BREAKING: Mal Brough To Quit Federal Parliament

FORMER Special Minister of State Mal Brough has announced he will not contest the coming federal election, and is set to quit the Sunshine Coast seat of Fisher; the announcement comes as a Federal Police investigation into any role Brough played in bringing down his predecessor — disgraced ex-Speaker Peter Slipper — continues. Brough’s fall from grace is a tragedy, but his departure is a likely further pointer to an election sooner rather than later.

A quick post from me this afternoon, on the hop as I am; some readers may have already seen the news, but embattled former Special Minister of State (and hand-picked Turnbull appointee) Mal Brough has called time this afternoon on his political career, just three years after securing Liberal Party endorsement to return to Canberra via the seat previously held by disgraced former Speaker and general all-round grub Peter Slipper.

This is a subject we have followed quite closely, in part on account of an old personal connection I had with Brough 20 years ago; despite his position on the moderate wing of the Liberal Party, I thought at that time he was a credible future candidate for the Prime Ministership — so impressive is he in person — and the end his career has now reached, especially under a cloud of suspicion of unlawful conduct, gives me no satisfaction at all. Quite the contrary.

His return to the ministry late last year, as a key lieutenant in Malcolm Turnbull’s successful leadership coup against Tony Abbott, quickly proved an early pointer to the fact Turnbull’s famed lack of judgement remains all too real and present; rapidly outed as the subject of continuing Federal Police investigations into the ghastly business surrounding Slipper — inquiries that were announced to the country in the form of a raid on Brough’s home — his Cabinet position immediately became untenable.

Typically, Turnbull dithered, eventually parting with Brough at the same time another grub in the government’s ranks, Jamie Briggs, was forced out over allegations of inappropriate conduct; even though those ministerial departures signalled the first and second of five involuntary changes to the ministry, their timing was poignant.

And so too, it is, on this occasion.

I do feel quite some sympathy for Mal and his wife, Sue, but in noting that I also point out that if the allegations against him are substantiated, then prosecution must follow: there is only one law in this country, and it must apply to everyone equally and without fear or favour. Sometimes, people we know and like will do the wrong thing, and must be punished, but such is the price of being only human: people make mistakes.

It is to Brough’s enduring credit that he elected to step aside from his Cabinet post voluntarily, and also to subsequently relinquish it, when others before him (and particularly of the Gillard government variety) stubbornly chose instead to dig in when confronted with suggestions of misbehaviour, and in this sense Brough should at least receive acknowledgement that he spared the country the trauma and farce of delaying the inevitable.

Even so, his significant potential — despite his tenure as a senior minister in the Howard government — will remain unfulfilled.

Brough’s resignation will now spark a feeding frenzy over the usually safe Liberal Sunshine Coast electorate of Fisher; already there are suggestions that former Newman government minister Jarrod Bleijie will join the exodus of LNP state politicians seeking federal seats rather than an additional term in opposition in Queensland, and whilst I am yet to form a firm position on this, my general view is that Bleijie — along with Messrs McVeigh and Seeney — ought to remain exactly where they are, or quit politics altogether.

And the timing of this latest announcement involving Brough may again be significant in terms of its relationship to other events.

At this time, there is no suggestion his resignation relates to developments in the investigations of allegations against him; after all, the resignation of his seat takes effect from the next election: and even if it’s early, that event is probably four months away.

But with the eleventh-hour departures from the ministry of Brough and Briggs last year, Turnbull’s ready penchant for a little deck-clearing when nobody seems likely to notice appears alive and well too: and I would say that on balance, Brough’s timing now is likely directly related to buying as much clear air as possible between now and the election date, which I understand is already known to members of the government’s inner circle.

As ever, we will watch this to see if anything further comes of it: and in the meantime, I aim to be back with readers — and to catch up on the backlog of the week’s events — either tonight or tomorrow.


When The Police Come Calling…

Developments in two separate investigations loomed large over Gillard government figures Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper today; Police activities indicate the prospect of criminal charges against either or both is still well and truly alive.

This is just a quick post tonight; I’m sure that today’s events represent merely the lifting of the curtain on the next instalment of the dramas enveloping Messrs Slipper, Thomson, and Thomson’s old buddies over at the HSU.

NSW Police this morning raided the Sydney offices of the Health Services Union, as part of their Strike Force Carnarvon campaign; Fraud and Cybercrime Squad personnel seized documents, computers and other storage systems in relation to their investigations of multiple instances of misconduct and possible criminal activity at the Union.

What probably didn’t help the cause of any of the figures accused of misconduct — and least of all, himself — was the revelation that Police intercepted HSU boss Michael Williamson, allegedly attempting to make off with a quantity of documents central to Police inquiries.

Whether or not Williamson is charged separately over that activity will apparently become clear “in the next few days.”

Still, with inquiries into the HSU and alleged misconduct dragging on for years — and some of these matters directly centre on former HSU head, now MP for Dobell, Craig Thomson — the appearance of Police at HSU head office will no doubt send a shiver down the spines of quite a few interested parties.

Not least, down the spine of Craig Thomson himself, who has repeatedly and systematically refused to co-operate with all Police investigation into his conduct as a HSU official, particularly where the abuse of a Union-provided credit card and misappropriation of HSU monies on prostitutes, fine restaurant meals and inordinate cash advances are concerned.

Meanwhile, the Australian Federal Police have commenced a formal criminal investigation into allegations surrounding former Speaker Peter Slipper’s misuse of travel entitlements, and specifically allegations that he repeatedly misused CabCharge vouchers.

Police have taken a little over a week to evaluate whether to formally investigate the allegations against Mr Slipper “taking into account the likelihood of a criminal offence and the AFP’s resources.”

An AFP spokesperson was quoted in Melbourne’s Herald Sun today as saying “the AFP has now assessed that the matter requires further investigation,” adding that investigators spoke to a number of potential witnesses and gathered information in relation to the matter before deciding to pursue a formal investigation.

Can I just make the point — again — that much of the defence not just of Thomson and Slipper, but of the Gillard government figures surrounding them — and not least, of Gillard herself — has variously been based on obfuscation, refusal to co-operate, stonewalling and “standing firm,” all the while exuding the smugness of a conviction that “they” can’t be caught.

Well now…today’s events simply bring the constabulatory, officially, one giant step closer to Messrs Slipper and Thomson.

Unlike a Fair Work Australia inquiry of dubious rigour, these Police inquiries won’t drag on for three or four years.

We don’t know yet whether Thomson and/or Slipper are guilty of anything they are accused of as yet; this is all the more reason for this latest developments, and this new round of Police activity, to be welcomed.

But if either man is guilty of the accusations being levelled at them, then the walls are now beginning to close in on them.

And this should give Julia Gillard — and those of her colleagues who have likewise relied on stonewalling and standing firm as a panacea to these issues — cause for very grave reflection indeed.

We’ll keep an eye on developments, and discuss as the inquiries develop.

Ten out of ten to the boys in blue, for the record; at least somebody is acting without fear or favour today. The members of our constabulatory involved are to be applauded.