IN FAIRYLAND, the stunt orchestrated at the weekend by South Australian “independent” MPs Geoff Brock and Bob Such to prop Labor up in office might pass muster; in reality — in the face of virtually every political indicator — it simply doesn’t cut it. The public is entitled to a genuine explanation, or confession; and hospitalised Dr Such might well be, but these matters go to the heart of his legitimacy as an MP too, and he must account for them.
Two things at the outset: one, readers will know I have been heavily critical of the marginal seats campaign conducted by the Liberal Party in South Australia and the consequent poor return in terms of seats gained from the ALP, and I stand by my assessment; today I am obviously looking at the outcome of the SA state election from the alternative perspective, but my remarks today are entirely consistent with my criticism of the poor showing the Liberals managed in failing to win marginal seats from the ALP.
And two, “independent” MP Bob Such is reportedly unwell, having been hospitalised late last week, scheduled for surgery today, and apparently now absent for “a couple of months” from his duties as an MP. I have always emphasised the human nature of politics, and that people should remember that MPs are human too, and in this spirit we wish Dr Such a full and speedy recovery.
Even so — at the risk of being called all kinds of things — I’m afraid he comes in for a kicking today every bit as hard as his crony Geoff Brock does: it’s either that, or he should have resigned his seat and forced a by-election, even this soon after the votes in it were counted. He can’t have it both ways.
Notwithstanding any criticism I have directed at my own party over its lacklustre (and frankly abysmal) gains at a state election that should have been a lay-down misere, I ask readers to consider the following points.
At the state election nine days ago, the Liberal Party recorded a primary vote of 44.8%, an increase from 2010 of 3.1%.
At the same election on 15 March, the ALP achieved a primary vote of 35.8%: a decrease of 1.7% on its 2010 result.
After preferences on a statewide basis, the two-party vote for the Liberal Party — remembering the count is still to be finalised — was a shade under 53%.
On a statewide basis, there was a swing after preferences to the Liberal Party — again, with the count still to be finalised — of about 1%.
It is true that the ALP won more seats than the Liberals, by 23 to 22 in the 47-member House of Assembly. Yet both major parties were able to be supported in government by the “independents” elected in the remaining two seats.
Those seats, in turn, are traditional rural conservative electorates in Frome and Fisher; indeed, Dr Such was originally elected in Fisher as a Liberal in 1989.
Both are two-candidate contests between the “independent” MPs and the Liberals, and whilst both Brock and Such were re-elected last weekend, both seats swung sharply back toward the Liberals in line with the overall statewide trend.
Polling — both of the formal variety and the kind of half-arsed straw poll you might expect these blokes to conduct off their own bat as a “survey” of their electorates — was undertaken in both Frome and Fisher; the reputable variety found voters in both seats split roughly 60-40 in favour of their MPs supporting a minority Liberal government with Steven Marshall as Premier.
And to cap it, Brock at least said he would listen to the opinions of his constituents before making any decision. He may have listened but on any objective assessment, he still went ahead and did whatever he liked.
Against all of these facts, where is the compelling case for a discredited, exhausted and bankrupt 12-year-old Labor government to be propped up in office?
Why did Brock see the need to consult with — of all the clowns on Earth — former federal “independent” Tony Windsor, a man whose visceral hatred of the Coalition parties is palpable? He has admitted as much himself in the past, at least where Prime Minister Tony Abbott is concerned. But Windsor is singularly and totally irrelevant to state politics in South Australia. Brock must state publicly why he regarded Windsor’s counsel as in any way valid or relevant.
Why did Brock see the need to tell Liberal leader Steven Marshall that he would make a decision in the middle of this week, whilst engaging in subterranean final negotiations with Premier Jay Weatherill? His conduct in doing so doesn’t show Marshall up as being gullible or naive; rather, it reflects extremely poorly on Brock himself. Shabby, underhanded, and treacherous.
What inducements were offered for the electorates of Frome and/or Fisher in return for support of a Labor government? This is a clear matter of public interest. We already know Brock gets a 40% pay rise and a ministry in Weatherill’s government. But what else? If the case was so compelling, it must be made public — again — to dispel public scepticism over the decision that has been made.
If Dr Such is so sick as to be away from Parliament for two months then I feel very sorry for him, and trust he recovers swiftly. But was there any attempt made to explore the option of gaining a “pair” during Such’s illness to neutralise the effect of his absence on parliamentary votes? If not, why not?
Such — according to the statements that have been issued by his camp — is due to return to Parliament within “a couple of months.” The decision on who should form government after the election, theoretically at any rate, is a decision for four years. What is the basis for Such abrogating the discharge of his duty in this critically important aspect of a hung Parliament over a four-year term on the basis of a two-month absence?
Why couldn’t he, at the minimum, made a statement of his support subject to the confidence of the House?
If Such is so sick as to warrant the abandonment of his duty in this matter, why has he not resigned his seat in Parliament?
This entire episode — the reinstallation of the ALP on such a questionable pretext — is a public disgrace. Brock, at least, can kiss his re-election prospects goodbye right now; his voters are said to be furious, and rightly so. Whilst I don’t condone it in the slightest, it’s not hard to see why he’s received death threats since the announcement yesterday he would back the ALP. He can hardly feign surprise at the outrage he has generated.
Weatherill crowed on national radio today that the only thing that matters, in the end, is the seat count: the number of seats won by the respective parties in the lower house of Parliament.
That count was skewed by one “independent” leaving his mate to carry the can, who promptly filled it with a ministerial salary and agreed to put Labor back in government. I’m not sure most people would see the soundness of this strategy.
Brock needs to make a public statement outlining in every detail why — apart from pocketing a pay rise — he thinks Labor should govern for four years. Forget “stability;” that could be delivered in the context of the numbers by the Liberal Party. Forget “care” about regional SA; Labor has never really cared about the bush, and if Brock thinks it does now then he is as gullible as he attempted to make Marshall look. And forget the “careful consideration” bullshit: it’s fairly obvious Brock simply wanted to ensure Labor continued in office. He must substantiate his reasons beyond the nefarious claptrap he has offered up to date.
Simply stated, what gerrymandered boundaries couldn’t quite manage to achieve on their own Brock has finished, thanks to the questionable pretext given by Such for his abandonment of his duty and against the overwhelming backdrop of the clear public desire for a Liberal government in South Australia.
If this is simply a matter of personal political preference, Brock should say so.
But for any other justification, a detailed and complete disclosure of the reasons and any inducements is required. Otherwise the Weatherill government will limp on as just another morally bankrupt Labor government that lives well beyond its use-by date, with neither legitimacy nor public consent to sustain it.