Crossroads: Many Careers On The Line As Craig Thomson Charged With Fraud

NEWS that Dobell MP Craig Thomson has been charged with fraud — over the alleged misuse of credit cards whilst the head of the Health Services Union — brings to a head a saga that has dragged on for years; it raises questions, and imperils the careers of many others beside the disgraced former Labor MP.

As these matters are now before the Court, I am not going to offer any comment on the charges, their merits or veracity, or an opinion on Thomson’s innocence or guilt.

I do, however, propose to look at the potential fallout from a conviction — should one eventuate — and its likely impact and risks on other key figures in this tawdry labyrinth of accusation and alleged immorality.

Thomson is the subject of 150 fraud charges brought against him by Victoria Police, following their investigation into allegations of improper financial transactions during periods Thomson spent in Victoria; these will be heard in Melbourne at a date to be fixed.

Thomson is also faced with a litany of civil charges brought against him by Fair Work Australia, relating to that agency’s investigation into the HSU, and he also remains a “person of interest” in a current NSW Police investigation which mirrors and complements that undertaken by their southern counterparts.

The first thing I considered on learning that Thomson had been arrested this afternoon was whether Prime Minister Julia Gillard knew that the arrest was imminent when she announced a 14 September election yesterday.

(The issue of Gillard’s election announcement will be covered by this column, although due to my other commitments this may not occur until the weekend. We will definitely look at it: that ill-advised event really does need to be picked apart).

Certainly, there has been a whisper around the traps today to that effect; Gillard herself has denied knowledge, although Thomson has intimated that he knew in advance that he would be arrested.

Indeed, there is some dispute over whether he was “invited” to surrender himself to Victoria Police prior to Christmas in relation to these matters; Thomson’s lawyer claims it was simply an invitation to an interview, whilst VicPol maintains it was to face charges.

Either way, it’s clear that advance knowledge of something is, at the very least, acknowledged to varying degrees by the parties directly involved.

Did Gillard also know? I would be staggered if she didn’t, despite her denial. If she did, then the election announcement was even more of a cynical stunt than I thought yesterday.

Whether she did or not, the charging of Thomson has the potential to ruin many careers aside from his own — even if he is acquitted on all charges.

For starters, Gillard will be sweating on the timing of the eventual hearing of charges; whilst it’s possible these matters will not reach Court until after the federal election, the greater probability is that they will.

And if they do, there is no “ideal” time — for the ALP politically — for it to occur; but a nightmare scenario for the government would be a steady stream of sensational headlines emanating from Thomson’s criminal trial in the final weeks of what was always going to be an extremely difficult election campaign.

I think it is fair to assert that readers are, by now, well aware that if Thomson is convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of one year or more, he will be automatically disqualified from Parliament, meaning his seat of Dobell will require a by-election to be held.

However, this would also be the case if Thomson were to become bankrupt — either by declaring himself so, or involuntarily — and to my mind this is the greater immediate risk to the government’s numbers.

It is also a risk to the careers of many other people in the present Parliament.

It is common knowledge that the ALP covered expenses for Thomson to the tune of some $350,000 prior to suspending his membership; this was in large part to offset legal expenses and a settlement over a defamation action involving Fairfax Media.

Much was made at the time of the fact that it kept Thomson from going bankrupt in 2011 and disqualifying him from Parliament then; it is unknown whether the Labor Party would bail him out again now, in light of the political risks involved in doing so and with an eye on the fact it has already distanced itself from him by suspending him.

Clearly, Thomson faces massive costs in defending both the civil and criminal charges brought against him.

I want to outline a scenario — hypothetical for now, but deadly serious in its potential to eventuate — to explain my point tonight to readers.

Let us suppose that in, say, three months’ time — in late April — Thomson is forced into bankruptcy under the weight of his legal bills.

At that time, his eligibility to sit in the House of Representatives would automatically be terminated.

There has been some discussion today, in the lightning analysis of the Thomson charges, of what would happen in such a scenario; indeed, the consensus in the mainstream media seems to be that the (Labor) Speaker, Anna Burke, would decline to issue the writs for a by-election in Dobell on the basis a federal election date has already been set.

At the risk of stealing my own thunder from my pending article on the 14 September date, I must emphasise to readers that what Gillard did yesterday has no legal standing, or binding validity, whatsoever: she has simply, literally, named a date.

The actual “calling” of an election is a complex process involving a dissolution of Parliament and the issue of writs — and these things and other necessary legal steps cannot be taken in relation to a 14 September election until much, much closer to the date.

As half the Senate must also be voted upon, they can’t be taken until July at the earliest, owing to constitutional considerations.

So back to our scenario: Thomson, April, bankrupt. What happens?

In the proper performance of her duties, the Speaker would be required to issue a writ for a by-election in Dobell; indeed, I believe that is exactly what should occur.

To refuse to call a by-election so far out from an intended federal election date would be a flagrant abuse of power and an endeavour to rig the House of Representatives to improperly maintain the Gillard government’s numbers in the House.

There is a precedent; in late 1989, a vacant National Party electorate in Queensland was left vacant for a couple of months ahead of that state’s election. Even so — despite the Nationals hurtling toward their first election loss since 1956 — the seat made no difference to the Nationals’ majority in state Parliament, even if it were lost in a by-election.

So I don’t see that either the 14 September consideration, nor a modern precedent in Queensland, could excuse such an outrageous disregard for democratic process.

Were Burke to take that path, her prospects in her own electorate of Chisholm — held by a reasonable but not invulnerable 6.1% margin — would become that little bit more tenuous.

And if such a course were pursued by the Gillard government, the certain outcome would be to render it unelectable at a general election, and seal the fate of dozens of its MPs.

It would also guarantee that Labor would suffer a bloodbath when the general election finally occurred.

Replacing Burke with another candidate seems implausible; none of the Independents is likely to touch the Speakership, and it would be unlikely that a rebel Liberal or National would do so to prop up a dying government committing undemocratic acts.

So that would seem to close off the option of adding another Labor vote to the mix of 149 in total on the floor of the House by selecting a new Speaker.

Yet even without losing Dobell outright at a by-election, a disqualified Thomson and a vacated seat would still take the minority Gillard government a step closer to the precipice if the Opposition refused to grant a pair for Dobell; in such circumstances, it seems an unbelievable proposition that Abbott and his colleagues would grant a pair.

This would make the mix on the floor of the House 70 ALP to 72 Coalition, and it would bring the Independents into play for the inevitable vote of no-confidence the Opposition would move in the government in an attempt to force it to an election, with the refusal to conduct a by-election in Dobell the pretext — and a resonant pretext at that.

Communist Greens MP Adam Bandt would side with Labor, and Bob Katter with the Coalition; the numbers become 71 to 73.

Andrew Wilkie and Peter Slipper are the unknowns; having been comprehensively shafted by the Gillard government, it is difficult to see Wilkie supporting it in a no-confidence vote.

Slipper, despite having enjoyed the favour of the government, is a conservative Liberal turncoat who would seem disinclined to preserve a Labor government in office in such circumstances.

And then there’s Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott.

Windsor has signalled his intention to stand again in his ultra-conservative seat of New England; Oakeshott has equivocated, but I suspect he, too, will renominate. Like Windsor’s, his electorate of Lyne is one of the most conservative in the country.

Both are likely to struggle to win anyway, given their support of a Labor government, but a failure to act — in this scenario — to terminate that government, when it is refusing to allow a by-election that could result in its downfall anyway, would guarantee their own demise as well.

In such a situation, their votes would get the opposition the 75 votes on the floor of the House required, and a no-confidence vote to succeed.

And that’s before the votes of Wilkie and Slipper — and who carried them — are resolved.

But which way would they all jump?

It may well be that on that question, the careers of dozens of our politicians could rest.

And thus, there is a great deal at stake as a result of Thomson being charged this afternoon; the potential ramifications are vast, but not necessarily due to the scenario most people — the imprisonment of Thomson if convicted — are primarily focused on.

Filthy Slug Peter Slipper Slithers Away From Speaker’s Chair

A distasteful episode in Australian politics ended tonight, as Liberal Party traitor and Speaker Peter Slipper quit his role for a belated return to the backbench. The development removes a blight on the Speakership, but deals Julia Gillard a humiliating and potentially fatal political blow.

It was the risky game that should never have been played, and not least by an unpopular minority government clinging to office by the tiniest of parliamentary margins.

Peter Slipper — at the time of his ascension to the Speakership last November — was already a character over whom many question marks hovered; for years, “Slippery Pete” had come to be known for such things as his frequent taxpayer-funded trips abroad, repeated mistakes with travel expense claims and so forth; as we have noted previously, there has always been plenty of interesting stories floating around about him.

At the time, however, the Gillard government wanted to break a promise: this time to Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, and specifically to avoid honouring a commitment to poker machine reform he had extracted from the ALP as the price for his support on matters of confidence and supply.

Cutting Wilkie adrift meant Labor needed to find an additional vote in the House of Representatives on which it could rely, and Slipper — happy to resign from the LNP to become Speaker — offered an easy if fraught solution.

As we now know, the simple solution quickly proved a curse, with fresh allegations over travel expenses coming to light, along with allegations of sexual harassment from a member of Slipper’s staff, James Ashby.

In the months that Slipper has been stood aside from official duties as Speaker whilst those allegations are investigated, he has retained in full the trappings of his office — including a vast amount of overseas travel funded by the Australian taxpayer.

Things were always destined to come to a head this week with the tabling in Court, as part of Ashby’s sexual harassment case against Slipper, transcripts of hundreds of SMS text messages sent by Slipper to Ashby — and many of these were overtly sexual in nature.

In fact, they weren’t “overtly sexual;” they were — largely — absolutely disgusting, and those not simply lewd and obscene for the apparent sake of it were highly  intrusive in their demands for personal information on Ashby, about his relationships, and of physical aspects of these that are hardly decent conversation subjects at the best of times, let alone between a parliamentary employer and his staffer.

And of course, many contained demeaning and misogynistic statements on women and about the nature of female genitalia.

Significantly, the veracity of the text messages has been conceded by Slipper. And as far as I’m concerned, his subsequent apology should be taken with a grain of salt.

For Gillard and her ministers — running a fabricated campaign accusing Liberal leader Tony Abbott of sexism and misogyny, and of all manner of ills in his dealings and relationships with women — it’s an especially poor look when such an overtly  misogynistic, sexist and downright inappropriate specimen as Slipper sits welcome and protected within the government’s own circle of influence.

It’s worse again for Gillard to have gone into Parliament this afternoon, all guns blazing, in an aggressive speech seeking to rip Tony Abbott to shreds over sexism and misogyny whilst seeking to protect Slipper, even after his disgusting text messages had been published across the country.

(If you missed this — here is a sample of the material in question).

But what really makes Gillard look ridiculous is that after she and her government effectively deployed their entire arsenal in Parliament to defend Slipper — who survived a vote to remove him from office in the process by one vote — Slipper was back, mere hours later, to publicly resign the Speakership.

Peter Slipper has achieved little in 25 years in Parliament, and contrary to his claims to have improved parliamentary standards as Speaker, the truth is that history will remember his time in the role for little more than the Speaker’s Procession.

If for anything other, that is, than for the self-inflicted scandals he generated.

He was a headache to the Liberal Party for much of this period, which was as relieved to be rid of him the day he accepted the Speakership as it was angered that the deal done effectively saw yet another conservative traitor propping a Labor government up in office.

But he became Labor’s problem to own from that day onwards, and even an outfit as inept and as politically incompetent as the ALP must surely have wondered what in hell it had saddled itself with.

Slipper — by virtue of his own questionable track record, the investigations and allegations currently on foot against him, and now with the revelation through his SMS communications of his idea of what constitutes appropriate standards of decency — is clearly unfit to hold the office of Speaker, and I would suggest unfit to hold elected office at all.

It was suggested to me earlier today that vetting SMS text messaging would be the latest new standard by which to judge politicians; this sarcastic comment was meant to indicate that Slipper had been crucified for essentially private communication that ordinarily should to have been off-limits.

I would counter that by saying that a) the substance of the messages were utterly, utterly inappropriate, and noxious in the extreme; b) such “private” communication is clearly inappropriate from an employer to an employee; and c) this is especially the case when the employer is an elected representative holding senior executive office, under the Crown, and in the service of the Commonwealth on behalf of the people of Australia.

It is unclear how Slipper reconciles the content of these messages with his senior role in the ultra-conservative branch of the Anglican Church to which he belongs.

I would also note that the communications are evidence in a lawsuit against him.

So much for Peter Slipper and all the bullshit in his resignation speech about his improvement and upholding of “standards.”

The text messages could be dismissed as the sex-obsessed ravings of an adolescent and puerile psyche in any other context.

But in this case, they emanate from a 62-year-old man who parades himself as a beacon of inscrutable adherence to rigorous standards of proper parliamentary conduct.

At best, they might be viewed as personal communications made in extremely poor taste by a man who should have known better.

At worst, they point to someone with…well, we’ll call them “problems,” and especially so where women are concerned.

Just what Gillard and her acolytes are attempting to crucify Abbott for.

And Gillard now wears the opprobrium of having fought tooth and nail to protect Slipper — an unbridled political liability in every sense — only to have that effort flung in her face in the form of his resignation, and her government and her Prime Ministership plunged back into crisis as a result.

Not that Gillard had any choice: defend Slipper, and you’re an amoral vacuum. Throw him overboard and the whole house of cards could come down.

She was wedged. And whilst she chose to pursue the first option, the outcome of the second was realised anyway. It was the worst of both worlds, politically, for Gillard and her government.

A no-confidence motion in the Gillard administration must now ensue; for as sure as night follows day, the Coalition — with the prospect of Labor down another vote, and with the scent of an election win in its nostrils — will inevitably test the numbers on the floor of the House of Representatives in a move that could well bring down the government.

And if such a vote does not occur — or if it does, and the government survives — Slipper’s resignation reopens the door to the revival of Kevin Rudd as Labor leader.

The end result today of the appalling political misjudgement in appointing Slipper, combined with the fact Rudd and Slipper have always been friendly, means that Gillard is yet again vulnerable to any deterioration of the government’s standing in published opinion polls.

Either way, Slipper still controls the fate of the government to a large degree: he can vote with it, he can frustrate it by selectively voting with his former conservative colleagues, or he can torpedo it by resigning from Parliament and forcing a by-election and with it, a likely general election that the ALP would almost certainly lose.

How this plays out from here remains to be seen, but by falling on his sword, Slipper has ensured that politics in Australia is back on a knife-edge, and that quite literally anything — anything — can happen.

I would very simply like to say I am delighted to see Slipper resign; despite my outrage at his appointment as Speaker in the first place, I was ecstatic to see him walk out of the Liberal Party, which will not miss him.

His resignation from the Speakership is the second leg in a three-part journey to get rid of this leech from Australian politics once and for all; and I hope — I just hope — he stands as an Independent in Fisher, so his humiliation at being trounced electorally by Mal Brough, a man he described as a c—, is complete.

This is a filthy individual of absolutely no worth or use to the political process in this country.

It is utterly indefensible for Gillard to have attempted to protect him, but then again, when faced with a choice between real principle and amoral nihilism, the modern Labor Party only ever chooses the latter.

Peter Slipper warrants the contempt of the electorate, not its sympathy. It’s inarguable that he would be upset by the course of action he has felt compelled to take, but it is an entirely self-inflicted situation. And whilst Slipper might somehow believe he has added to standards of parliamentary procedure, the average voter couldn’t care less, and won’t care less — irrespective of anything further he has to say.

Good riddance.

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.

 

LNP Pulls Further Ahead In Queensland: Newspoll

The Weekend Australian today carries Newspoll’s findings on voting intentions leading up to the state election to be held on 24 March; its headline finding is the LNP two points up since December to lead 58-42 after preferences. As a whole, this survey makes interesting reading.

First, the obvious stuff: a LNP result of 58-42 over Labor equates to a swing since the  2009 election of 8.9%; if repeated at an election and uniform, this would translate into the ALP being reduced to just 18 seats in the 89-seat state Parliament in a landslide rout by the conservatives.

Newspoll finds the ALP primary vote down a point to a (stubbornly rigid) 30%; the LNP up three, to 47%; and the Greens and “Others” both down slightly. The figure of 14%  recorded by “Others” also includes support for Bob Katter’s crowd.

Where this gets interesting is in the approval ratings of the Premier and the Opposition Leader in light of recent goings-on in the Sunshine State leading up to this point.

As we have discussed previously, the ALP in Queensland has employed a strategy of incessantly throwing as much mud and dirt and shit at Campbell Newman and his family as possible in the hope that without a scrap of solid evidence to back their allegations, enough will stick to deny the LNP leader victory in his chosen electorate of Ashgrove.

So far, it would appear to be working; Newman’s approval rating is static at 45%, with his disapproval rising four points to 37%. This is a far cry from the 51-27 result he recorded as recently as September, and I note the rise in his disapproval rating has been primarily fuelled by people moving out of the “undecided” column.

It would seem to be anomalous: the LNP vote rocketing whilst its leader languishes. However, as I will explain, these numbers (and the Labor dirt campaign against Newman) are unlikely to stop him winning in Ashgrove, nor the LNP from claiming government in Queensland.

To finish the numbers first: Anna Bligh’s preferred Premier rating is holding up surprisingly well, at 40% to Newman’s 44%, and I would ascribe that to the same ALP dirt campaign against Newman.

And her own approval ratings — 41% in favour, 50% disapproving — are actually reasonable for the leader of a 14-year-old government, five of them under her own stewardship, and when confronting electoral Armageddon to boot.

The sting in the tail for Labor in this poll lies in the additional questions it asked to ascertain how strongly respondents were welded to voting for the parties they nominated as likely to receive their first-preference vote.

Fully 51% of respondents who said they would vote Labor at the looming election said there was either some chance, or just as much chance, that they would vote for someone other than the ALP.

Just remember, only 30% nominated a first-preference Labor vote. Yet this suggests the Labor voting figures are being inflated to some degree by people just as likely to be undecided, and just as likely to vote for the LNP or someone else.

And under Queensland’s optional preferential voting system (OPV), even if they voted for, say, the Greens, it would still augment the LNP result owing to the high number of votes that exhaust in Queensland on account of voters not allocating preferences.

The Wayne “I’m Too Clever By Half” Goss reform to introduce OPV in 1992, and Peter Beattie’s supposed masterstroke slogan of “Just Vote 1” in 2001 — both designed to deny the then Liberals and Nationals election wins on a permanent basis — are both about to round on the ALP and help make what was always going to be a bad result into a humiliation.

And this brings me to the half-baked attempt to somehow portray Kate Jones in Ashgrove as some sort of local heroine rather than a sitting Labor MP and former Environment minister in Cabinet at the time of last year’s floods.

Jones is no less tarred with the brush of Labor’s record than any of its other MPs.

If the mood for a change of government is as strong in Ashgrove as it unquestionably is across the state, Jones will be incapable of withstanding the electoral tide.

It is why this poll records nothing to indicate the current ALP focus on who would lead the LNP if it won the election, but Newman failed to get across the line in Ashgrove, has served any constructive purpose: Queenslanders either aren’t concerned at the prospect of Tim Nicholls or Jeff Seeney as Premier, or they don’t believe the situation will eventuate, or (most likely), both.

And Newman is “having a go”: he’s not parachuting into a safe Liberal seat, but trying to win a difficult Labor electorate that is traditionally Liberal, but has been in enemy hands for many years.

It’s very nice that the local election material being trundled out in Ashgrove is completely innocent of any Labor Party branding whatsoever, and published in girly feel-good pink rather than the traditional Labor red.

Indeed, the “Keep Kate” slogan — reminiscent of the “Save Ferris” campaign from a legendary 1980s teen comedy movie — is just as adolescent and is evidence of just how misguided the ALP campaign in Queensland actually is.

Now that the election campaign proper is about to commence — it officially begins tomorrow — voters in Queensland will begin to focus in on who they want to form government for the next three years and who they want to be their Premier.

This applies equally in Ashgrove; an electorate faced with serious issues in its own right, and not least in the areas of health, transport, and infrastructure — all areas in which Labor is supposedly the better-qualified party to with.

I have no doubt Kate Jones is a nice enough girl, and it’s not an unattractive story to see how she has been able to stay in her own local area all of her life, to grow and to achieve in her life as a member of the Ashgrove community.

The problem is that on this occasion, it’s not going to count for very much. The Queensland government, of which Jones is a member, has badly let its constituency down, and there is no reason consistent with anything other complete naivety to suggest that 30,000 voters in Ashgrove will do anything other than act on the desire for a change of government, and to elect Campbell Newman as their MP.

In closing — and returning to Newspoll — there is one more directly relevant factor that its findings probably don’t reflect, as its fieldwork was likely already finished, and it’s this.

Anna Bligh’s wild declaration that Campbell Newman would “end up in jail” and that he was “just like Gordon Nuttall” are signs she’s rattled at best, and losing the plot at worst.

It’s reminiscent of Malcolm Fraser’s wild assertion that people should hide their money “under the bed” if Bob Hawke won the 1983 federal election, as it would be safer there than in a bank.

Bligh’s statement was made under Parliamentary privilege and her refusal to repeat it outside Parliament, where she would be subject to the laws of the land, is proof enough that she was just trying to throw more mud at the LNP leader without a shred of proof or justification.

In other words, whilst the ALP’s muck-bucket campaign against Newman might be registering some interest now, we’re at the point at which it’s bordering on the hysterical.

This is why, ultimately, it won’t damage Newman at all. And it is why, in the end, he is likely to be elected both as the Member for Ashgrove and as Premier of Queensland in six weeks’ time.

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?

Galaxy Poll: Hard Labor In Queensland

Another state opinion poll has surfaced in Queensland; this time it’s Galaxy, finding in favour of the LNP 62-38 after preferences over Labor. Clearly, the endless buckets of muck the ALP have thrown at the LNP have achieved little.

This latest Galaxy poll almost perfectly reflects the Newspoll published in The Australian a few weeks ago; it records primary voting intentions at 50% (-2 from its late August survey) for the LNP, 28% for Labor (unchanged), 10% for the Greens (unchanged), 4% (+1) for Bob Katter’s outfit, and 8% (-2) for “Others.”

After preferences, this equates to 62% of the vote for the LNP and 38% to the ALP — a movement of one point to the conservatives.

The Labor Party, in the last month, have thrown every bit of dirt conceivable, imaginable and imagined at Campbell Newman; clearly, it hasn’t affected the LNP’s poll ratings.

Much has been made, too, of Bob Katter’s Australia Party (or whatever it’s called); these figures show it going nowhere very fast.

If anything, Katter’s crowd is leaching away the protest votes that would ordinarily pass to the Greens; that’s ominous for Labor too, as the direction of preferences is far likelier to be in the direction of the LNP than to the ALP.

The one tiny glimmer of light on the horizon for Labor is the dint its muckslinging campaign has put in Campbell Newman’s personal ratings.

Galaxy finds approval of Newman down 8 points to 47%, and disapproval with his performance up 9 points to 37%.

The old political adage that if you throw plenty of shit at an opponent, enough will stick to do some damage appears to be at work here.

Even so, Newman remains preferred Premier over Anna Bligh on Galaxy’s figures, by 51% to 40%, although that margin too has contracted by some six points from the previous survey three weeks ago.

My sense is that the campaign Labor has waged against Campbell Newman and his wife, Lisa — highly personal, utterly devoid of any basis in fact and as such, highly defamatory — will likely grind to a halt fairly shortly.

It’s reasonable to infer that the very conduct of such a dirty campaign was a testing ground for an early election before Christmas. But public opinion has remained resolutely against the ALP in Queensland, and so its near-certain date with the executioner will occur in February or March as scheduled.

I’ve said before, and will say again, that I believe the LNP will win in Queensland by miles next year; the only question is the margin.

Again, this poll suggests Labor will be reduced to about 10 seats in the 89-member Parliament; I believe they will retain about double that, but a Labor return of 20 seats still represents a 31-seat loss and a swing in the order of 10% against it after preferences.

Will Katter make an impact?

No.

I have said before that his party might — might — win three to five seats; if Galaxy’s figures of 4% for Katter are any guide, he’ll be lucky to even win a single seat.

Will Campbell Newman win in Ashgrove?

Yes.

He has gambled his entire political career on winning this safe-ish ALP seat, and traditional Liberal electorate, from a popular young local Labor member.

This is where the Labor Party’s dirt campaign has been aimed: it knows it is impossible for it to win the wider election, so it is focused on preventing the LNP’s presumptive leader from entering Parliament in the first place.

The simple fact is that Labor in Queensland is spooked; even when it was reduced to two federal seats there in 1996, it had lost state government in a court-ordered by-election early that year, and sat one seat short of state government.

It now faces being wiped out in Queensland at the state level, and further decimated there federally; indeed, it’s not impossible to see the ALP losing every federal seat it holds in Queensland at the next federal election.

And yes, I do mean Kevin Rudd’s seat of Griffith too.

Obviously, the fortunes of the ALP in Queensland aren’t too flash.

And with regard to the merits or otherwise of the LNP, it appears that the conservatives are set to regain government in the Sunshine State; this time — unlike the 1995/1996 episode — by a margin that may make multiple terms on the Treasury benches possible.

The political cycle turns; federally, it did in 1983, 1996 and 2007; and just as it did in Queensland in 1989, so it seems it will finally do again in 2012.

On fair boundaries, of course, Borbidge would have won in a landslide in 1995 and the Hanson factor may never have been an electoral issue.

But this time around, unlike Wayne Goss’ experience in 1995, Labor really is dead meat, and one way or another, the party’s corpse is going to be kicked off the pier and into the river to feed the fish.

Hard times, indeed, for Labor in Queensland; but if Newman becomes Premier, he will have done it the hard way.

I think interesting times loom in Queensland politics, and I look forward to (hopefully) being on the ground in Brisbane somewhere on election night.

It’ll be one of the more fascinating nights in the Queensland state tally room of recent times…

What do you think?