic and dishonest.”

Not content with that, Thomson went on to name his successor at the HSU, Kathy Jackson, and former HSU President Michael Williamson, accusing them of this and that and making various allegations against them.

He also took aim at Jackson’s partner, Fair Work Australia deputy president Michael Lawler, accusing him of interference into the FWA investigation into allegations against him and accusing him of having “a role” in the Liberal Party.

Unsurprisingly, all are outraged, and all are seeking the right to respond before Parliament; given Thomson has used the coward’s veil of parliamentary privilege to smear them, they know they can’t sue him.

Of course, had he made his allegations and declarations outside Parliament, Thomson would be subject to the laws of the land; but given so much effort has been expended in shielding Thomson from precisely that, today was clearly not going to be the day he voluntarily opted to face the music on that score.

But there is another point here, and one which nobody seems to have picked up on; it is, very simply, this.

Who cares — today, at least — about Jackson, Lawler and Williamson? It is allegations of serious official misconduct and financial misappropriation against Craig Thomson that are being investigated. Thomson might think himself clever for smearing them under privilege, but it did nothing whatsoever to remove the question marks hanging over his name.

And saying such things like opposition leader Tony Abbott had claimed that “I am not entitled to the presumption of innocence because I am clearly guilty” is — to use an ironic phrase — complete crap, and Thomson knows it.

Indeed, all Abbott has done is to call for answers in this matter; and for Thomson to satisfactorily explain himself and for the various investigations into him to run their course.

In the absence of that — three years later — Abbott has been asking other questions: for example, why Gillard continues to place her confidence in Thomson; why Thomson has systematically failed to co-operate with Police inquiries; and, more recently, if Thomson had all this information that would clear his name (which we found out today, he didn’t) why he didn’t come forward with it years ago?

Indeed, banging on about the presumption of innocence (a concept the ALP has bastardised to the point it is now almost as noxious a phrase as “moving forward”), Thomson chose to “name names” in Parliament today; yet just a week ago he refused again to supply those details to a NSW Police inquiry into the allegations against him — an investigation that may yet result in criminal charges being laid.

You can’t have it both ways. If you’re innocent and you can prove it, you do so, especially in such a diabolical case as this one.

Thomson expressed frustration that the general public appeared to have decided he is guilty. Doesn’t he realise that this is a matter of public outrage, and that people are very, very angry? From the very members whose fees have been pissed up against a post, to ordinary hardworking folk making an honest struggle to survive on less than Thomson earns, and to anyone with a shred of decency, the entire Thomson/HSU episode is an affront.

Tony Abbott is a voice for what is overwhelmingly the public mood; that does not make him unfit to be Prime Minister. Indeed, and especially lined up anywhere near Thomson, the complete opposite is the case.

Labor types today were making much of the fact that a courtroom was the right place for judgements to be passed on Thomson: my message is that if that’s the way they feel, then they should get him into a courtroom quickly. Convincing him to co-operate with Police instead of thumbing his nose at them would be a good start.

And as for the allegations concerning prostitutes, Thomson readily admitted he couldn’t answer for many of the calls made from his mobile telephone to arrange trysts with purchased companions. But the CCTV tape defence got a run; and as I flagged this morning (not least given one of the escort agencies — Sydney Outcalls — was not a brothel and would therefore possess no such footage) such a defence is a joke.

Thomson knows that, too; but behind the parliamentary barrier, he could say whatever he liked.

From an overall perspective, today’s operation involving Thomson was a sham; and I believe it badly abused Parliament, and amounted to no more than an attempt to continue the cover-up.

Thomson announced he would make his speech a week ago; in other words, he has had seven days to cook up one final attempt to sweep all of this under the carpet of parliamentary privilege — and leave it buried there.

He spoke for an hour, and what portion of the speech wasn’t concerned with throwing allegations and aspersions at people he clearly detests was spent on red herrings like his prostitute defence: incredible, unsatisfactory, and entirely unconvincing.

Prior to the speech, key Independents indicated that no matter what transpired, their role was not to judge Thomson; in practical terms, this meant that irrespective of what was said, they would continue to vote in support of the Gillard government, and would not support any move against Thomson unless it was shown he had misled Parliament.

After the speech, Leader of the House Anthony Albanese opined that he felt it was now time “for the Craig Thomson matter to be left alone;” in other words, the subject should not be discussed further, and should now be put to rest.

And subsequently — as the opposition sought to discuss Thomson’s speech, by way of a motion to suspend Standing Orders to make such discussion possible — the Gillard government repeatedly attempted to gag Tony Abbott, moving that he not be further heard, and to shut down proceedings.

If those five paragraphs, collectively, don’t spell out a concerted attempt to use Parliament and its privileges to knock the Thomson matters out of the arena once and for all, I don’t know what does.

Apparently, the great effort to protect Thomson — all to avoid a single by-election defeat that would trigger The Big One, and electoral Armageddon — continues unabated.

The whole thing was an abuse of process, pure and simple.

And the government knows it, too.

What will the ramifications of today’s proceedings be?

In my view, nothing will change. Thomson will eventually face the music over the findings of the FWA investigation into the HSU; the various Police inquiries will eventually conclude, resulting in Thomson being cleared, charged with criminal offences or charged with some kind of obstruction charge; the HSU figures named today will pursue recourse, and may or may not achieve it; and the Gillard government may or may not survive until the scheduled election time next year — with or without Thomson.

Whether the government survives or not, it is the only direct loser apart from Thomson: now guaranteed that the Thomson matters will continue indefinitely, it will have to deal with sensationalist headlines and scandalous, scurrilous revelations for as long as these matters play out.

And of course, Australian democracy is a loser, but it has nothing to do with Tony Abbott — it is a simple consequence of what happens when those in authority attempt to evade responsibility.

By means such as gutless attacks from within the sanctuary and immunity of the glass houses of parliament, for example.

And that will have consequences: for Thomson; for Gillard, whose increasingly shaky grip on the Labor leadership won’t withstand much more of this kind of thing; and for the ALP generally, whose electoral stocks are low, but which will test new depths if scandals such as this continue to afflict it.

In closing, I return to Thomson’s teary-eyed lament about the threats he and his family have faced, invasions of their privacy (especially his wife’s privacy), and to the apparently earth-shattering revelation that someone even dared to graffiti his gate.

All of this is Thomson’s fault, and Thomson’s alone; he could have co-operated with every relevant inquiry, expeditiously and candidly, and all of this would have been over years ago.

If he is innocent as he claims, he would have been exonerated and held faultless.

If guilty, he would probably have been charged and convicted, thrown out of Parliament, and perhaps jailed.

But either way, the fact all of this has dragged on so long is solely Thomson’s responsibility; and if he now wants to complain that the manifestations of public anger, which so palpably is at boiling point, are affecting his family then perhaps he ought to apologise to them.

After all, you’ve got to take responsibility for something sometime — even if you’re Craig Thomson.

Sham “Standards”: Panicked Gillard Dumps On Thomson And Slipper

In a frenzied fit of panic, Julia Gillard today forced Craig Thomson’s departure from the ALP, and decreed Peter Slipper to be sidelined indefinitely. She possesses neither authority nor credibility, and her role as PM — and perhaps that of Labor in government — is now untenable.

Let’s speak bluntly and candidly about a few things.

The Australian public is fed up with Julia Gillard and her government; fed up with the lies, the deception, the intrigue, the manipulation, the double standards, the incompetence, the condescension, the holier-than-thou outlook, the scandals, the crises, and the sheer chaos that goes hand in glove with this Prime Minister and this government continuing in office.

Australians, overwhelmingly, want an election; but this Prime Minister would as soon sell the country to the devil than she would listen — really listen — to anything other than a gratuitous and self-serving recipe for survival, self-preservation and clinging to the trappings of green ministerial leather.

And as symbols go, Australians are fed to the teeth with the ongoing saga of Craig Thomson and his credit cards, and latterly with the new-ish but equally despicable storm that has engulfed the government’s hand-picked but utterly unsuitable Speaker in Peter Slipper.

And on this last point, Gillard has today kicked perhaps one own goal too many.

Gillard this morning said that she “(felt) keenly that Australians are looking at this Parliament and at the moment they see a dark cloud over it,” going on to add that  “the views of the Australian public matter. I have made a judgment call that I believe is right because I want Australians to look at the Parliament and respect the Parliament.”

Claiming to be acting in the interests of “standards,” Gillard today announced that she had informed Craig Thomson that he should “no longer participate in (the Labor) Caucus;” Thomson, accordingly, will sit on the cross-bench.

Similarly, Gillard announced that she had informed Peter Slipper that she had decided it would be best if he stayed out of the Speaker’s chair “for a further period of time.”

Gillard claimed that “a line had been crossed” which made today’s developments necessary; pressed by journalists, she proved unable to say where the line was, or what constituted it being crossed.

I would argue that any “dark cloud” hanging over the Parliament is one entirely of Gillard’s own making; likewise, the indisputable and growing lack of respect many Australians feel toward Parliament and its occupants can be directly referenced back to the matters I outlined in the third paragraph of this article.

Stripping away the legalese and gobbledygook so favoured by Gillard, let’s look at what she really announced this morning as her solution to the issues she claimed to be addressing.

Firstly — Craig Thomson. Far from being kicked out of the ALP as Gillard’s message was designed to imply, Thomson has simply entered into a voluntary suspension of his membership of the Labor Party.

He hasn’t been expelled; he hasn’t even (yet) been disendorsed as the Labor candidate for Dobell; and if no charges are forthcoming from the various investigations being undertaken into Thomson and his time at the Health Services Union, he will be free to resume membership of the ALP — and to again sit in the Labor Party Caucus.

Secondly — Peter Slipper. Gillard’s announcement amounts to no more than an agreement with Slipper for him to spend an unspecified additional period of time on the cross-bench; in the meantime he remains on the salary package that goes with the job of Speaker, and he retains the benefits and perquisites that go with the role to boot.

The acting Speaker — Labor’s Anna Burke — performs the role in the interim on her salary as a backbencher.

Gillard’s announcements, therefore, are effectively nothing; a ruse, a smokescreen, smart answers designed to hoodwink people into the mistaken belief that she has acted decisively to resolve two festering and rancorous problems that have bedevilled her government.

She has done nothing of the kind.

And those announcements, delivered in Gillard’s usual patronising tone of moralising condescension, stink of the smug, righteous, too-clever-by-half approach that went a large way toward landing Gillard in the mess in which she finds herself in the first place.

In the case of Thomson, when did he cease to enjoy Gillard’s full and unqualified support? That support is something that Gillard has gone well out of her way to express for many months, and — innocent or guilty as he may be — there have been no new developments in the Thomson saga in the past few days, so why the change?

In the case of Slipper, Gillard and a coterie of her ministers have been adamant that he should return to the Speakership as soon as the latest questions surrounding his use of travel entitlements are resolved, possibly even as soon as the commencement of the budget session on 8 May. Again, there have been no new developments overnight, so why the change?

The answer to these, and all other relevant questions, is simple: Gillard’s standing with the electorate is toxic; her poll ratings continue to deteriorate; and her government is now confronting the prospect of a successful vote of no-confidence for the first time since the inconclusive election of 2010.

The other motive for today’s developments centres on the ALP leadership, and on Gillard’s weakening grip on it; as we discussed a couple of days ago, the mutterers are muttering, and having crucified Kevin Rudd as planned eight weeks ago, their gaze is now turning in the direction of their leader.

Readers will note that none of this — none — is motivated by quaint ideals like running a functional government, or delivering on election commitments, or advancing living standards for ordinary Australian people.

No, it is motivated solely by a desire to keep Labor in office, and to keep Gillard’s backside in the chair behind the Prime Minister’s desk.

An election at this time — favoured by a majority of voters — comes with all sorts of problems and drawbacks attached to it, mainly arising from problems of timing and the fact any election before next August would throw the electoral cycles for the Senate and the House of Representatives out of kilter; these are serious and complicated issues which could be resolved, but with difficulty.

Compare these considerations with Gillard’s reason as stated today for not calling an election: “We (Labor) have a superior economic plan, so I won’t be calling an election.”

Superior economic plan?” That’s another one of those stupid slogans regurgitated over and over on rote during the ALP’s 2010 election campaign (moving forward, anyone?)

But alas, glib slogans and smart answers is all Labor has to offer.

Today’s developments will be analysed and picked apart in the next few days by journalists and commentators across the country, but they point — again — to a simple and inexorable truth.

Julia Gillard is finished. She is completely unsuited to the office of Prime Minister. And the time is nigh at which either she goes, or the whole government will have to go.

It’s going to be an interesting few weeks in Australian federal politics.

 

The Final Coming Of Peter Slipper

For many years now, it’s been the same; fast moves and even faster talking have allowed Peter Slipper to stay one step ahead of trouble. This time the game appears to be up, and Slippery Pete returns to Australia from his latest overseas jaunt a hunted man.

Of course, we must be careful not to say anything that might prejudice investigations into the latest round of alleged expenses fraud by Slipper, nor into the explosive and sensational allegations of sexual harassment levelled at him this weekend by an employee.

Nonetheless, that caveat still leaves plenty of scope to comment on the latest episode in the life of a scoundrel, a treacherous dog, and a pretty poor specimen to boot.

I’ve known Peter Slipper for 20 years, and he always put a shudder down my spine; I’ve never known what it was, but the guy used to give me the creeps. Fortunately it has been a long time since I have seen him, and I hope I don’t see him again.

A parliamentarian once told me in the mid-1990s that “Peter’s a good guy” — an observation that made me more, not less, wary of Slipper whenever I saw him thenceforth.

There have always been a lot of interesting stories floating around about Peter Slipper; some of these have become common knowledge — the loose interpretations of travel entitlements, the flights via Sydney to maximise frequent flyer points, questions over ComCar usage and frequent late-night visits to Kings Cross, Fortitude Valley and St Kilda are a mere few.

And other of those stories have never — publicly — seen the light of day for various reasons, but interesting stories they remain.

And so it is a curious development this weekend that an employee of Slipper in his role of Speaker of the House of Representatives has made public an official sexual harassment complaint against him.

A lot of the allegations contained in this are pretty tawdry stuff; suggestions Slipper asked about such things as homosexual partner preferences and…er…bodily ejaculation locations…are, if true, completely unbecoming of a member of Parliament, and especially in terms of one acting as the boss of an employee.

The problem Slippery Pete has is that according to the court documents extensively leaked and published in the Murdoch press over the weekend, the allegations are backed by SMS text messages and emails purportedly from Slipper to the employee in question.

If those communications do exist, and if they are able to be conclusively linked to Peter Slipper as the author and sender, then the erstwhile member for Fisher might be staring down the barrel of a gun.

On the other side of the ledger, it comes as little surprise that the allegations of sexual misconduct are accompanied by a fresh round of allegations concerning travel expenditure, this time involving fraudulent use of Cabcharge vouchers; after all, if there is one thing Peter Slipper has repeatedly found himself embroiled in over the years, it is arguments over his misuse of travel entitlements.

I note for the record that in years past, Slipper has repaid tens of thousands of dollars worth of incorrectly claimed entitlement monies; his excuses generally boil down to each incident being “a misunderstanding.”

Like anyone, Slipper is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, but I just wonder what his “misunderstanding” might be in terms of the sex charges he now faces. That it was all a joke? That he, Slipper is the real victim? Or that the whole thing is an elaborate set-up? We will see; time will tell.

Having said all of that, the response from the Labor Party (and from Prime Minister Gillard especially) has been shockingly inept.

All weekend, out trundled the trusty ALP figures; they couldn’t pre-empt the coming legal cases, but Slipper had done a very good job as speaker; they weren’t buying in to the discussion but they wouldn’t be taking any action to remove him from the Speakership, either.

Gillard, for her part, said nothing.

Nothing, that is, until Slipper voluntarily stood aside from his post; after that, she welcomed him taking that course of action…but couldn’t say any more until the legal matters on foot had been resolved.

In other words, a greater volume of nothing.

Not that Slipper had any alternative to standing aside, mind you; at the minimum, he faced a vote when Parliament resumes to strip him of the Speakership that was almost guaranteed to be carried; beyond that, he risked a no-confidence motion being moved against the government on the basis of his continued presence, the outcome of which would have been impossible to predict.

I would make the point that having recruited Slipper for reasons of pure political expediency — in the full knowledge of what he is like, his past conduct, and of the probability of skeletons lurking in his closet — Gillard and her colleagues do themselves no end of residual damage in refusing to cut adrift such a liability.

It tarnishes them, it tarnishes the Labor Party, and it sends the unmistakable signal that political survival at any cost is preferable to the ALP than is decency, the upholding of standards, and the accountability of politicians in the eyes of the law.

Don’t forget, Gillard’s government is a shelter to not one, but two iffy characters facing criminal investigations and possible charges: just as Peter Slipper enjoys its patronage, so too does Craig Thomson.

At some point Gillard’s sycophantic refusal to distance herself and her party from these gentlemen (and I use the term loosely) is going to permanently stain the Labor Party as an organisation that turns a blind eye to official misconduct and criminal behaviour; or to put it bluntly, she is turning a once-proud and principled party into a degenerate cesspool of amoral nihilism.

It should ring alarm bells to Gillard and Labor that Tony Windsor is now canvassing the possibility of supporting a no-confidence vote moved by Tony Abbott in certain circumstances; Wilkie’s support for such a measure would seem a no-brainer.

Add Bob Katter Jr and Tony Crook to the 71 Coalition votes in the House as well, and there are the 75 votes to 74 on the floor of the House to remove Gillard from office and force an election.

Support from Rob Oakeshott would merely seal the deal.

It’s now as close as that; indeed, a fresh election would increasingly seem the only way out of this mess once and for all.

And with Slipper now back on the cross-bench and Labor’s Anna Bourke assuming duties as Speaker, Gillard is once again wholly wedded to the support of Independents for her survival.

This story obviously has some way to run and we will follow it as it develops.

But I return to where I started: for many years, through a combination of fast moves and quick talking, Slippery Pete has managed to stay the half-step in front of trouble he’s needed to in order to survive.

Today he came back to Australia, after yet another overseas junket; flying headlong into controversy as usual, and flying straight into the most serious allegations officially levelled at him thus far.

I think Houdini Pete has come to the end of the line; only a miracle will save him now.

This time, the clouds of fire into which he has leapt would seem that bit too hot for comfort.

What do you think?

 

A No-Confidence Motion? It Won’t Succeed…This Week…

The open rumour today is that the Opposition will move a motion of no-confidence in the Prime Minister in the House of Representatives next week, potentially terminating the current Labor government. It either won’t happen, or it will fail.

This time.

As the fallout and retribution from Thursday’s disgraceful Australia Day riot continues, consideration is apparently being given, in opposition ranks, to the movement of a no-confidence vote in the government in an attempt to force a fresh election.

It’s true that what occurred on Thursday was completely unacceptable, and it is no exaggeration that the episode at The Lobby restaurant shamed Australia internationally.

As the questions are progressively asked in terms of who knew what and when, it is equally true that despite the sacking of a ministerial advisor that questions in terms of the wider picture of what happened remain unanswered.

Tonight, I don’t want to debate the issue afresh, but rather to look at the option of a no-confidence vote and analyse the likely course of events should one be presented.

Indeed, Andrew Wilkie — the Independent who incurred severely burnt fingers as a result of dealing with Julia Gillard — has indicated he would support such a motion.

Technically, what he has agreed to support is the movement to suspend parliamentary standing orders to allow a no-confidence motion to be debated, but at the end of the day, it’s the same thing.

I don’t believe a no-confidence vote against the Gillard government will succeed — this time — and it’s not a question of the merits of the motion; rather, it’s a question of the numbers.

With ex-Liberal traitor and general shitbag Peter Slipper occupying the Speaker’s chair, there are 149 votes on the floor of the House of Representatives; 75 of them add up to a win on any piece of legislation or on a motion such as this one.

There are 71 Liberal and National MHRs.

Add Andrew Wilkie to that, and presumably WA National Tony Crook — if he values his re-election prospects — and that makes 73.

Add Bob Katter, too; he wanted to put the Liberal Party into government with his vote as a crossbencher after last year’s election.

Nothing has changed in terms of the issues Katter stipulated as the terms for receipt of his vote, so we’ll add him in — and that makes it 74 Coalition-aligned votes.

The 72 ALP MHRs will obviously vote for themselves, as will the Communist Green MP Adam Bandt; so there is 73 guaranteed pro-Labor votes.

Independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott are a different story.

Oakeshott’s papers are firmly and clearly marked; having thrown his lot in with Gillard — as the holder of an overwhelmingly conservative electorate, but with very few tangible political smarts — it’s fairly obvious that he would line up on the government side in any no-confidence vote.

Which makes Tony Windsor the key, on the current make-up of the House.

Windsor is very different to Oakeshott, despite holding a similarly conservative electorate, in that he a) has some political nous of his own, and b) has unfettered access to the political brain of his relative Bruce Hawker, the ALP strategist.

His own polling numbers in New England are holding up better than those of Oakeshott in Lyne, to the point that Windsor — whilst still likely to lose his seat on paper — may yet find a way to survive.

Perhaps bringing down the Gillard government in a no-confidence vote might be just the circuit-breaker he needs.

But I still think — not just yet.

For those readers unfamiliar with the whole idea of no-confidence motions in Parliament, the reality is fairly simple: if one is moved and succeeds (meaning the government loses the vote on raw numbers) then by convention, the government must either resign or call an election.

My instincts are that this issue, whilst absolutely deplorable and reprehensible, isn’t the hook Tony Abbott and the opposition need to ensure Windsor’s vote and get the fresh election they seek.

Craig Thomson might be a very different story, in a month or two…

The sheer depravity of the allegations against Thomson are one thing; for him to be charged, as seems increasingly likely, are another.

And if he is, the brief of evidence will be available, and that will form the basis of a no-confidence motion that may very well succeed.

I’d make the point that — paradoxically — it is now in the best interests of the Coalition to defer an election for a while; with half the parliamentary term now gone, a window opens in a bit over twelve months to take half the Senate to an election as well as the House, which would avoid either two elections in two years and/or a separate half-Senate election, the last of which occurred in 1973.

So if there is to be a no-confidence vote next week (and there may), I’d be surprised if it were successful.

But whether there is or not, or whether it is or not, a solidly legitimate pretext for another go is not too far away.

And if this analysis is correct, then Craig Thomson — holder of a classic marginal seat with an alleged penchant for hookers — might find the price of a screw to be very high indeed.

And so might the Prime Minister and her government.

 

 

Flipping The Bird: Angry Wilkie Dumps Gillard

“That Sir which serves and seeks to gain/ And follows but for form/ Will pack when it begins to rain/ And leave Thee in the storm.” — from King Lear, by William Shakespeare

At the risk of mixing metaphors — or at the very least, classical authors — the events of the past couple of days could almost be described as Machiavellian.

Yet the little speech of sage advice from the Fool in King Lear sums it up for me.

Developments over the weekend that Julia Gillard has abandoned her agreement with key Independent Andrew Wilkie to introduce mandatory pre-commitment legislation to govern poker machines, and that Wilkie in turn has withdrawn his support for the Gillard government, smack of political expediency in the most hypocritical and noxious of fashions.

18 months ago, Australia ground to a halt for 17 days whilst it waited for Gillard — supposedly Bob Hawke’s heir when it came to building consensus — to cobble together a hotchpotch of alliances to bridge the gap between the pitiful 72 (of 150) seats Labor garnered at its first attempt at re-election and the 76 in total required for the barest of functional majorities.

75 votes on the floor of the House is good enough: the body in the Speaker’s chair makes the total number of voting MPs 149, so 75 wins.

It’s an important point.

But back to the deals that kept Gillard and the ALP in office.

Everyone was bought off with something: for the Communist Party Greens, it was effective control of the government’s operational agenda, along with a number of specific undertakings to indulge their lunatic Stalinist platform; for conservative Judases Oakeshott and Windsor, it was barrels of cash for their electorates; and for Andrew Wilkie, it was the implementation of mandatory pre-commitment at poker machines around the country in an attempt to tackle problem gambling.

Thus far, Gillard has kept the faith with Messrs Oakeshott and Windsor, but they must be wondering uneasily when their turn will come. Certainly, they are all too aware that this government and this Prime Minister do not act in good faith when it comes to their supposed allies.

Having realised how electorally lethal the Greens and their God-forsaken agenda are to the mainstream majority in this country, yet beholden to its alliance with them out of sheer numerical necessity, the ALP has gone out of its way in recent months to distance itself from, belittle, frustrate and betray the Greens in an attempt to differentiate itself from its Coalition partner.

Completely innocent of any principles rooted in decency or propriety, Labor exercised the miniscule degree of persuasion required to convince Liberal Party turncoat, serial non-performer and generally contemptible excuse for an MP, Peter Slipper, to abandon his Party (which he abandoned the National Party for some 25 years ago) and accept a hefty pay rise — tarnishing the august role of Speaker in so doing — to buy another vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.

And to enable the right and royal shafting of Wilkie and his poker machine reforms.

I’ll be honest — I have always thought Wilkie’s approach to this issue was characterised with more than a little of the “light in the eyes” syndrome; even so, I fully concur that the issue itself is one that requires something to be done, and urgently.

More to the point, I’m old-fashioned: a deal is a deal, and I take a dim view of people who do not operate on the same basis.

Gillard’s excuses, and her “reasoning,” are not only wrong, they are inexcusable.

“There is inadequate support in the House of Representatives to pass the reforms Andrew Wilkie was seeking,” she droned.

Really? Then why do the deal in the first place?

Methinks it has more to do with the fact nervous Labor MPs, facing outrage from the services clubs and sporting clubs that often constitute the hubs of the communities they represent, are more concerned with their seats.

And let’s look at the numbers: there are 72 Labor MPs, all with a vote given Slipper now sits in the Speaker’s chair; the Greens’ Adam Bandt and Wilkie are an additional, guaranteed two more.

For Gillard’s assertion of “insufficient support” to be true, what she is really saying is that she couldn’t round up a single extra vote from Oakeshott, Windsor, Coalition-inclined but independently minded Bob Katter, or WA National Tony Crook.

Or, put another way, she’s so poor a leader she literally couldn’t convince one person to vote for the laws, given the ruthlessness with which the ALP caucus is bound to support parliamentary policy.

Of course, as a leader Gillard is abysmal, but we’re talking about a sales job here with the odds stacked in her favour: two of the four gentlemen I have mentioned are in alliances with her!

And a third — Crook — confirmed today that he had only ever been approached once on the issue of pre-commitment: once, once, after 18 months of the issue being canvassed.

Clearly, little or no serious attempt was ever made to honour the deal.

It was all about keeping Labor bums — I use the term advisedly — in ministerial jobs, holding onto ministerial salaries and perks, and bugger anyone who got in the way.

In other words, standard Labor Party operating procedure.

Gillard claims her “compromise solution” (read, two-tenths of nothing) is superior: it replaces a mandatory, legislated national reform with a trial confined to Canberra and not due to be further proceeded with until 2016 — thus effectively kicking the issue a term and a half down the electoral road, by which time Labor will likely be attempting to regain a handful of the dozens of seats it lost on its way into Opposition.

Or in short, a “solution” providing a clear road map to doing nothing.

I have very little time for Andrew Wilkie; others can make their judgements about his party-hopping and lack of integrity, but for once I feel for him.

He is angry, and rightfully so; and he has conducted himself with quite some dignity on having discovered, to quote Richard Nixon, the exact length, depth and breadth of the shaft.

Certainly, his attempt to be neutral (not supporting no-confidence motions unless misconduct is involved, maintaining good relations with the government and so forth) is noble, but unconvincing; and he has already warned the government of “consequences” should it attempt to shaft him a second time.

Any idiot can see Wilkie is livid, and justifiably so.

But it gets worse.

Labor MPs have been issued with what is known politically (and elsewhere) as a “shit sheet” offering direction on how to deal with the issue of Gillard’s latest act of betrayal.

“Say that politics isn’t perfect,” the shit sheet says. “Say that often compromises need to be found.”

Er…no, not in this case. It is a lie, and it is a flagrant breach of a written contract.

It suggests talking about John Howard needing to remove GST on food to deliver most of the GST package.

Dangerous ground here:

  • Howard was actually delivering on a promise (as opposed to running away from it);
  • Removing food was the only way politically possible to deliver the other 85% of the GST package;
  • Far from running away from something he promised, Howard did everything he could to honour that commitment; and
  • The example is completely flawed in any case — in any meaningful sense, Gillard is delivering, effectively, none of what she committed to deliver.

You have to shake your head and laugh…not from amusement, mind, but out of sheer cynicism.

And remembering Gillard is increasingly obsessed with threats to her leadership, it’s pretty obvious she’s more concerned about the stormy weather she has wilfully headed into over the past 18 months than she is with anything of any real consequence to anyone except herself.

Here in Australia, we have a worthless, useless, gormless and spineless government, led by a worthless, useless, gormless and spineless Prime Minister.

But we have more than that.

We have a government — not merely content with spin, glib slogans, smug stunts and empty rhetoric — that is fundamentally dishonest, wilfully deceitful, inherently untrustworthy, and downright dangerous.

Add into that the fact that whilst it can’t honour any good faith shown to it by others — be it the voters who trusted Gillard and Labor, the MPs who re-installed it in government on what should have been binding undertakings, or anyone else — Gillard and Labor are happy to loyally protect and entertain folk from other quarters.

Folk like Craig Thomson, accused of misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars from an employer to feed a penchant for hookers, and who is the subject of multiple criminal investigations.

(To say nothing of a Fair Work Australia investigation that has mysteriously taken years not to be finalised…join the dots…)

Folk like Peter Slipper…we all know the stories — if I go down that track again, I’m going to lose my temper.

It’s one thing for there to be “honour among thieves;” it’s another matter altogether to operate under the watchword of “dishonour among murderers.”

Perhaps the ALP slogan at the next election should be “Treachery Is Everything.”

It would neatly sum up Labor’s approach to government.

Wilkie, whichever way you cut it, has flipped the PM off — and rightly so, in my view.

This tawdry little episode is further proof (if any were required) of an intellectually and morally bankrupt government that must be shown the door at the earliest available opportunity for the good of the country.

What do you think?