Abbott Reshuffle A Spectacular, Paranoid Botch

PRIME MINISTER TONY ABBOTT — or, perhaps, the narcissistic coterie that apparently runs his office — has spectacularly botched his government’s biggest opportunity for a political circuit breaker in the current term of Parliament, with the reshuffle announced today failing to adequately renew his ministry, and with some much-needed changes simply ignored. Despite warranting some merit, this has the distinct whiff of paranoia about it.

I must confess to readers, at the outset, that I am astonished — to the point of near-disbelief — that a serious undertaking like a ministerial reshuffle, at a time of great political weakness and with the clock ticking toward what increasingly looms as a very difficult election, would elicit such a vapid and counter-intuitive effort from the Abbott government.

Those Liberal voters who actually give a damn about whether the government wins the next election or not have been given every reason to be horrified.

If the idea of a reshuffle is to ensure a government’s best MPs are included in its ministry, this effort falls short; if the purpose of a reshuffle is to ensure ministers are allocated portfolios on a “best fit” basis, this doesn’t even achieve that. And as a counterpoint to this government’s glaring political weaknesses, this reshuffle leaves everything to be desired.

Regular readers know I have turned my mind to a ministerial reshuffle quite considerably in recent weeks; for those new to our discussion, a couple of recent posts on the topic may be accessed here and here.

A breakdown of the full Second Abbott Ministry can be accessed here.

Just about the most unambiguously positive thing I can find to say about this reshuffle is that the gaffe-prone Defence minister, David Johnston, has been sacked: a good man and an ally of apparent leader-in-waiting Julie Bishop, Johnston simply wasn’t up to the management of such a critical area of government, and not least given the poor state it was left in after being gutted of funding by Labor.

The promotion of another woman (Sussan Ley) into the Cabinet, at face value, is a positive, as are promotions dished out to up-and-comers Steve Ciobo, Josh Frydenberg, Kelly O’Dwyer, Karen Andrews and Christian Porter.

And I don’t think anyone would argue that Immigration minister Scott Morrison is not deserving of the promotion he has received, so impressive has his performance been in bringing an end to the flow of asylum seekers by sea into Australian waters — to say nothing of the hundreds and hundreds of drownings these movements caused — and the consequent end to human trafficking by unscrupulous people smugglers in the Middle East and in South Asia.

Yet this is where the list of positives ends.

Nobody could deny that Ley is undeserving of a Cabinet post, or that such a post ought to be hers on merit. But in appointing her to the Health portfolio, there seems little basis for matching this particular MP with that particular portfolio other than to engineer the tacky, jingoistic spectacle of a female Health minister taking on a female shadow spokesperson in Catherine King.

Not that anyone would know King is shadow Health minister, of course, for the ALP’s deputy leader (and shadow Foreign minister) Tanya Plibersek makes so much aggressive noise about Health it’s easy to forget she isn’t actually Labor’s designated representative in this area.

Even so, Ley’s promotion moves her into Plibersek’s sights — and Tanya Plibersek, despite her self-styled status as a “champion” of the advancement of women, has notoriously refused to accord a scintilla of credit to Foreign minister Julie Bishop, and flatly refuses to acknowledge any merit on Bishop’s part as a female achiever in government at all.

In fact, given the sheer nastiness with which Plibersek approaches her duties and the “misogyny”-obsessed anti-male rhetoric that oozes from her — and the fact she’s Labor’s de facto spokesperson on Health anyway — the Health job could almost be seen as an insult to Ley.

The outgoing Health minister, Peter Dutton — in a curious demotion, perhaps over the botched Medicare co-payment — moves into Morrison’s old portfolio of Immigration, and if this is intended to be seen as any kind of punishment it should be remembered that much of the heavy lifting in this portfolio has already been done by Morrison.

In other words, provided Dutton keeps his head down, he can keep his Cabinet job, safe in the knowledge the government’s most poisoned chalice has already been largely neutralised.

I thought Morrison — who moves to Kevin Andrews’ old slot in Social Services — would have been an excellent choice either for Defence (a logical progression from Immigration) or for Health (given the need for him to add a more domestic focus to his profile if he is to contend as a Liberal leadership aspirant some day).

But in moving him to Social Services, Morrison has been removed from a frying pan and thrown into the fire: Andrews, it has to be said, was at best ineffectual in this role, which potentially holds the key to unlocking vast budget efficiencies as well as being pivotal to any recalibration of the national psyche away from a handout mentality to more of an emphasis on personal responsibility.

Social Services does come with a potent bag of goodies; this is the role that will be central to a revamped childcare package that will help spearhead the government’s attempts to reconnect with its traditional bedrock of middle class families.

If things go well in Social Services, it’s a fair bet the upcoming childcare package — not Morrison — will be credited; if it goes pear-shaped, however, Morrison will wear the blame, notwithstanding the fact that on Andrews’ watch the fat, unaffordable, inefficient NDIS was left intact, and notwithstanding the fact that the national bill on welfare spending continued to rocket despite some piecemeal tinkering in the form of budget measures that will never see the light of day.

This reshuffle sees a triumvirate of yesterday’s men, today’s time servers and tomorrow’s retiring MPs remain in Cabinet; looking at Kevin Andrews first, it is difficult to see how the decision to retain him in Cabinet is either reasonable or justified.

After all, his inability to prosecute a brief — the notorious WorkChoices laws — as Workplace Relations minister in the Howard government was arguably a direct and disproportionate contributor to the defeat of that government; as Social Services minister under Abbott, he hasn’t fired a shot. Now, as Defence minister, it is unclear what Andrews might do differently to anything else he has done over the past decade that would actually deliver positive results and outcomes.

Industry minister Ian Macfarlane — now Industry “and Science” minister, in a sop to an outraged Labor Party furious that its practice of using political slogans in the names of ministerial portfolios was dropped by Abbott when he won office — should, along with Andrews and Johnston, have been an early casualty of a significant reshuffle; readers have heard me say previously that he could well have been called the minister for Industry Assistance, so firmly at times has he appeared to position himself alongside the unions. Macfarlane has been an ineffectual embarrassment. The government, however, remains lumbered with him.

And a more benign but no less relevant view must be taken of National Party leader Warren Truss — rumoured to be in line for retirement at the coming election — who could have opened up another vacancy to a newcomer by relinquishing his portfolio of Infrastructure and Regional Development to focus on his responsibilities as deputy Prime Minister in the meantime, but didn’t.

The single biggest failing of today’s reshuffle is the fact Joe Hockey has been permitted to remain as Treasurer, and whilst I like Joe enormously, the fact remains that he has now been effectively given official imprimatur to get away, scot-free, with framing an abysmal federal budget in May, and one of the worst ever served up by an incumbent Liberal government.

I remain adamant that Hockey, were he to remain in Cabinet, should have been moved to Defence: with his place taken by Malcolm Turnbull, for whom I have little time in terms of any aspirations he might harbour despite considerable personal regard.

This sends a dreadful message that not only was the 2014 budget a botch, but that the minister responsible for it is free to carry on without sanction. The 2015 budget is critical to the long-term viability of this government from a political perspective. Another balls-up like this year’s effort is unaffordable, and will not be tolerated in the electorate. Yet the opportunity to make a completely clean break, and to approach this absolutely crucial task with the Liberals’ best-credentialled candidate given responsibility for it, has been squandered.

In fact, this entire reshuffle is a squandered opportunity: yes, one woman made it into Cabinet and another couple received token promotions; yes, one of the up-and-coming men made it to the ministry (new Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg) and another couple received token promotions.

But the token scapegoat — Johnston — should have been given company on the outer, whilst the “sideways shifts” were almost invariably the wrong moves, or not made at all.

But where this all makes sense, in a highly perverse fashion, is when it is viewed through the paradigm of the Liberal leadership and it is here that the fingerprints of Abbott’s most senior advisers can be recognised all over today’s changes.

Heir-apparent (and moderate) Julie Bishop has been forced to accept the sacking of her trusted ally in WA Senator David Johnston, and to compound the wound, his replacement — Kevin Andrews — is from the hard Right. The newcomer to the ministry from her home state of WA, former Barnett government Treasurer Christian Porter, has been appointed to a piffling Parliamentary Secretary role. Bishop’s influence within the government, arguably, has been diluted.

Longer-term leadership prospect Morrison — who mastered the Immigration portfolio — has now been given another piece of what Paul Keating might term a “shit sandwich” in Social Services: responsible for the colossal outlays in welfare and social spending and charged with reaping huge savings, you can almost hear the odds being given from a distance on whether Morrison might do himself a fatal injury in his new job.

Turnbull — who, all other considerations aside, should have been a lock as Treasurer in this reshuffle — has been left where he is in Communications, and this is significant because the Treasurer’s job would have provided Turnbull a profile and a platform from which to parade his wares as a “leader in waiting.” This gift has not been given.

And Hockey — a rival to Abbott to succeed Malcolm Turnbull as Liberal leader in late 2009, and for some time afterwards the heir-presumptive until the abomination of the May budget — has been left in position in the knowledge that his leadership prospects are probably now extinct: if the 2015 budget is a success, Hockey will have merely repaid some of the political capital that has been expended on him, no more; if it is as poor as this year’s, he will probably be sacrificed before the election anyway. Either way, Hockey no longer poses any threat to Abbott.

It is only by examining the leadership implications of these aspects of this reshuffle that much sense can be made of any of the other high-profile movements it contains. There are a number of Abbott supporters who have retained spots in the ministry and/or Cabinet (even if their roles have changed) when, on balance, they did not deserve them.

Frankly, all of this has the whiff of paranoia about it, and whilst the reshuffle is mildly worthy of merit in some respects, it leaves the government deprived of the renewal it needed, and starved of fresh talent in adequate quantities to replace the ageing no-hopers who have kept their jobs.

A very accusatory finger needs to be pointed at the Prime Minister’s Office: once again, it has done neither the government nor the country any favours.

In the meantime, and as unsatisfactory as it might be, this revamped ministry must now knuckle under and get on with it: the government is a long way behind the game. There is a lot of ground to make up. Much electoral goodwill has been needlessly squandered over the past year over poor policy and/or abysmal efforts to sell it.

But really, this has been a spectacularly botched opportunity to use the resignation of Arthur Sinodinis on Friday as a circuit breaker that might help retrieve the government’s position.

The extensive reshuffle this column called for has indeed been undertaken — and appears to have been used to engage in playing games.

With the government’s political position precarious at best, today’s announcement was the last thing it needed.

And if the silly plan for a second reshuffle this time next year is still exercising the minds of the Prime Minister’s narcissistic, self-obsessed, inward-looking “brains” trust, one can only shudder at the thought of how much damage this government might yet inflict upon itself by the sleight of its own hand.


Sinodinis Resigns; Full Ministerial Reshuffle Must Follow

THE RESIGNATION from Tony Abbott’s ministry by Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinis — sidelined since March after being implicated in an ICAC investigation — is welcome, overdue, yet warrants no acclaim; Sinodinis’ leave from ministerial duty has been badly mishandled, but his belated departure provides an opportunity for Abbott to extensively reshuffle (and fix) his sometimes misfiring frontbench. Early portents, however, are not promising.

The “simply stand firm” mentality that has characterised the Abbott government so often, and usually for the worst reasons, looks set — barring a miracle onslaught of good common sense — to hit the government between the eyes not once, but twice, in the next few days, and it remains to be seen how much collateral damage it stands to suffer if the folly Tony Abbott is rumoured to have been goaded into actually comes to pass next week.

“Simply standing firm” on principle — real principle, not the BS diatribes that pass for political discourse in Australia today — is noble, and can ultimately reap dividends.

But doing it through sheer stubbornness, or because inactivity masquerading as single-mindedness is the easy option of least resistance, is a hazardous pastime indeed.

And to be clear, there is plenty of the latter going on in Canberra at present, and laughably little of the former.

But first things first: Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinis has resigned from the Abbott government ministry, fully nine (9) months since stepping aside from his official duties after being adversely named at ICAC; his absence has weakened the government, and compromised an already inadequate economic management team led by Treasurer Joe Hockey at a time when the integrity of policy and tactical and strategic nous have been sorely lacking in the face of a ridiculously populist but effective onslaught by just about everyone who doesn’t vote Liberal.

Once again, I reference the ten-point opinion poll deficit the government has faced ever since the May budget.

Sinodinis has been sidelined on full pay, whilst the government has floundered against an all-out parliamentary assault (especially in the Senate, where Sinodinis sits), and whilst its firepower has been one key gun down with him missing. It is difficult to know where to begin.

Sinodinis’ resignation certainly can’t be said to have been offered and accepted in the best interests of the Liberal Party; if it had been it would have been forthcoming in March. There is nothing quick about ICAC, and it would have been reasonable to assume from the outset that even if cleared, Sinodinis would have been subject to its processes for months.

Certainly the belated resignation announcement is welcome, and overdue, even if it is motivated by a delay of further months emanating from ICAC and the machinations surrounding it.

But nobody should be leaping out of their skins to give the Senator a round of applause; as I said, this should have happened months ago.

ICAC — as the NSW ALP knows all too well — is political poison, and whilst I do not suggest in any way that Senator Sinodinis is guilty of any wrongdoing, from a purely political perspective the mere association with ICAC is enough to tarnish anyone it touches.

In fact, Sinodinis may well end up being cleared by ICAC, and if he is then it is one of those grossly unfortunate and unfair aspects of political life that even if innocent of any impropriety, his name will have still been smeared: nine months is a long time for the broader public to engage in (often uninformed) banter and speculation, and there are those who will have already judged and sentenced the Senator nonetheless.

The end target of public distaste over this particular ICAC activity is the political standing of the Abbott government.

So much for stepping aside and “simply standing firm” — doing so has ensured the episode will damage the government even if Sinodinis is cleared. And outright resignation in the first place would have avoided much of that, and Sinodinis would have had an easier path back to the ministry at a later date.

Whomever dreamed up the strategy of Sinodinis merely stepping aside rather than resigning — and a clue lies in the fact The Australian reports his resignation was planned over a period of weeks in discussions that included the Liberals’ federal director, Brian Loughnane — has in fact done the government a great disservice. The entire issue was very poorly managed.

But — alas — poor management by people who should either know better or be nowhere to be seen is fast becoming the trademark of this government.

And it seems a second strike may be set to be inflicted on the government, as the “simply stand firm” crowd sets about goading Abbott into another monumental political miscalculation, albeit one that could exacerbate the existential political threat it faces after the botched 2014 budget and other monumental failings this year.

Since his resignation was announced yesterday afternoon (and in chatter preceding it in the past few days) talk emanating from Canberra has centred on a so-called “one in, one out” reshuffle of the Abbott ministry: unsurprisingly, the single change in this scenario would see Sinodinis’ role taken over by someone else, and one new name added to the ministry to replace his.

As the theory goes, a limited reshuffle now would be followed by a more widespread overhaul near the end of 2015, and this idiotic idea is so bad as to beggar belief that anyone masquerading as a professional political strategist could be stupid enough or incompetent enough to even countenance its execution.

It is already pretty obvious to anyone with half a clue about politics and government that the Abbott government’s first 15 months in office have revealed a number of ministers who are either liabilities in need of replacement (David Johnston, Ian Macfarlane, possibly George Brandis), good people who would better suit a different portfolio (Joe Hockey), old warhorses or unspectacular performers unlikely to feature in a second-term Abbott ministry (Warren Truss, Kevin Andrews, Bruce Billson), plus the no-show in Sinodinis that has arguably kept a bright new prospect from a well deserved opportunity to shine as a minister.

Gifted the pretext for a reshuffle by Sinodinis’ overdue resignation and bolstered by a backbench overflowing with likely ministerial talent to offset the loss of some pretty ordinary performers, why tinker at the seams? Most of the names I have mentioned are almost certain to be moved on anyway, so why not do it now?

Further, a big reshuffle in a year’s time (with an election beginning to bear down) will look like panic, especially if the government’s political standing does not recover in the meantime: and given its predicament has been brought about by the present coterie of ministers, there is little reason to believe the same group in mostly the same roles will make much of a difference.

Treasurer Joe Hockey has to be moved, preferably to Defence; his replacement (without so much as a syllable of endorsement in any leadership context) should be Malcolm Turnbull. Johnston, Macfarlane, Andrews and perhaps Brandis and Billson should all be dumped, whilst Truss (who is also the leader of the National Party and deputy Prime Minister) could relinquish his portfolio whilst retaining his other duties if his intention is to retire at the next election.

A properly managed reshuffle can be an electoral positive; renewing a government and harnessing its best people in the roles that best fit them is a powerful and obvious way to maximise its performance and in turn feed back into its electoral stocks.

But reshuffles too often or for the sake of them can have the opposite effect; sometimes they are inescapable, as anything from illness or death to unforeseen scandal or administrative oversight can force a change on a government. Viewed this way, formulating a plan to wilfully engage in multiple reshuffles within the remainder of this term of Parliament is bordering on a flirtation with political suicide.

It is refreshingly constructive that Sinodinis himself — quoted on the same issue in The Age — has encouraged the Prime Minister to select the best ministerial team possible, and that good governments “have a capacity to face up to performance issues as they arise, rather than allowing them to fester.”

That does not sound like an endorsement of the “one in, one out” strategy.

It does not sound like an endorsement of “simply standing firm” behind a team clearly in need of some of the fresh blood that is readily available, and eagerly awaiting an opportunity.

It does not sound like the utterance of a man either ignorant of the political predicament the Abbott government is in, nor of the opportunity to take a big step to try to redress it that his resignation has created.

Someone, at least, gets it. Then again, Sinodinis has always been (rightly) credited with having sound political instincts.

But if those who have the ear of the Prime Minister continue to insist on the “simply stand firm” principle — and succeed in seeing to it that relatively minimal change is made to the ministry at what is arguably a pivotal point in the government’s political fortunes — then they should perhaps take a look at themselves instead.

In the final analysis, perhaps Senator Sinodinis’ isn’t the only resignation from the government that is past due.


Abbott Government Must Move On From Arthur Sinodinis

AN ARTICLE in the Murdoch press — reporting that sidelined Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinis wants “to rejoin the Abbott team” once his duty to co-operate with an ICAC investigation into donations has ended — ignores the political reality that for now at least, the only place Sinodinis should be is on the backbench. Rightly, wrongly, fairly or otherwise, the government cannot afford to restore Sinodinis to his vacant ministerial post.

At the outset, let me be crystalline in my clarity about something: in publishing this morning’s article I seek in no way to judge Sinodinis personally; I make no accusation of guilt or misconduct; and seek to express no presumption of guilt in relation to any of the alleged misdeeds, on Sinodinis’ part, that fall within the remit of the ICAC investigation in NSW that is probing donations to the Liberal Party and which have necessitated his appearance at ICAC to answer questions about what — if anything — he knows of the matters at hand. On the contrary, my opinion of the Senator is sufficiently high that I would be both horrified and dismayed if there was so much as a shred of evidence against him.

And I certainly don’t seek to impugn his character in any way.

No, today’s piece is a purely political assessment of an environment around political donations that has grown toxic for the Liberal Party — in NSW, at least — and against that backdrop (and irrespective of any rights or wrongs, as the case may be) the Abbott government simply can’t afford to restore Sinodinis to his ministerial post when his time in ICAC’s so-called “star chamber” has concluded.

Perception is everything in politics. Remember that, folks. We’ll come back to that point.

When it comes to ICAC — the NSW anti-corruption and misconduct body set up by the Greiner government in 1989 — there are two (and two only) broad strategies for dealing with the adverse publicity and/or findings that emanate from its highly visible activities: one, to stand firm, batten down the hatches, denying everything whilst attempting to ride out the storm; and two, for those found to have done the wrong thing to resign their offices and, if the circumstances warrant doing so, to await prosecution as far away from the incessant and incendiary glare of media attention as possible.

NSW voters (and Australians generally) have already seen the end result of the first of these strategies: a Labor state government that had the living shit kicked out of it so badly at the polls in 2011 that it recorded Labor’s worst result in NSW in almost a century, defeated even more heavily than Jack Lang’s government was in 1932 following its dismissal by the Governor of the day, Sir Philip Game.

Already, we are getting a very clear picture of the other, too, courtesy of the NSW Liberals affected by ICAC’s probe into banned donations from property developers: a torrent of resignations, both from the NSW ministry and from State Parliament altogether, which has included the Premier who slew Labor at the 2011 election — Barry O’Farrell — being forced to fall on his sword over the failure to declare a bottle of wine that was gifted to him by a donor.

That picture — ominously — has reflected in opinion polling of state voting intentions in NSW, and it’s not pretty; the latest indications appear to suggest that O’Farrell’s successor as Premier, the impressive Mike Baird, will be re-elected come March, albeit narrowly; the absurdity of a government elected with almost two-thirds of the two-party vote facing the realistic possibility of defeat after a single term underscores both the revulsion of voters to wrongdoing by politicians and the scope the type of matters before ICAC possess to cripple the electoral prospects of political parties.

The fact NSW Labor is led by a man who has publicly admitted to self-adjudicating a $3 million bribe he was offered — and taking it upon himself to decide not to report it — and is nonetheless within shouting distance of overhauling the Coalition in a single leap simply amplifies the point.

People are fed up with corruption and official misconduct, be it alleged, proven at law, or a taint that attaches to individuals or parties either by implication or suggestion, and the higher up the food chain it runs, the heavier the fallout.

NSW Labor leader John Robertson should, by rights, have rendered himself unelectable by admitting he didn’t refer the bribe he was offered to ICAC, and in a less tumultuous political climate, he would have been. But the Liberals govern NSW now, not Labor; and despite its ghastly track record and the stack of ALP identities who have faced or await prosecution, it is the ALP in NSW that can now claim the outraged indignation of opposing a government being picked apart by ICAC. It is certainly reaping the political benefits that come from it, if the published polls are anything to go by.

For those who are caught out by ICAC, it seems going to the crossbenches or quitting Parliament altogether don’t cut it in the eyes of voters; as of yesterday the Liberal Party in NSW has now lost 10 of its 49 lower house MPs through these routes, with the member for Port Stephens, Craig Baumann, the latest to be forced to leave the party after admitting to ICAC that he improperly declared donations totalling $79,000 before the 2007 state election to hide the fact the monies originated from property developers.

There is no need to canvass the minutiae of all 10 of the Liberal MPs who have fallen foul of ICAC’s investigations, for even the details of what Baumann has admitted to is enough to paint the picture; the fact that 10 of these guys have effectively had their careers terminated by ICAC leaves little cause to wonder whether NSW voters are angry or not, or whether their ire is justified.

Here is where we return to Sinodinis, whose appearance at ICAC (and the article I mentioned in my leader provides some elaboration) was to answer questions around what he knew, if anything, about allegations that a fundraising arm of the Federal division of the Liberal Party, the Free Enterprise Foundation,  had been used to disburse otherwise prohibited developer donations to the NSW Liberals, thereby circumventing the ban on doing so directly.

Sinodinis is quoted in that article as saying he’s looking forward to “rejoin the Abbott team,” from which it is reasonable to infer that he means a resumption of his ministerial post.

Rightly or wrongly, it can’t happen.

The issue of developer donations to the NSW Liberals and the alleged use of the Free Enterprise Foundation to facilitate them brings the ICAC taint of the NSW Liberals directly to the federal party, and to the Abbott government: like it or not, innocent or not, people will form their own conclusions based on their own perceptions.

Already, there has been some attempt by the Communist Party Greens to drag Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, into the ICAC quagmire; to date, the best the Greens can come up with has been to focus on Ms Credlin’s role as a channel for communication throughout the government and beyond, and the inescapable fact that this role inevitably encompasses interaction and involvement with the Free Enterprise Foundation through the simple reality of its affiliation to the Liberal Party.

Just as the Greens don’t like Abbott, they really, really don’t like Credlin either.

And just as I am adamant that I seek to cast no aspersions on Senator Sinodinis, I am equally adamant that none should befall Credlin either. Yet the fact this has been raised by the government’s opponents at all clearly shows that if its political enemies have anything to do with it, the Abbott government (to use the vernacular) is going down over the ICAC fiasco that threatens to engulf the NSW division of the Liberal Party.

This is where the moronic calls for a “federal ICAC” — which are growing louder — originate from; the Greens are campaigning for such a body with great vigour, aided in no small part by the Fairfax press, and demands to the same end have emanated from the Palmer United Party, too. Some press coverage (chiefly from Fairfax, again) has claimed that the ALP seems unfazed by the idea, which is perhaps unsurprising given the likelihood of its own procession of public shame as a result of the Royal Commission into the trade union movement being imminent.

But whether Labor wants a “federal ICAC” or not is to some degree a moot point; dangerous, malevolent enemies of the Abbott government that are bent on causing it harm are prepared to fight for it, and both Palmer and the Greens have proven themselves more than capable of generating great political trouble for the federal Coalition when issues and circumstances suit them.

It hardly takes a rocket scientist to see that in the case of the Greens at least, their motives stem not so much from any over-arching commitment to probity or accountability as from their barely disguised hatred of Tony Abbott personally, the Coalition more broadly, and the fact it sits in government at all: the Greens are capable of doing anything in their mad obsession with ripping Abbott apart, and a “federal ICAC” appears to be simply another intended battering ram or sledgehammer with which the Greens seek to prosecute this objective.

And this is where it becomes untenable for Arthur Sinodinis to resume his spot as Assistant Treasurer.

It has nothing to do with innocence or guilt; as I said at the outset, perception is everything in politics.

It should not be so, but whether Sinodinis has a case to answer or not is scarcely the point when the question is evaluated on a purely political basis.

With its self-inflicted budget woes and the truly shocking inability it exhibits to either sell its positive wares or to persuasively argue the merits of its tougher measures, the Abbott government needs the taint of ICAC, the backwash of public revulsion it is generating, and the get-square prospect of a “federal ICAC” like it needs the proverbial hole in its head.

Rightly or wrongly, the restoration of Sinodinis to the ministry would be a lightning rod for the forces ranged against the government — both inside and outside Parliament — to redouble their efforts to smear it with the fallout from ICAC and to paint it as corrupt at a time when it simply can’t afford any distractions or firestorms over and above those it is already battling to extinguish.

I feel for Sinodinis; I think he’s a good man. But for the good of the government he so rightly wishes to serve, the best place for him right now remains on the Senate backbench.

It doesn’t have to be forever; and it doesn’t exclude other avenues to participate more actively, perhaps through a committee role.

But with the fires of hell raging in NSW and threatening to spread as far as Canberra, the public perception of restoring Sinodinis to the executive government is, for now, simply too politically fraught.

If anyone is to blame, it is those who actually have already prejudged his guilt when there may well be nothing for him to be guilty of; and this in turn speaks to other areas of standards of conduct in public office — the sheer lies and malicious slander that has become a standard tool of trade for Australia’s Left — that I, like millions of others who live in this country, am fed up to my back teeth with.



Grubby Hypocrisy, Arthur Sinodinis, And Labor Under Shorten

THE SHRILL MOCK OUTRAGE of Labor Party figures across the country — a chorus “led,” typically, by Bill Shorten — over the temporary withdrawal of Arthur Sinodinis until his appearance before ICAC has taken place is sanctimonious, pious, and filthily hypocritical; the ALP is a modern master of the tactics of the gutter, but it sits on shaky ground indeed when it seeks to point the finger at others on the spurious pretext of alleged misconduct.

Everyone knows the story; Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinis has stepped aside from his ministerial duties after being implicated in an ICAC investigation, to which he will soon be called as a witness; the withdrawal was voluntary, not mandated either by the law or any code of ministerial conduct, and very properly sought to minimise the jaundiced attention focused on the government until the matters Sinodinis is to address at ICAC are concluded.

I have made the point in this column earlier in the week and will do so again now that Sinodinis isn’t accused of having done anything criminal; he isn’t even facing any direct accusations of impropriety. At this stage he has simply been called as a witness, and to my mind his swift move to absent himself from the government is a symptom of the integrity by which his reputation of doing things properly has been earned.

Make no mistake, I have always left open the prospect that Sinodinis might — might — face questions of his own to answer at some stage; nobody can foretell what the investigations that have so far involved Sinodinis in a peripheral capacity only might reveal or where they may lead.

But the man is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and — as at today’s date — he hasn’t even been accused of anything, let alone had need to face a judgement of innocence or guilt.

I raise this once again having read an excellent piece by a favourite of this column, Piers Akerman of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, earlier on today; it’s a nice, surgical demolition job on any moral imperative Labor might claim to attack Sinodinis, framed by a cursory yet telling recollection of Labor’s own track record when it sat in government not so long ago.

It’s a brilliant little read in the context of these issues and I hope readers will take the time.

I have made the point recently that we now have it as a fact that the ALP provided shelter to criminals during its tenure in office; as we have discussed, and as public knowledge has long recorded (and as Piers notes) the level of alarm in then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s office over exactly what official action was faced by Craig Thomson, for example, was such that her minnows made direct enquiries of the heads of the government agencies pursuing him as far back as 2009.

Thomson is due to be sentenced this week — almost four years later — and it defies belief that no-one in Labor Party circles would have had no knowledge at all of the actual details of Thomson’s otherwise questionable behaviour.

Craig Thomson is one example. There are plenty of others. Most of you know who they are. There is no need to rattle the list off again.

The Akerman article scores some direct hits on this issue and again, I urge readers to take the time to read it.

And I would add that there are plenty of other ALP figures under investigation — senior Labor Party figures facing very serious inquiries over a litany of diverse questions and allegations — that no-one over at the ALP wants to talk about.

One of them, of course, is the said ex-Prime Minister, whose investigation by Victoria Police over her role in a possible fraud continues apace.

But there are others, potentially facing even more serious questions of alleged criminal misconduct.

Perhaps Labor — and its “leader,” Bill Shorten — would care to talk about appropriate courses of conduct in relation to these matters?

I didn’t think so.



Sinodinis’ Stand-down The Right Thing To Do

THE DECISION by Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinis to step down from his ministerial duties ahead of an appearance before NSW anti-corruption body ICAC — as a witness in an investigation into his role with Australian Water Holdings — is right, proper, and the appropriate thing to do. It contrasts with the conduct of Labor-aligned figures during the last Parliament, and critics should be wary of putting the cart before the horse.

Just a fairly quick post this morning, as I have something of “a day of it” today, but may find time this evening to post again.

As usual, most readers by now will be familiar with the story and issues surrounding the temporary standing down of Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinis from the Abbott ministry pending his appearance at an ICAC inquiry, and I think a little perspective is needed.

Unsurprisingly, the ALP and the Greens are cock-a-hoop; just six months into the life of the new Liberal government they believe they have claimed their first ministerial scalp, and whilst such celebrations are premature it isn’t difficult to understand why the heavily depleted and demoralised opposition parties would be salivating over such an event.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind.

First and foremost, Sinodinis hasn’t been charged with anything: at this time, he is simply being called before ICAC to answer questions about — and clarify — his role in connection to a company in the middle of a corruption investigation in New South Wales.

If ICAC uncovers any evidence of wrongdoing, it may lead to charges being laid; if, however, Sinodinis is found to have no case to answer in relation to the matters before ICAC, he will be free to resume his ministerial duties — and he will do so.

Since this matter broke I have privately received a good deal of communication from people I know who are connected to the Left of politics: the tenor of these discussions — put simply — is that rather than simply step aside, Sinodinis should quit altogether; that not to do so makes hypocrites out of the Liberal Party in light of its pursuit of the likes of Craig Thomson, Peter Slipper et al during the life of the Gillard government; and that any acceptance of Sinodinis’ vote on the floor of the Senate would be “tainted” and be tantamount to further evidence of the moral decrepitude of the Abbott government.

Blah blah blah.

Can I make the point that unlike Sinodinis, Thomson and (especially) Slipper didn’t step aside from anything — at least not until the political pressure on Gillard had become irresistible; Thomson, as history shows, was facing serious civil and criminal investigations whilst chairing a parliamentary committee that are likely to end with a jail sentence being handed out next week, whilst Slipper is pleading the old mental health excuse to avoid a similar fate in relation to his own episode before a court on criminal charges.

Further — and whilst the matters involving Sinodinis before ICAC are certainly not a good look, and will likely reflect poorly on him even if found faultless — the Assistant Treasurer has committed to resign from the ministry altogether if it is found he has a case to answer, which once again stands in contrast to the type of conduct we are talking about from the time of the Gillard era.

And finally, arguments about a “tainted vote” from Sinodinis are baseless, ridiculous, and petty: again, unlike others we have mentioned and their ilk, at the present time Sinodinis is not being investigated over anything criminal.

It could be seen as a fortuitous coincidence for Abbott that on account of the state of the numbers in the Senate — both before and after 1 July — a vote from Sinodinis is not pivotal to the Abbott government’s ability or otherwise to win votes on the floor of the chamber, thus sparing him the excruciating numerical considerations that led Gillard to put expediency and survival above any sense of decency or principle.

Even so, the complaint on this count from Labor and the Greens doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, and amounts to little more than an attempt to contaminate the atmospherics of the situation with a bit more muck throwing to boot.

I think that by quickly stepping aside from his ministerial duties — as he should have — Sinodinis has contained and minimised any collateral damage that these matters might otherwise inflict upon the government.

Certainly, it entitles him at the very least to now allow events to run their course without being prejudged or harangued by his political opponents.

In this sense, the protestations of Labor and the Greens are premature, and betray a hypocrisy that will yield them little favour with the voting public.

They may or may not get their ministerial scalp — nobody can foresee, definitively, what the final result of this will be.

But in the meantime, Sinodinis has acted properly and appropriately in standing down when he did, and whilst any adverse findings would spell the end of his political career, even such an outcome should not damage Abbott or his government for the simple reason that his minister has stepped aside at the commencement of this process until the truth of the matter can be established.

We’ll keep an eye on this, and as things develop come back to discuss at a later time.



Bugger Off: Bestial Broadside Buys Bernardi The Bullet

Comments in the Senate by hard-right Liberal Cory Bernardi — suggesting a direct causal link from gay relationships to sex between human beings and animals — have rightly and correctly resulted in his sacking from the Coalition frontbench. The Red And The Blue heartily endorses his dismissal.

The ongoing debate over gay marriage — and whether to legislate in favour of it — is a labyrinth of differing positions and viewpoints, interwoven with personal friendships and relationships, political considerations, and social outcomes, and one which largely transcends orthodox lines of demarcation such as Left vs Right, or Labor vs Liberal.

Whilst I am not gay and am known for conservative views, I oppose gay marriage — because, as I have opined in the past, I think the gay community has enough bright, creative people in its ranks to come up with an equivalent institution of their own, rather than seeking to second an institution that is quintessentially heterosexual as defined in its history, tradition, convention, and its basis in religious lore.

And marriage, at its very genesis (no pun intended) is a religious institution across many faiths, not a modern societal or legal one.

It is true that the conservative in me opposes gay marriage; yet the liberal in me (in the true sense of the word, not the political sense) takes the view that gay people can do whatever they like between themselves in the privacy of their own company so long as it doesn’t adversely affect anyone else — which, by the way, is pretty much the way all of us should conduct our personal affairs, whether straight or gay.

My position on this issue probably puts me somewhere in the middle of those who are absolutely dead against the legislation of gay marriage and those who are ardently in favour of that change being legislated.

I wanted to restate my position on this tonight because — whether you agree with it or not — it is a reasoned one.

And I think that generally, most people who have participated in the gay marriage debate — in Parliament, the mainstream media, in independent opinion instruments such as this column, or around the barbeque or kitchen table — equally have views that are reasoned out; whether they concur with mine or not, I think most people have at least paid the subject the courtesy of giving it some thought.

Yes, there are religious conservatives and rednecks with an outright opposition to the right; there are others at the opposite end of the spectrum using Leftist blackmail (“you support this or you’re a bigot,” or silly, focus-group slogans like “equal love”) to push their case.

But until Tuesday, I wasn’t aware of anyone advocating a position that legislating gay marriage could lead to lawful sexual relations between humans and animals.

Enter Senator Cory Bernardi.

In the interests of clarity, I reprint here his remarks to the Senate debate as quoted in The Australian:

“The next step …(if gay marriage is legalised) is having three people that love each other be able to enter into a permanent union endorsed by society, or four people.

“There are even some creepy people out there who say that it’s OK to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step?

“In the future, will we say, ‘These two creatures love each other and maybe they should be able to be joined in a union?’ “

I’m going to be blunt about this:

  1. The debate about gay marriage has nothing to do with polygamy.
  2. The debate about gay marriage has nothing to do with sex with animals.
  3. Senator Bernardi’s remarks are a disgusting attempt to divert the debate about gay marriage down a filthy tangent designed to morally revolt and shock.
  4. Senator Bernardi’s remarks are not worthy of an adolescent school debate let alone be uttered in the Houses of the country’s Parliament.
  5. Senator Bernardi’s remarks are an affront to gay people and those who favour gay marriage and to those opposed but nonetheless engaged in the debate in good faith.

Claiming that various reports “had not taken into account the full context of his remarks” — a variation, to be sure, on the proven, guilt-tinged defence of being “misquoted” — Bernardi apparently remains unrepentant; refusing to apologise, and refusing to acknowledge what everyone else can see as a repugnance.

The consideration of the actual issue aside, Bernardi’s outburst — essentially repeated yesterday morning in a radio interview — raises political considerations as well.

He has defied party room instructions not to inflame the debate over gay marriage; the latest in a litany of ill-advised and incendiary outbursts over the course of his Senatorial career.

He has, by virtue of this grotesque overreach, enraged more moderate Liberals such as Malcolm Turnbull, who favour the legalisation of gay marriage but who voted against it in accordance with the published policy of the Coalition.

And he has created additional problems for Liberal leader Tony Abbott at a time when the Coalition has performed badly for a couple of weeks — partially reflected in some recent opinion polling — and compounded by a rare outbreak of ill-discipline in Coalition ranks under Abbott’s leadership.

To his credit, Abbott has been unconditional in his statements that what Bernardi has done is completely unacceptable.

We could discuss this at greater length in terms of the political repercussions and the fallout on a wider basis but that really isn’t the purpose of tonight’s article.

Clearly, Bernardi’s comments to the Senate debate merit no further consideration; we can treat these with the contempt they deserve, and ignore them.

And quite clearly, Senator Bernardi has outlived any real usefulness he may have had politically, as a Senator and lawmaker, and is of no further value to the Liberal Party in any conceivable sense.

Abbott — historically a factional ally of Bernardi’s — has stamped the papers of the latter, dismissing him from his frontbench; it is to be hoped the party’s preselectors in South Australia give consideration to completing the job, and removing Bernardi from their Senate ticket.

For now, however, Bernardi has been told — in no uncertain terms — to bugger off.

And, on balance, quite rightly so.