Missing Millions A Symptom Of Liberal Party Problems

THE REVELATION this week that the former state director of the Victorian division of the Liberal Party, Damien Mantach, allegedly embezzled up to $2 million from party coffers is an outrage, and the impending prosecution warranted; even so, the episode raises serious questions about governance within the Liberal Party both in Victoria and nationally, highlighting a deeply entrenched insider culture that must be smashed and terminated.

Like thousands of other disgusted, betrayed, and increasingly angry Liberal Party members in Melbourne, I found out on Wednesday about the story that broke publicly on Thursday — that former state director Damien Mantach had allegedly helped himself to somewhere between $1.5 and $2 million of the party’s funds between 2010 and 2014 — and my first response (as some would have seen on Twitter) was, quite bluntly and unapologetically, “fuck him.”

After all, it’s not the sort of news one would reminisce over with a glass of Chardonnay.

First things first: for those who’ve missed the media coverage of this issue to date, a selection of articles may be accessed here, here, here and here, and I would point out that before the Fairfax press gets too complacent in its sanctimony over this issue, it might serve interests of balance for that moribund behemoth to apply the conveniently rigorous scrutiny it deems appropriate in this case to the ALP’s record of fiscal management in government — and to pull its head in if unprepared to do so.

And whilst I’m aware Mantach was also outed yesterday as being on the hacked list of members from infidelity website Ashley Madison, we’re not going to dwell on that either: his wife, I’m sure, will deal with that particular issue all by herself.

Mantach has apparently admitted to taking the money, which is why he can be freely named in media; there seems to be some doubt over the quantum of funds involved, but with $1.5 million sitting at the lower end of the numbers being bandied about, it’s certainly serious enough.

Allegedly, the money was spent on paying down a mortgage, acquiring a share portfolio, and “lifestyle factors” — not that any or all of these uses justifies or excuses the act.

There are a lot of very, very angry Liberals in Melbourne and Victoria this weekend: from Mantach’s colleagues at 104 to the party’s state and federal MPs, and from beaten candidates in under-resourced marginal seats to the loyal rank-and-file membership who campaigned fruitlessly on their behalf at last year’s state election debacle.

There might be some room for sentiment had Mantach amounted to any tangible kind of political asset, but setting aside the kind of sentiment personal knowledge among friends and colleagues invariably engenders he was, objectively, nothing of the sort.

The campaign for last year’s state election was a strategic and tactical abomination; its messages turgid and poorly communicated; its grasp of the campaign initiative repeatedly usurped by the ALP and — reprehensibly — the violent, militant unions who poured money and resources in on Labor’s behalf, and who weren’t actually standing at all.

As “campaign director,” blame for all of these failures must be sheeted home to Mantach.

Now it has emerged that a solid seven-figure amount has been drained off the Victorian Division over a four-year period, the realisation has dawned on many of those angry Victorian Liberals that last year’s state election (which this column resolutely maintained was winnable until the end — and I still believe it was) might have produced a different result despite Mantach’s ineffective stewardship had it been better resourced. It turns out the means with which to resource the campaign were at hand. The only problem is that the “hand” helped itself to a five-fingered discount.

I’m not going to dwell on the nature of Mantach’s alleged crime, for despite reports he is “contrite” and made a full admission when confronted by state President Michael Kroger on Wednesday, great care should be taken to ensure that the coming prosecution is not compromised, for any punishment meted out by a court seems well indicated and should not be jeopardised or pre-empted.

But where all of this becomes relevant for the Liberal Party in the wider sense starts with the circumstances of Mantach’s recruitment to the Victorian Liberals, and ends with the insiderish cabal that runs the Liberal Party around the country, whose members mostly do not comprise the best available people to steward the party’s interests or the aspirations of the millions of Liberal voters their roles charge them with advancing.

It does not matter, for example — as media late this week have excitedly trumpeted — that Mantach’s father was a long-serving director of the Tasmanian Liberals before Mantach himself filled the post, or that his uncle Rob was also a stalwart of the Tasmanian party: dynasties for their own sake are unjustifiable.

The hard, cold fact is that as state director of the Tasmanian Division of the Liberal Party, Damien Mantach presided over one of the worst state election defeats the party has ever suffered on the Apple Isle in 2006 — winning just seven of 25 lower house seats — and followed that up by overseeing a clean sweep of the five federal seats in Tasmania by the ALP the following year, including the loss of marginal seats in Bass and Braddon.

And the financial scandal he now finds himself enveloped in arguably had its genesis in Tasmania, where he was dismissed after helping himself to some $50,000 from the Tasmanian Liberals — an amount that all parties concur was repaid in full.

Even so, questions must be answered by current Liberal federal director Brian Loughnane — his predecessor in the Victorian role, and who played a key role in recruiting the disgraced Mantach following his departure from the party in Hobart — over what he knew, and when, of Mantach’s misdemeanours in the Tasmanian post.

To date — aside from making it known he was aware of “a minor overclaim involving credit cards” — Loughnane has stoutly refused to comment. That, simply, is not good enough.

Nobody is suggesting impropriety on Loughnane’s part or, indeed, on the part of any other Liberal Party employee. Even so, were it to emerge that Loughnane was fully aware of the circumstances surrounding Mantach’s departure from the Tasmanian Liberals, his present position at the head of the party federally would become untenable.

And this brings me to the problem that bedevils the Liberal Party nationally — and of which the Mantach revelations are a mere symptom.

The Liberal Party, for too long, has made an artform of recycling the same handful of people through a procession of executive employment roles around the country; a failed state director in one state suddenly reappears in another, or people who have underperformed disastrously in one of the states suddenly pop up at the Party’s federal secretariat in Canberra.

Many of the people who work in Liberal secretariats across Australia are related to MPs, longstanding senior employees, powerful grassroots figures, or are ostensibly hired on account of internal connections they have; the practice is so widespread that arguments about merit are pointless: the senior echelons of the party are a clubhouse, when what is required is a powerhouse.

At the apex of the structure are the same people who have done the same things the same way for years: the Loughnanes, the Credlins, the Nutts, others like them, and the band of loyalists they have accrued over the years: all of whom owe something, and to which newcomers are not admitted unless they know someone, or owe something, or boast some kind of connection.

You can add Mantach’s name to the list, for any objective justification in keeping him on the payroll — a sorry use of hard-won donation monies and membership dues, even before any charge of embezzlement or fraud is considered — had already expired when he was given the boot in Tasmania in 2008.

Yet Mantach’s departure only came in March of this year — seven years later — and after more political damage was inflicted on a Victorian division that ranks among the most poorly run and least professional of all the Liberal state divisions.

Since I started writing this piece yesterday, veteran political journalist Laurie Oakes has weighed in, with an article in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph that notes, among other things, that Mantach was due to go to Perth next week to “help” on the by-election campaign for the vacant federal Liberal seat of Canning: the fact this manoeuvre was contemplated at all, let alone certain to occur but for the revelations that have been made public this week, shows that those in charge of the party just don’t get it: for once again, a political failure was being recycled into a sensitive strategic political battlefield despite little evidence to suggest he had anything meaningful at all contribute.

Who knew what about Mantach’s pilfering from Liberal Party coffers is a question that will be answered conclusively in the fullness of time; if it transpires Loughnane was fully aware of Mantach’s earlier transgressions in Tasmania then the party must summarily dispense with his services — for there is no justification in recruiting someone with that particular track record, and the consequences of taking such a risk have now been laid bare for all to see.

What is encouraging is that there is at least one razor-sharp, shrewd operator in the Liberal Party’s ranks — Kroger — whose correct instinct that funds had gone missing in Melbourne proved that years of complacent blindness or ineptitude on the part of those around Mantach (or, more worryingly, who were charged with providing rigorous financial checks) was an exacerbating factor to a forseeable crime that characteristic bad judgement on the part of Liberal office bearers had not only enabled, but perhaps invited.

But for the most part, those charged with the effective management of the party behind the scenes are not worth the money it pays them.

If there is any good that can come from this despicable episode, it should be a root and branch shake-up of all the Liberals’ state and federal offices; there is too much deadwood soaking up salaries their performance does not and cannot warrant, and this is an extravagance and an indulgence that the party — chartered to represent Australians from all walks of life, and expanding the horizons for opportunity and choice and reward for endeavour — can’t afford.

It is not inconceivable that the Liberal Party, this time next year, will be out of power everywhere except New South Wales and Tasmania, and on shaky ground approaching a re-election attempt in WA, but that terrible prospect should not be allowed to materialise before action is taken.

Perversely, Mantach may have done the party a favour. The torpid mismanagement is like a cancer, and needs to be cut out. The wrong people have discharged their obligations to the party poorly for too long and have been handsomely rewarded for their efforts. Yet even after a federal election defeat, some of them will survive, or even be promoted.

But nobody would argue the Liberals have “won” the politics of the past ten years nationally, and in the prevailing conditions the fault for that lies squarely with the people the party has entrusted with jobs they arguably did not and do not deserve. The markers of the malaise are everywhere.

In this sense, the Mantach debacle — whilst rightly destined to end in a prosecution — should also signal the point at which the Liberal Party’s back offices are overhauled, and parasitic time-servers rooted out.

There are those who believe Kroger is a divisive figure in the national organisation, but to date he is the only key player to have exhibited a shred of nous or sound judgement in identifying an alleged fraud that, unforgivably, was perpetrated over years and under the very noses of others who should have recognised something was seriously wrong.

If anyone is capable of instituting  root and branch reform of the party, it is Kroger. The party’s other jurisdictions across the country could do worse than to open their divisions to the Victorian President. The price for doing nothing is a potential decade in opposition. The Mantach disaster need not be for nothing. Now is the time to act, and to act broadly.

 

Victoria: Cain-Kirner Mentality Brings East-West To A Costly End

SCANT REGARD for taxpayers’ money — with a reckless embrace of state debt, and indifference to Victoria’s investment reputation — saw the Andrews government piss almost $1 billion up against a post yesterday, finally axing Melbourne’s East-West Link road project for $339 million plus associated costs. The episode is reminiscent of the ruinous Cain-Kirner regime of the 1980s and 1990s. Other reminders of that time will soon follow.

One of the ugliest episodes of governance in Victoria since — well, since the Labor government that held office between 1999 and 2010 blew billions and billions of dollars on over-budget debacles and white elephants such as myki, the North-South Pipeline, and a desalination plant at Wonthaggi — has come to a costly end, with Premier Daniel Andrews announcing yesterday that his government had “reached agreement” with the consortium contracted to build Melbourne’s East-West freeway project to terminate the arrangement for $339 million in compensation.

I use the word “compensation” very deliberately; prior to the state election in November, Andrews claimed the contract “was legally unenforceable” and “not worth the paper it was printed on;” an Andrews government, he said, would not pay compensation to the consortium under any circumstances.

Yet his government — elected, he says, on a statewide mandate not to build the road — has nonetheless handed over more than a third of a billion dollars in compensation money: Andrews tried to spin the payment by saying the consortium was merely refunded the monies it had spent to date.

But had the contract been invalid, unenforceable, not legally binding or any other formulation of “void,” its beneficiary would not have been paid hundreds of millions of dollars for its termination.

No government — even a recklessly irresponsible one in the classic Labor mould, as the Andrews government is fast proving itself to be — shells out those sorts of dollars just to be nice. The contract was binding, and some form of settlement to compensate the consortium was required.

So I have no truck with Andrews’ claim to have “delivered” on a promise not to pay compensation: such a suggestion is an insult to the intelligence of a reasonable person, and is complete bullshit in any case.

There has already been countless articles written on this subject in the last 18 hours or so (see here, here, here and here for a handful of them) and part of the problem is that there are so many ways to sift and dissect the issues at play — not least, who is culpable and who is not — that I don’t profess to resolve such a discussion any more than the extra reading I’m sharing from the mainstream press does.

To me, the issue boils down to an evaluation of two aspects of the entire East-West disaster.

On the one hand, the former Liberal government of Denis Napthine — which signed a contract to build the road eight weeks before a state election — augmented that contract with a side letter guaranteeing compensation of up to $1.2 billion if the contract was invalidated and/or if the project was otherwise not proceeded with.

And on the other, the incoming Labor government wantonly abandoned a legally binding document to pursue a major infrastructure project that is sorely needed in Melbourne, and at a cost to taxpayers of almost a billion dollars — for nothing in return — once so-called “sunk costs” and other ancillary expenses associated with the project over and above the $339 million compensation payment are factored in.

There is a strong, and almost compelling, moral argument to suggest that Napthine’s government should not have signed a side letter to the contract, knowing as it did that Labor had pledged to tear the contract up anyway if it won office in Victoria; I have been speaking to a few legal people around Melbourne over the past few months, and the consensus seems to be that even if the side letter did not exist, the consortium would still have eventually received compensation anyway: by the messy, protracted and potentially much more expensive route of litigation — possibly for years — as it pursued the state of Victoria through the Courts to obtain recompense.

In that sense, the fact there was a side letter at all may, ironically, have saved time, money, and further damage to Victoria’s reputation as a safe place to invest. But should that letter have been signed? On face value, probably not.

But I think it is necessary to consider the political imperatives faced by the Napthine government in any assessment of its decision to sign a side letter to the contract, rather than moral considerations, because whilst I readily admit the whole matter of the side letter bothers me greatly, it is the political aspects of its existence that are the key to understanding why things have played out as they have.

And yes, time to bash the ALP.

“Modern” Labor, whenever it finds itself in opposition these days, has adopted an explicit strategy of preventing conservative governments from governing where it can in any way possible, at any cost, and irrespective of the damage it causes in any way: be that to the Liberal Party, institutions of governance, the reputation of Parliament, or collateral damage to what ought to be respected pillars of the community.

One look at the present Senate — where the ALP under federal “leader” Bill Shorten heads up an effort to defeat any government bill that might undo profligate spending from Labor’s last period in office, or repair the damage to the budget that was caused in the process — illustrates the point: obstruction to the point of rendering the Abbott government powerless to govern is the obvious objective.

The use of health and emergency services workers (or union ticket-holding impersonators of them) in Victoria and Queensland to help destroy the legitimacy of conservative governments in those states is another pointer to the same strategy.

And far from simply opposing (as it claims) and working to advance its case for a return to government at the ballot box, Labor these days embodies the obscene mantra that if it isn’t elected to govern, it will nonetheless see to it that its opponents are prevented from doing so until its strategy of strangulation kills them off.

Where this ties into the East-West Link and the charade over compensation that was played out yesterday comes relates to the idea that governments in Victoria are elected to govern for four years: not three years and nine months, or some other arbitrary period deemed by the ALP to represent the end of an effective term in office where the Liberal Party is concerned.

Labor has complained that the Napthine government signed contracts to build the East-West Link without taking it to an election first, and that is right; but Victorians had elected the Coalition to govern for four years in late 2010, so the decision to commission the road was wholly appropriate.

In any case, Labor can ill-afford to be making such arguments when its own federal government, in 2010, introduced a carbon tax after an explicit election promise not to do so.

And Labor itself won state elections in Victoria in 1999 and 2002, in part, with a promise to build the Scoresby Freeway in Melbourne’s outer east without tolls…

…and then unilaterally proceeded to build the road as a tollway anyway, calling it “Eastlink” instead and trying to argue that it was a different road project altogether to justify the deception, so arguments from the ALP of this nature should be dismissed with the contempt they deserve.

And it’s not as if the Coalition exhibited undue haste in commissioning the East-West Link, or could be tarred as unduly partisan in doing so, for an infrastructure audit commissioned by the Labor state government in 2008 identified the need for (and recommended) a road link between the Eastern Freeway at Clifton Hill and the Western Ring Road at Laverton, interconnecting with CityLink along the route.

This link — the East-West Link — was adopted as a project by Labor before it lost office under John Brumby two years later, and remained ALP policy until Andrews announced in September last year that his party would not build the road if it won the state election in a desperate attempt to stop the Coalition signing the contract to do so.

In other words, Andrews’ tactic was to bully the Coalition out of governing, and to bully it out of being responsible for starting work on a desperately needed piece of road infrastructure: Melbourne is grinding to a halt, as population growth sees tens of thousands of additional cars pour onto a road network each year that has been largely unchanged for a decade.

But in truth — not that any Labor figure will ever say so publicly — this stunt (which is all it was) was aimed solely at sandbagging four inner-city Labor electorates at risk of falling to the Communist Party Greens; there is no credible research into voting at the November state election that suggests the East-West Link was even a contributor to Labor’s victory, which it owed more to the havoc created by miscreant MP Geoff Shaw in a finely balanced knife-edged Parliament and to the reprehensible emergency services campaigns.

So there you are: for the eventual cost of some $900 million in sum, Labor held onto the seats of Northcote, Brunswick and (only just) Richmond, whilst losing Melbourne to the Greens anyway.

And that, if you live in Melbourne, is what your taxpayer money ultimately is going to pay for. There sure as hell won’t be a road. It’s a hell of a price to pay just for that.

In this sense, the perfectly legal side letter to the contract to build the road becomes understandable, if not entirely desirable or even defensible; when it is remembered that the East-West Link was only ever abandoned as a priority by the ALP to save a few seats, to the ongoing and compounding detriment of hundreds of thousands of road users further afield (and domiciled mostly in Liberal-held electorates) the moral outrage of Andrews and his Labor Party over the contract, the side letter, and the concept of the road at all is reduced to nothing more than cynical and negligently misleading partisan blather.

And on balance, it points the finger of blame squarely at the ALP for the waste of hundreds of millions of dollars on a road that isn’t going to be built: taxpayers will get nothing in return for their hard-earned, and as much as Andrews has played a game of smoke and mirrors by arranging for other funds associated with the axed project to be diverted to other schemes, the hard reality is that Labor has pissed almost a billion dollars up against a post for nothing.

Fair-minded Victorians (and observers elsewhere) can and should be aghast at the eerie similarities of this episode to some of the worst excesses of financial mismanagement under the Labor government of John Cain and Joan Kirner more than a generation ago: then, state-backed enterprises such as Tricontinental and the VEDC played fast and loose with Victorians’ money under the auspices of picking winners in new industries.

There were none, of course, and the financial collapses presided over on Labor’s watch left the state tottering on the brink of bankruptcy, until Jeff Kennett’s Liberal government spent most of the 1990s fixing the damage.

The comparison gains additional currency when it is pointed out that as part of its settlement of the East-West issue, the Andrews government has taken on a loan of some $3 billion from the consortium for reallocation to “other projects:” and this lack of transparency, coupled with the transfer of billions of dollars in debt from the private sector to the state, should ring alarm bells in the minds of Victorian voters.

And the Andrews government is soon to shell out another half a billion dollars for no return, this time to fix the mess it made of a botched tender for the state’s lotteries when it was in power under Brumby, in a mess presided over (in a delicious irony) by Andrews himself when he was gaming minister.

There are other financial bombs already primed by this government waiting to explode, but even the half-billion dollars in compensation for the lotteries debacle and the $900 million wasted on East-West means Labor has already taken $1.5 billion and more or less flushed it down the toilet — in addition to increasing state debt by $3 billion at a stroke — in less than six months in office.

At the bottom line, the Liberal Party emerges from the East-West quagmire smelling less than fresh, and deserves some criticism for the manner in which it went about commissioning a much-needed infrastructure project that will now have to wait, at the very minimum, for a change of government before works can even commence.

But the real villain is the ALP, with its brutal and uncompromising refusal to accept the verdict of the electorate when it loses, and the vicious tactics it uses to seize power at literally any cost — and yesterday’s events neatly proved it.

It seems any lessons the ALP learned from the train wreck it presided over in the 1980s and early 1990s have been lost, for the methods and outcomes of that time are well and truly back in evidence in the state of Victoria.

To the detriment of anyone living in this fine state (and, regrettably, to others in Australia who are adversely affected by what happens south of the Murray River), the necrotic, pustulent political ghosts of John Cain and Joan Kirner are alive, thriving, and again walking the corridors of power in Spring Street and Treasury Place, reincarnated in the form of the Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews.

The events of the past 24 hours show that if Victoria is to avoid being once again bankrupted by a Labor government, Andrews’ defeat at the state election due in three-and-a-half years’ time is crucial.

The imperative for the Liberals to win next time got that bit more urgent yesterday. The red ink in Victoria is spreading fast.

Karma Bus: Labor Gets Its Very Own Geoff Shaw Figure In Queensland

IN A CLASSIC CASE of “what goes around comes around,” a visit from the karma bus has brought Labor its own Geoff Shaw-style liability; rather than appear in Victoria — where Shaw himself caused the Coalition great angst, merrily and recklessly fuelled by an irresponsible ALP — the shipment of certain trouble has been delivered to the knife-edge Queensland government. Labor will now rue its mindlessly destructive antics south of the Murray.

The old adage about two wrongs not making a right might be a noble sentiment, but the means by which to deliver the Labor Party a taste of its own medicine has landed in the lap of Queensland’s LNP opposition, which — like Labor in Victoria between 2010 and 2014 — must scarcely be able to believe its luck.

For good measure, a visit from the proverbial karma bus has delivered the ALP ample recompense for the brazenly irresponsible and wantonly tasteless effort it invested in miscreant former Liberal MP Geoff Shaw, whose escapades and Labor’s ruthless exploitation of them went so far as to render the competent Liberal state government of Denis Napthine unelectable.

Queenslanders may or may not know the name “Geoff Shaw” but whether they do or not, a local version of this menace will soon become a household name in the Sunshine State, and — like Shaw himself, for all the wrong reasons.

In a delicious twist of fate, it is in Queensland — where Labor holds office in minority, and not in Victoria — that this liability has been visited upon the ALP.

(UPDATED, 3.50pm: Billy Gordon has (rightly) been expelled from the ALP, with Annastacia Palaszczuk demanding he also quit Parliament; whatever happens now, this mess still has a long way to run and will still cause Queensland Labor a lot of grief. We will continue to monitor proceedings with interest).

The revelation that the recently elected MP for the Queensland seat of Cook Billy Gordon failed, at all times until the past few days, to disclose a significant history of criminal behaviour lights a powderkeg beneath the minority Queensland government that — like the fraught Geoff Shaw issue faced by the Coalition in government in Victoria under Denis Napthine — threatens to derail its hold on office and potentially send Queenslanders to a fresh state election later this year.

That Gordon could pose a problem to Anna Palaszczuk’s government first became apparent a little earlier, when it emerged that he owed significant arrears in child support payments and later that he had a history as the perpetrator for domestic violence: matters that in hindsight seem to have been the trigger for the full disclosure of his sordid criminal past.

And despite Gordon’s statement apparently seeking to attribute his errant behaviour on a deprived upbringing and to distance himself from his actions on the basis they were done by a young man, the itinerary of offences he committed spans more than 20 years: adequate time, one might expect if being generous, for a rotten character to see the fault of his or her ways and to mend them.

Gordon, to put not too fine a point on it, is unfit to serve as an elected member of Parliament: a dubious character and serial perpetrator of actual physical violence and a string of other misdemeanours, there is no place for him in any house of governance in this country — and I am uninterested in excuses blathered to the contrary by the compassion babbling bullshit lobby that invariably leaps to the fore in such circumstances to explain away and rationalise what is an unacceptable pattern of blatantly unlawful behaviour.

That is the problem. It makes Geoff Shaw, with his misuse of parliamentary resources and destructively eccentric delusions of importance, look like a veritable saint by comparison.

Readers — especially those from Queensland, where all of this is just the beginning of the kind of political lawlessness (no pun intended) gleefully visited upon a Liberal government by a reckless Labor Party — can access the copious discussion pieces I published on the Victorian situation through the “Geoff Shaw” tag from the tag cloud at the right of this article.

But just as Labor took untold delight in turning the screws on Napthine — it supported expelling Shaw, then when Napthine lined up to throw him out of state Parliament, the ALP refused, thanks to the one-seat Coalition majority that rested on Shaw’s vote — it now faces a dose of its own medicine provided the LNP is willing to mete out the same treatment in Queensland as its southern cousin was subjected to over an issue that was largely no fault of its own.

And there’s the rub: Queensland Labor is not responsible, at face value, for Gordon’s misadventures.

Yes, its vetting procedures should have uncovered them, and yes, this points to deep flaws in the way the Queensland ALP goes about its business: and it’s a sure bet that given the nature of the beast (and the stakes now at hand), those processes will be overhauled in an attempt to ensure the party cannot be embarrassed by this type of unwanted surprise again.

Yet such sentiments are in no way different to the kind of talk faced by the Liberals in Victoria: why did they even preselect Geoff Shaw in the first place? Of course, Shaw was only ever a candidate because the Liberals’ intended candidate fell seriously ill and was unable to contest the seat of Frankston at the 2010 state election. In her place came the odious Shaw, ostensibly from a copybook small business background, but — like Gordon — too defective a character to merit or warrant a seat in Parliament.

But Labor in Victoria revelled in Shaw and his flaws, just as the Queensland LNP should be merciless in returning that dubious favour now.

And for her part, Palaszczuk is cornered.

She cannot engineer Gordon’s expulsion from Parliament; the ensuing by-election in Cook — despite the margin of close to 10% recorded at the January election — could not be guaranteed as a Labor win, and a loss in such a scenario would make a change of government (supported by the two Katter MPs) a virtual certainty: with the major parties then tied at 43-all, it is inconceivable Labor could retain the confidence of the House.

She cannot engineer Gordon’s expulsion from the ALP, either: as an Independent MP involuntarily removed from the Labor caucus, Gordon would be free to do whatever he liked, which would include voting down any or all government legislation he felt disinclined to support, and would extend as far — as Geoff Shaw did — as threatening to vote the minority government out of office altogether on the floor of Queensland’s unicameral Parliament.

And she cannot take the obvious course of a fresh election to confirm her “mandate:” unlike Napthine, locked into the strictures of a fixed four-year term in Victoria, an election would seem the logical way of breaking any deadlock the Gordon issue imposed on the Queensland Parliament.

But given considerations around the likelihood or otherwise of a Labor win, the cost involved, and the likely ire another state election would draw from Queensland’s poll-weary voters, in practice Palaszczuk stands to be just as locked into the same daily battle to manage an impossible situation as Napthine was.

And the LNP should be just as ruthless and unrelenting about forcing Palaszczuk to twist and dangle and contort in the wind as her counterparts in Victoria were until they won a state election — largely off Shaw’s back.

Regular readers know that despite my very high personal opinion of Queensland opposition leader Lawrence Springborg and his excellent work as an LNP minister in the Newman government, I have severe misgivings over this three-time election loser representing a winning proposition at a fourth electoral outing, and especially over the palatability or otherwise of a rural MP to the large and growing urban population that now constitutes the majority of the Queensland electorate.

Even so, what goes around comes around: and just as an otherwise hopeless Labor Party with nothing of any substance to offer Victorian voters cynically turned Geoff Shaw into a weapon of great electoral advantage over an unfortunate Premier of real substance and vision, so too should the LNP rub Labor’s nose in Queensland in the dirt thrown up by revelations of the past conduct of its MP for Cook.

Perhaps if forced to confront exactly the same unprincipled treatment it sees fit to dish out to its own opponents, Labor might think twice before embarking on the same mindlessly base course in the future.

It won’t, of course. But that is no reason for it not to be forced to rue its antics in Victoria.

As for Gordon, if he is as reformed as he claims to be, he would do the right thing and leave Parliament of his own volition — irrespective of the potential consequences for the ALP.

Just like Shaw, he won’t. And in my view, that is reason enough for Gordon — and Palaszczuk — to be regarded as fair game.

The LNP is free do its worst.

Leak Against Kroger Showcases Issues Liberals Must Fix

LEAKING AN ILLICIT RECORDING to The Age — presumably in an effort to embarrass incoming state President Michael Kroger — has perversely legitimised the mammoth overhaul needed by the Liberal Party’s moribund Victorian division, if not nationally; it is a reflection of sorts on whoever leaked it that they chose to broadcast Kroger talking good sense. Even so, that this occurred at all is symbolic of the deep problems the party faces.

I must confess that I’m unsure just how annoyed to be at what can only be construed as a malicious leak against Michael Kroger from the confines of a Liberal Party membership event, when weighed against a sense of amusement over the fact that whoever did it had the stupidity to divulge material that depicted the new party state President serving up a dose of hard-nosed and long overdue common sense: probably not the image that was meant to be conveyed.

Whichever way you cut it, though, it isn’t a good look, and it neatly underlines just about everything wrong with the Liberal Party in Victoria, its get-square culture of factionalism, and the total ignorance that abounds in some quarters of it around exactly who it is the party ought to be fighting against: Labor and the Communist Party Greens, not ourselves.

To be honest, the same observations can be made, to varying degrees, of the rest of the state divisions of the party across the country.

I was at a Liberal Party membership function in Bentleigh on Saturday morning that was attended by Kroger and the new state Liberal leader, Matthew Guy, and for a moment when I saw the Fairfax press this morning I thought the recording had been made there; The Age notes, however, that the tape came from another function in Mordialloc, not that it really matters: the points Kroger made at both were virtually identical. And whether some in the party like it or not — or feel aggrieved enough to leak them to an unfriendly newspaper — Kroger is absolutely right.

In sharing this link I urge readers to not only peruse the article from The Age that covers Kroger’s remarks, but to listen to the (obviously) edited version of his comments the newspaper has seen fit to include with it; to me there is not one syllable in what Kroger has been telling membership meetings of the Liberal Party across Victoria for some time now that does not make perfect sense, and any member of the party who objects to the sentiments that he expresses should take a hard look at themselves, and leave.

There are a couple of obvious giveaways that this was an attempt to damage or embarrass Kroger: the fact it was given to the Fairfax press — no friend of the Liberal Party and/or the Right at the best of times — reflects a calculation on the part of whomever did it that their handiwork might explode in Kroger’s face; the phraseology used (the talk of learning from the Greens, being out-campaigned by Labor, being “killed and killed and killed again” by Labor) shows that whilst it did little more than quote Kroger, The Age has done so in such a way as to portray that message in a light that reflects upon the Liberal Party in the poorest way possible.

And it seems a logical conclusion to draw that whoever is responsible comes from that group in the party that is about to be cleaned out of the sinecures and centres of power and influence within it: and frankly, if this is the calibre of their expression of the best interests of the Liberal Party, the sooner they are pushed out and back to mere branch member status the better off the Liberal Party will be.

For the full duration this column has existed (and for many years prior to that, privately, as those who know me would attest) I have been saying that one of the crucial weaknesses the Liberal Party faces is that when it really comes to it, the Labor Party is far better at hard politics than we are: variations of that sentiment are sprinkled throughout the archives of this website.

I don’t see how anyone could take umbrage at Kroger’s assertion that the Liberals are “a party of old people:” one visit to your common-or-garden local Liberal branch meeting is evidence enough of a membership whose average age is pensionable.

His remarks about the recruitment practices of the Greens (aptly citing the methods of Mao Zedong) and being “killed” by Labor might be colourful, but they are exceptional only insofar as they are brutal in their candour: and honesty in self-appraisal and blunt realism in self-evaluation are attributes that have been sorely lacking in the Liberal Party for far too long.

All of this echoes sentiments I have published on Kroger’s return to the Liberal state Presidency, and on the mess generally in which the party finds itself after a state election loss in Victoria, and the prospect of additional pain at the fast-approaching federal election if nothing is done to try to avert it.

The party needs to improve in all areas if it is to generate for itself the sustained electoral success (and the dividends they can deliver to its core constituencies) that is increasingly enjoyed, by and large, by the ALP: in tactics, strategy and communications; in central and local campaigning, and campaign management; in doorknocking, membership recruitment and policy development; in fundraising and central party management; and — as Kroger has highlighted beautifully in the speech that has found its way into the willing arms of the Fairfax press — connecting emotionally with the voters we expect to deliver us into government, and to prosecute both the logical and emotional cases for people to vote for us.

None of this is rocket science, of course, and in the final analysis the worst crime that has been committed here — any malicious intent notwithstanding — is to telegraph to the party’s opponents an itemised list of the things that are now firmly on its agenda for redress.

Still, if the party’s internal discussions are to be made public, then the better it be that those conversations exhibit a healthy dose of good, common sense: the restructure that is soon to commence in Victoria can and should be a model for other states (and, indeed, the party’s federal wing) to follow.

Political parties exist — as I have written many times in this column — for one reason, and one reason only: to win elections, and as useful as the social aspects of party membership might be, they are actually meaningless if the party is not achieving success at the ballot box to deliver on the principles and beliefs its offering is based on (and yes, the party’s suite of policies is also in line for a rethink).

A good start is an end to internecine leaks and silly factional games that ultimately benefit nobody aside from the ALP.

In this regard — and given the vested interests inside the party clearly find such a course distasteful — Kroger is an ideal choice to oversee the demolition of amateurish and self-immolating practices and their replacement with a more professional approach to the business of electoral politics.

 

A Road, A Contract, The PM And A Puerile Premier: Pull Your Head In, Andrews

AN UNGODLY BRAWL between Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is escalating, or at least Andrews seems to want to escalate it; the issue of a contract to build a major piece of road infrastructure in Melbourne has skewered Andrews’ pledge to abandon the project amid po-faced guarantees no compensation would be payable by the state of Victoria. Andrews is cornered. He should pull his head in and build the road.

First things first: this isn’t the “economic and infrastructure policy issue” I said I really wanted to cover off on when I posted yesterday; that will have to wait now, and we will see if we can return to it over the weekend: it isn’t too timing-specific.

That said, a major political shitfight has blown up in the past 24 hours or so between Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews over the fraught issue of the East-West Link in Melbourne, the construction contract for which was signed prior to last year’s state election by what has since proven to be the outgoing government of former Premier Denis Napthine.

I gather most readers will be familiar with the story: Liberal state government spends more than a year tilling the ground (literally) to build the “missing link” in Melbourne’s freeway network as a toll road, signs a contract the Labor Party swears blind is invalid — and that it will cancel the project if elected — and the Labor leader solemnly declares that not only is the contract totally unenforceable, but that no compensation would be payable in the event the ALP won office in Victoria.

Then — on 29 November last — the Labor Party won the state election.

As a little background to these events as they stand today, readers may peruse material from the Murdoch press or from Fairfax, depending on preference.

But an exchange of letters on Wednesday between the Prime Minister and Victoria’s infantile Premier has proven illuminating, and lays bare the hole Andrews dug for himself last year by making election pledges that he either knew were undeliverable or knew keeping them would damage Victoria’s reputation internationally.

This issue has been simmering ever since the votes were tallied last year, as Liberals (to say nothing of many affected Victorians and the business community) try desperately to find some way to convince the Andrews government to build the road, and as the Andrews government digs in stubbornly to insist that it won’t.

Here is the Prime Minister’s letter to Daniel Andrews:

PMLETTER

And here is the juvenile, childish response it elicited:

PREMIERLETTER

Readers will note, of course, that Andrews insisted on signing himself off as “The Hon Daniel Andrews MP” — a churlish point to make, perhaps, but it speaks to the deluded ego and pompously excessive sense of his own importance that has been so evident in Daniel Andrews to many in this state for too long now.

Be that as it may, I’m not going to talk about this matter endlessly this morning; the entire brouhaha has already consumed more time (and money) than it should have, and whilst Andrews is now trying to score additional cheap political points from his representation of a conversation with the Prime Minister by telephone (which Abbott has wisely declined to even respond to, let alone refute), none of this changes a few very basic points.

One, governments are elected to govern: and the previous Liberal administration did just that.

Yes, the contract to build the East-West Link was signed shortly before an election. But the preparatory planning and consultation involved had gone on for more than a year. A parliamentary term in Victoria is fixed at four years, which commences the day writs are returned after an election and ends when government goes into caretaker mode in the lead-up to the next. There is no legitimate grievance on the ALP’s part that the previous government formally commissioned the East-West Link last September.

Two, Commonwealth funds allocated to Victoria in the sum of $3 billion were explicitly tied to the East-West Link; prior to the state election — with Andrews declaring he would halt the project if he won — it was spelt out by the federal government that if the project was cancelled, the monies would be withdrawn.

At the time, Andrews and his henchmen assured Victorian voters that this could not and would not happen, as the money was “for Victoria.” Those federal funds will now be reallocated to other projects that may or may not be based in Victoria.

Once again, Andrews has nothing to throw a tantrum over here. It isn’t as if he wasn’t warned.

Three, Andrews swore before the election — hand on heart — that the contract to build the East-West link was completely unenforceable; it “wasn’t worth the paper it (was) printed on,” he said. Labor, if elected to office, would simply rip the contract up.

And four, no compensation (and Andrews was brutally clear on this point) would be payable by the state of Victoria to the consortium contracted to build the road if the contract was abandoned, Andrews claimed; if the contract was unenforceable, went the logic presented, then no compensation could possibly be claimed by those who were dumb enough to have signed it.

So let’s cut straight through the Premier’s puerile and irresponsible bullshit.

If the contract was not “worth the paper it is printed on” and unenforceable, it would have been abandoned by now.

If the contract was unenforceable, the Andrews government would not be contemplating passing retrospective legislation to invalidate it to get out of paying compensation, with the state’s potential liability credibly said to run close to $1.2bn.

If no compensation was payable, there would be no talk of the consortium being prepared to walk away “for $700 million” and other outlandish sums of money as the price of doing nothing.

And if none of this was such a problem in the first place — remembering, again, that the contract wasn’t torn up months ago for the only possible reason that it was, in fact, legally binding — then the East-West Link would have ceased to exist as an issue about a week into Andrews’ term as Premier.

In short, the promise to “rip up” the “unenforceable” contract and to abandon the East-West Link was one Daniel Andrews should never have made: had he known the promise was impossible to deliver as pledged, it speaks to the contemptibility of the ALP and of Andrews himself in being prepared to say quite literally anything to anyone to win an election; if he didn’t know the promise was undeliverable then it speaks to his utter unsuitability and complete unfitness to hold elected office at all, let alone to serve in the great office of Premier of Victoria.

Whichever way you cut it, it is Andrews who has much to answer for — not Tony Abbott, and not Dr Napthine.

In the meantime, the Prime Minister (and others who appreciate the subtle concept of legally binding contracts) — aghast at the siren call Andrews’ intended call of action would send international investors to stay away from Victoria when it comes to spending their money — are almost pleading in their attempts to cajole the child Premier into rethinking the error of his foolish plan.

But Andrews will have none of it, and the embarrassing and unacceptably patronising response he gave to Abbott’s letter of 11 March failed to address every issue of substance that was raised with him by the Prime Minister in that letter.

Andrews is already cornered on this issue; damned if he builds the road — breaking an election promise he purports to intend to keep — and damned if he doesn’t build the road, at a cost of more than a billion dollars and doing incalculable damage to Victoria’s (and Australia’s) reputation as a stable and secure environment in which business can invest.

Andrews should build the road: for the lesser of the two evils requires it of him, even if it also requires an explanation to Labor voters in Victoria as to why he promised something he claimed could be delivered painlessly, but in fact couldn’t.

As for the smart-arsed, smug, patronising and belligerent treatment he has taken it upon himself to mete out to the Prime Minister, he should pull his head in.

Prior to last year’s state election I opined that if Labor won, Victoria would be landed with a complete moron as Premier; by his words, actions and behaviour this week, Andrews has proven this assessment to be summarily accurate.

It won’t be the last time, with the next election in Victoria still three and a half years away.

In the meantime we can only hope that Andrews and his cohorts exercise more diligence and care in their approach to the serious business of governance and to affairs of state: the East-West Link could cost Victoria far more than the billion or so in compensation the state seems certain to have to pay.

Not for the first time, a state Labor government in Victoria appears content to piss ten-figure sums of taxpayer cash up against a post.

The last time it happened — under John Cain in the 1980s — Victoria was very nearly bankrupted as a consequence.

I see this government as potentially as bad as that, and it isn’t the first time I have raised the Cain comparison. At least Cain didn’t behave like a teenage student politician having a lark, entirely innocent of any care for the consequences of his actions even if, in the end, those repercussions were dire.

It’s more than even a generous assessment could say of Daniel Andrews, based on his performances to date.

 

Victoria: Fire Union Demands Its 30 Pieces Of Silver From Labor

FLUSHED AND SMUG over its part in a filthy, reprehensible election campaign that won government for Labor — shredding the reputation of emergency services — the United Firefighters Union has made industrial demands on the state of Victoria of more than $1.5bn, including 30% pay rises over three years. The union wants its 30 pieces of silver for services rendered. Premier Daniel Andrews must pay the wages of sin or risk the wrath of the Devil.

Immediately after it was clear that Labor had narrowly won last year’s state election, I opined in this column that Victoria now had a complete moron as Premier; the conspiracy of events has taken little time to prove the assertion correct, with a labyrinth of poor judgement, incompetence, and sheer unbridled stupidity quickly laid bare as the foundation upon which his odious election victory was built.

There is an old adage that nothing comes of nothing; here in Australia, we like to say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But whichever way you cut it, new Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is about to find out the hard way that everything comes at a price.

In the lead-up to the November election (and in some cases, over a period of years), public sector unions went to extraordinary lengths to help orchestrate the defeat of a first-term conservative government in Victoria, with trade unionists masquerading as nurses, ambulance drivers, hospital orderlies and firefighters taking and making calls in marginal Coalition electorates, doorknocking homes, manning polling booths, and visibly dragging hitherto respected essential service providers into the acrid cesspool of a flagrantly dishonest Labor election campaign.

I say “masquerading” for the simple reason that ample evidence existed prior to polling day that members of other unions with no ostensible connection whatsoever to the emergency services participated, wearing facsimiles of uniforms and fabricated sob-stories of professional mistreatment with which to regale the unsuspecting and the gullible.

Yet at the end of the day and irrespective of the bona fides of their participating “members,” the unions’ contribution to the Labor campaign effort was, as I said, flagrantly dishonest — it relied on the presentation of exaggerated and/or fictitious “problems” said to have been created by the Liberal Party, and perpetuated these for the express purpose of hoodwinking enough voters into a vote for Labor to bring about a change of government.

At the time, the central thread running through Labor’s campaign narrative was that the various voices that “courageously” spoke out against the Napthine government spoke on behalf of all Victorians; for every vandalised ambulance that drove around the state defaced by Labor’s political slogans, for every nurse who called people out of “concern” to discuss their health issues (when they were in fact peddling their own political agenda) and for every firefighter telling the story of shocking conditions and appalling resources, the unifying message was that only Labor could bring Victorians together — and that only Labor could solve these dreadful problems the Liberals, with their “hatred” of public services and their “obsession” with “cruel cuts,” had created.

It was, of course, the biggest pile of horse shit ever passed off as an election campaign narrative in this country (although there has been plenty of competition for that particular mantle, from all sides of the political spectrum, for decades).

But in news that will come as no surprise to anyone with a brain, it now seems at least one of the unions wanted something for its trouble.

Reports emerged yesterday that the United Firefighters Union had served the Country Fire Authority with a list of demands which would inflict a $1.5bn hit to the CFA’s bottom line over the life of a new three-year agreement; the CFA’s Melbourne affiliate the Metropolitan Fire Board is yet to receive an industrial demand from the UFU, but is said to expect this to occur imminently.

The UFU’s ransom note to the CFA demands 30% pay rises for its workers over three years; a ridiculous and totally unjustifiable claim that any CFA employee who works 20 minutes or more of overtime be paid the equivalent of eight hours’ extra pay; various perks such as the refund of tolls incurred in driving to and from work and taxpayer-funded childcare places; and the demand for a series of veto provisions that would, in effect, hand control of this state sector workplace over to the UFU — thus ceding control over the CFA squarely to the union movement.

Prior to the election, anyone with the temerity to point out that these unions were speaking for themselves — not for “all Victorians” — was shouted down; accused of showing “disrespect” to those who perform such vital functions as manning ambulances and fire stations and hospitals, we were told in no uncertain terms that we belonged in the gutter, that our objections showed how out of touch we were, and that the Liberal government we sought to shield from such outrageously deceptive tactics deserved the defeat the unions and Labor were working to inflict upon it.

How the worm turns.

All of this creates a major headache for Daniel Andrews, who might have been clever enough by half to navigate an election campaign, but who is fast being revealed as completely and hopelessly out of his depth as “Premier” of Victoria.

As of yesterday, the UFU has demanded $1.5bn and effective control of the Country Fire Authority.

A similar demand — in financial quantum and effective control — will seemingly hit the MFB within days.

The ambulance union won’t pose a headache for the Andrews government, striking a deal less than a week after the election that is almost identical to one its leaders agreed to on a handshake with the Napthine government but reneged on prior to signing, a month from polling day, for the fairly obvious reason that it could do another month of damage to the Liberal Party it so clearly detests by refusing to co-operate.

But the nurses will want their pound of flesh early in the Andrews government’s term; having been right in the thick of the election campaign action, there is no reason to think the demands of their unions will be any less outrageous than what we are now seeing from the UFU.

The Health Services Union is likely to want a cut of the action for non-nursing staff it represents in hospitals, too, and this is likely to hit the state budget every bit as hard as the rest of the ambit pay claims now being presented as reimbursement for “services rendered to the state ALP.

All of this comes before the CFMEU — that militant, violent union so deeply intertwined with Victorian Labor’s and Daniel Andrews’ political DNA — even steps into the ring to press its claims for favours.

And it’s fairly clear that far from his solemn pledges of sober economic management and sound stewardship of the state budget, Daniel Andrews will shortly be facing cumulative wage demands of five to ten billion dollars over three years: ambit, yes, indefensible, certainly; but even if those claims end up being settled on half the money sought, the impact on Victoria’s finances will be disastrous — and set the state right back on the path to the early 1990s and the mess made of it by “legendary” ALP premier John Cain, who was forced from office in disgrace.

The problem, of course, is that the unions have got Andrews by the balls.

The Premier now faces an invidious choice: to capitulate to the ridiculous demands of the unions that arguably shoehorned him into the Premier’s office on a lie, doing untold damage to the state in the process; or to bite the hand that feeds him, and tell the unions — as they surely should be told — to fuck off, and to tell their stories walking.

In short, Andrews must pay the wages of sin, lest he risk facing the wrath of the Devil.

If Daniel Andrews didn’t see this coming last year — as he was accepting all the “free” help on offer from his union mates to get rid of the hated Tories — then he really is too stupid to be Premier of Victoria, as this column (and hundreds of thousands, if not millions) of Liberal voters in this state suspected all along.

The invoice for 30 pieces of silver has landed on the Premier’s desk; irrespective of whether he pays up, it is likely to cost him very dearly indeed.

It’s not as if this is the only primed explosive Andrews will have to defuse quickly, either; some of Labor’s election commitments are undeliverable and some — on Transport — are yet to see the light of day three months after his solemn election-eve declarations that they were “shovel ready.”

And whilst the subject of money is on the table, Andrews is simultaneously facing another searing choice: to legislate Victoria out of the contract to build the East-West Link — effectively ripping off the companies contracted to build it — or to cough up the $1.2bn in compensation the contract (which Andrews solemnly claimed in opposition “wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on”) obliges the state of Victoria to pay as the price for abandoning the project altogether.

Either way, it’s hardly an auspicious start, and this column will rigorously scrutinise the Andrews government and hold it to account: I do not believe Victorian Labor has any mandate in office to do anything other than not build the East-West Link, and so incompetent is the ALP that even that election promise will cost the state — monetarily and in terms of road congestion, pollution, lost jobs and lost productivity — for decades.

The complete moron now ensconced in the Premier’s suites in Treasury Place is showing his stripes. Already, the poor judgement and incompetence that characterises his government has become impossible to defend or to explain away, even for Labor’s most seasoned — and fork-tongued — of spinmeisters.

 

Fallout From Abbott Gaffes Hits On Many Fronts

AS THE DUST SETTLES from Tony Abbott’s Australia Day own goal and the so-called “Prince Sir Philip” fiasco, the fallout is being felt in some unexpected places — to say nothing of support for Abbott himself. Today we provide some context on where the Prime Minister finds himself at the start of a pivotal year for the government, and how snafus of the kind that took place on Monday are a luxury he, and the Liberal Party nationally, cannot afford.

What a day it was, yesterday, to be a high-profile Liberal Party member and supporter in Melbourne; after the ridiculous and self-indulgent decision by Tony Abbott to basically derail Australia Day by awarding Prince Philip a knighthood under the Order of Australia, my phone rang hot with angry, disgruntled and/or bewildered Coalition voters in my circle calling to vent their frustrations, express their disbelief, or both.

The interesting thing is that not one was prepared to defend the Prime Minister’s leadership of the Liberal Party — in contrast to some of his federal colleagues, some of whom were no doubt motivated by a sense of obligation rather than enthusiastic endorsement — and, equally, the unanimity with which the sentiment was expressed that not only was it time for Abbott to be dumped as PM but that Foreign minister Julie Bishop should replace him.

For clarity, these calls amounted to perhaps 20 personal contacts (many of them with varying degrees of grassroots involvement in the Liberal Party across the country) and none on this occasion were elected representatives.

But as an exercising in gauging the mood of the Coalition base, it was instructive — and it says to me, weighted against the outpouring of opinion expressed in media outlets around Australia yesterday, that Tony Abbott now has a major problem to deal with: and one mostly of his, and his office’s, own making.

I should just point out that contrary to appearance, I have not — yet — withdrawn my support for Tony Abbott as leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister.

Readers (especially those who have been with me since I started this column almost four years ago) will know that I have been supporting Abbott since it was deeply unfashionable to do so, well before he became Prime Minister, and I remain of the view that viewed in isolation he represents an excellent candidate to hold the highest office in political life in Australia.

But I am close — an indication with thumb and forefinger will quantify the distance — to doing so, and whilst the knighthood handed to Philip might seem innocuous on one level, it crystallises every reservation held against Abbott in his party and the broader electorate around his judgement, political smarts, and sense for what the Australian public is prepared to stomach.

I don’t believe federal factors were decisive in the defeat of a first-term Coalition state government in Victoria in November; far from it.

Yet they scarcely helped, either, with fuel indexation reintroduced in the first week of a state election campaign (and before the bottom fell out of world oil prices).

If federal factors were worth, say, 1% of the two-party vote, the Coalition could well have retained an extra two or three seats: putting new Labor Premier in the same numerically excruciating position endured by his Liberal forebears in Parliament, beholden to a single-seat majority (or worse, minority) and powerless for four years to control anything that lobbed at him from left field (Geoff Shaw, an obvious case in point).

But Abbott’s — and the federal government’s — standing is arguably lower now than it was even a few months ago, and it is harder to argue that any odium emanating from Canberra cannot influence the fortunes of the next Coalition state government to face voters: Queensland’s LNP, which goes to the polls this Saturday.

Especially given Queensland is, after Western Australia, the federal Coalition’s strongest state — and the one which provides fully a quarter of the Abbott government’s lower house representation.

As I have argued in this column previously, a poor result (or loss) in Queensland will rebound savagely on Abbott — perhaps taking out his leadership in the process.

The short LNP campaign in Queensland (bookended by the Abbott government’s Medicare fiasco on one hand, and the “Prince Sir Philip” debacle this week) has enough ranged against it, courtesy of the LNP’s own handiwork and political misadventures, without being caught in the friendly crossfire from a fellow conservative government.

Yet so defective has the strategic and communicative mindset of Abbott’s government been that state elections featuring conservative governments almost seem to have been an open invitation for some of Canberra’s wilder and more outlandish excesses and errors of political judgement.

It remains to be seen what lies in store for Mike Baird’s government in New South Wales, which goes to the polls in March: and which, for now at least, seems assured of re-election by a comfortable margin.

I still maintain that by gutting the Prime Minister’s Office and starting again that Abbott can reset his political fortunes, and that of his government, but the time for doing so — quite clearly — is running out.

Errors of policy, strategy, political tactics and effective communication all arguably derive from this crucial unit of governance, and as admirable as Abbott’s loyalty to his Chief of Staff (and in turn, to the hand-picked foot soldiers who answer to her) might be, it is misplaced.

That misplacement of loyalty now threatens to terminate his political career.

One storyline goes that with a rearrangement of the government behind the scenes and a sound 2015 budget, and an effective sell job to back it, the Coalition can yet restore is position with the electorate ahead of an election now just over 18 months away at most: time, on yet another front — this time the electoral cycle — is beginning to run short.

But I am increasingly of the view that this simply won’t happen because the change that matters most — fixing his office — is the one Abbott refuses, bar cosmetic changes, to undertake.

The clamour for his head — unthinkable just a month or two ago even in spite of the growing litany of errors and misjudgements — is growing.

Almost anyone who cares to name names is united in the view that Bishop should replace him, and that seems to be a constant whether encountered in my personal contact circle, the mainstream press, or (from what I understand) in the rumblings going on within the inner sanctums of the federal Liberal Party itself.

The most critical month of Tony Abbott’s Prime Ministership to date kicked off in spectacularly underwhelming style on Australia Day this year.

It beggars belief that his colleagues will allow this to drag on for much longer — at the risk it poses to some of their own careers — if nothing changes, and quickly at that.