Victoria’s Election Endgame: Political Lunacy, Hypocrisy, Geoff Shaw

VICTORIA’S IMMINENT STATE ELECTION has had a new and ridiculous element added to the mix, with a surprise move by Premier Denis Napthine to seek the expulsion of notorious MP Geoff Shaw from Parliament; it is a high-risk manoeuvre that has already brought the hypocrisy and lack of principle of the ALP sharply into public focus, but the real question is how voters respond. This column believes Dr Napthine’s move is one of political lunacy.

The question of Frankston MP Geoff Shaw (and what do with him) has exercised the minds of political figures on all sides in Victoria for years now, not mere weeks or months; it seems no solution — actual, potential or otherwise — has the capacity to resolve the issue once and for all: only a state election, which is now just eleven weeks away, can do that.

In the meantime, there remains no limit to the damage Shaw can inflict on Victoria’s Coalition government, and it seems — as of yesterday’s date — that Premier Denis Napthine has opted to double down his bets in an all-or-nothing attempt to terminate Shaw’s presence in Spring Street forthwith.

Irrespective of the outcome of debate on Napthine’s expulsion motion this morning — and depending on preference, readers can access Murdoch or Fairfax coverage for some background — I think, despite the clear risks of having Shaw anywhere near Parliament for even the seven sitting days left before the election, that Napthine has overplayed his hand and badly miscalculated.

Back in June, when Shaw was first suspended from the Legislative Assembly, we discussed these matters at length; at the time, it was the government that refused Labor’s demands for Shaw to be expelled, and whilst I was initially inclined to agree that throwing the member for Frankston onto the street would do the Victorian taxpayer a favour, the “reimbursement, apology and suspension” penalty sought at that time by Napthine was clearly the best of the range of inadequate options on hand.

Now, with Shaw having paid back the money at the centre of allegations against him of misusing entitlements, served his suspension and made an apology to the House, Napthine is seeking to expel him from Parliament anyway; the rationale rests upon comments Shaw made subsequently to Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper that his punishment had been a “political farce” and that he had been “made to jump through hoops” — ostensibly providing the grounds on which the government could argue his apology for the alleged misdemeanours was not sincere and genuine as required, and could thus enable steps to expel him to be taken.

Unsurprisingly — ahead in all published opinion polls and 11 weeks from a state election — the ALP has reversed its position of three months ago, and signalled its refusal to support Shaw’s expulsion. This matters simply on account of the numbers in the lower House: 44 Coalition MPs (including the Speaker), 43 from the ALP, and Shaw himself.

There is little reason to regard Shaw as anything other than an odious presence at best in his capacity as a member of Parliament.

The issues concerning his misuse of parliamentary vehicular entitlements are well known and not in dispute; in arrogating to himself the virtual balance of power on account of the finely balanced numbers on the floor of the Legislative Assembly, Shaw has arguably engineered the demise of the former Premier, Ted Baillieu, as well as that of the former Speaker (and arch foe) Ken Smith, neither of whom met the rather opaque standards Shaw apparently expects of others — and especially those in responsible positions of authority and seniority.

He has made a fool of himself and invited public ridicule with an infamous stunt in which he draped a grovelling, pusillanimous banner across a freeway flyover in Melbourne’s south-east, appealing for reconciliation with his estranged wife.

There are unsubstantiated allegations — now the subject of a corruption probe — that Shaw sought to demand and influence appointments to the judiciary, apparently in return for his political support, and which appear to have been motivated by his hardline social conservatism and his entrenched opposition to abortion in particular.

There are other suggestions, raised just last week, that he approached senior figures in the government to obtain taxpayer-paid travel for himself and his current partner to facilitate their marriage abroad.

And despite a self-professed “hatred” of Labor he has perpetuated chaos and mayhem in Parliament, repeatedly voting down the government’s legislative agenda, and ensuring the Coalition has been unable to consistently control state Parliament — all the actions of a man whose “hatred” of the opposition seems to find a rather curious mode of expression.

Getting rid of Geoff Shaw from Parliament is not just an action that would assist the Coalition; it would render a service to the State of Victoria.

Yet having presented the suspension-based penalty in June — and having prevailed in the face of Labor’s demands for Shaw to be expelled at that time — Napthine’s move to now seek to expel the member for Frankston is a stupefying, perhaps lunatic development.

The Labor Party — a creature not known for its consistency, decency, or any principles of value — has instantly signalled its refusal to play ball with Napthine; the 180 degree backflip this represents is breathtaking in its hypocrisy and appallingly devoid of any moral mettle at all, but it should have been foreseen as a certainty by the Premier and those closest to him.

When it is noted that senior Liberal MPs have briefed the press that Napthine failed to consult the ALP prior to announcing his expulsion motion, the lack of attention to this most basic of details defies belief.

Napthine’s government — despite a stellar political performance since his assumption of the role 18 months ago — has languished in reputable opinion polling; some of this can be attributed to the fracas over the Abbott government’s federal budget, but much of it derives from Geoff Shaw and the chaos he has instilled within the state Parliament.

Clearly, Napthine is seeking a circuit breaker, and quickly; the government has an excellent story to tell voters, and the three months in which Shaw has been absent from Spring Street have seen the government’s fortunes stabilise to a degree in the wake of the clear air that time has afforded. Seven sitting days might not be a great amount of time, but the capacity for Geoff Shaw to generate a phenomenal amount of bad press for the government by making mischief with the numbers in such a short period cannot be understated.

However the vote on Napthine’s motion later this morning pans out, it is clear that his bid to seek Shaw’s expulsion once and for all is an all-or-nothing attempt to cauterise an issue that has dragged on for far too long.

If Shaw is expelled, Labor can claim the credit; if the motion fails Napthine can blame Labor all he likes, but the failure will be used against him by the opposition to paint a picture of a weak government led by a Premier with no effective control over the Parliament, and which isn’t — in Labor’s narrative — fit for or deserving of re-election.

In other words, the ALP could win either way from this exercise.

The real question, of course, is how Victorian voters respond; if published polling is any indication — as I have already noted — then the portents aren’t promising.

For Napthine to bet the house on his expulsion motion galvanising public sentiment behind him requires, to use the vernacular, balls of solid rock. We will soon know whether granite cojones are enough to have made the entire gamble worth the trouble.

Personally, I think it’s strategic stupidity, and an act of political lunacy to boot.


Did Baillieu Tape Leak Over Abortion? Sackings Should Follow

THE NOTION this week’s sensationally leaked conversation between a journalist and a former Premier may have been motivated by abortion as an issue is, as things stand, as plausible an explanation as any; should it prove to be so, the culprits must immediately be rounded up, dismissed from their jobs and sinecures, and expelled from the Liberal Party. Abortion is an explosive social issue. It is not suitable ammunition for public factional brawling.

I acknowledge I have remained silent for a few days this week (busy, busy) but readers will know that as ever, I have been keeping an eye on events; I received the now-infamous email on Tuesday morning from a non-existent member of the Liberal Party seeking to distribute the conversation between former Premier Ted Baillieu and The Age‘s reporter Farrah Tomazin — and I do not intend to oxygenate the recording, its transcript or the email within which they were disseminated by republishing them here.

In fact, it had been my intention not to comment on the issue at all; whilst I am personally outraged at what appears to have been a stunning act of bastardry committed against the Victorian Liberal Party ahead of a difficult state election, I was initially disinclined to draw any further attention to it by discussing it, and I indicated as much to the party’s State Director, Damien Mantach, when he contacted me earlier in the week as part of an audit to establish which party members had received the offending email and which hadn’t.

But in light of a conspiracy theory that emerges in the Editorial of today’s edition of the Herald Sun in Melbourne, I wanted to make some remarks in reply.

Broadly, it has been speculated in the mainstream press this week that the potential culprit (or culprits) at the top of the “suspect list” were senior advisers working out of a federal Liberal MP’s electorate office in Melbourne; whether that eventually proves to be so or not, the Herald Sun has today made the case that the entire episode may have been driven by anti-abortionist elements within the party rather than a more orthodox factional ambush aimed at crippling the obvious target, Premier Denis Napthine.

Whether Ms Tomazin’s tape recorder was stolen, as it has been claimed, or that a more sinister explanation lies behind an incendiary background conversation between herself and Baillieu becoming public, there are two facts that seem set in stone: one, that an attempt to derail the Coalition’s campaign for re-election in what was already a tough political environment has been made; and two, that the private contact details of grassroots Liberal Party members have been accessed and obtained for the purposes of making that attempt.

It is my view that once the person (or persons) responsible have been identified, the Party can and should humiliate them publicly, dismiss them from any paid employment they hold at the discretion of either the party or an elected representative, expel them from the Liberal Party, and — if it can be established that offences may have been committed — to take any and all available steps to have them prosecuted.

I conveyed this view, in similar terms, to Mr Mantach in my email to him on Wednesday night.

The abortion angle raised by the Herald Sun simply adds another piece to the puzzle; it, too, may be a correct assessment or it may prove to be a red herring. Either way, with that explosive issue now squarely on the table in the context of the investigation, there are a few points that have to be made.

I think readers know that my personal position on abortion is a reasonably conservative one; with the exception of cases of rape or incest, or where carrying a foetus to term would either endanger the life of the mother or result in a severely disabled (or still) birth, I am not in favour of abortion and would never utter a syllable to advocate abortion on demand.

Having said that, my opinion is exactly that: my opinion. Others will make their own judgements according to their values, and their own decisions; and I phrase it thus because those who wish to procure an abortion will do so irrespective of whether it is safe or not, legal or not, and regardless of the proliferation or otherwise of facilities at which to do so. I’m not having a bob each way in making that observation; it is a recognition of the reality that whether you like it or not, the continued occurrence of abortion is a hard, cold fact.

If a situation is to exist in any mainstream political party whereby hatchet jobs, factional ambushes and the attempted termination (sorry for using the word) of the political careers of opponents are pursued on the basis of such an inflammatory issue, then as a society we’ve got a very, very big problem.

The Herald Sun is right; if advisers to federal MPs (or to cabinet ministers) are pursuing an internal agenda with engineering a savage lurch to the Right over abortion as its objective, they must be dismissed from their positions; if an actual federal MP is directly involved, then disciplinary action including disendorsement and expulsion from the Liberal Party must also be pursued.

Aside from anything else, there is a clear delineation of jurisdictional responsibilities in relation to abortion: it is the preserve of the states, and as much as people involved in federal politics might protest that they remain members of a state-based division of the party, the fact is that from the perspective of operational executive government a line would have been crossed if their involvement were to be confirmed.

And it goes without saying that any other members, employees or associates of the Party found to have engaged in this stunt should be thrown overboard without delay or compunction — irrespective of whoever they are.

Much has been made in recent months of the intention of disgraced renegade MP Geoff Shaw’s intentions to introduce a Private Member’s Bill into state Parliament, seeking to alter Victoria’s abortion laws and tighten them to reflect his deeply held, fundamentalist Christian views — a charade, if and when it eventuates, that the Napthine government will need like the proverbial hole in the head.

Stirring up the passions and hatreds that invariably accompany debate of this issue is irresponsible and counter-productive at the best of times; making it an explicitly targeted political football aimed at sabotaging a government led by moderate Liberals is reprehensible.

And the Coalition government in Victoria faces a fight to be re-elected: invigorated by the ascension of Napthine to the Premiership last year, blessed with what barely passes for “an opposition” and a ridiculous, puerile incompetent as opposition leader — and armed with the best budget position of any state — Napthine should be an unbackable favourite to win.

Despite the problem of Geoff Shaw and the political trickle-down effects of the Abbott government’s budget, I believed until recently that Napthine was a certainty. Now, I’m not so sure — and if the Coalition loses office, this episode over the leaked conversation with Baillieu will probably be seen as the final nail in its coffin.

To be fair, there are a couple of the items on Shaw’s list of demands that could be readily agreed and implemented to try to shut the matter down without causing an almighty detonation in the immediate runup to the state election in November; for example, the requirement that a doctor opposed to abortion be legally compelled to refer a patient requesting it to another doctor who will provide access to one can and should be rescinded.

Doing so would remove a moral and ethical imposition on the doctor opposed to abortion, whilst making no practical difference whatsoever: the reality is that doctors prepared to provide access to abortion services are publicly known, and will continue to be so.

But for the most part, abortion is a matter last dealt with extensively in Victoria just a few years ago. Little meaningful purpose is to be served by reopening the can of worms now.

Aside from what I have said in this article I will make no further comment on the Baillieu tapes scandal until the investigations to identify those responsible have been concluded.

But if the Herald Sun is right — and the whole thing was orchestrated as part of a push for hardline abortion reform by elements inside the Liberal Party with too much of an idea of their own importance — then that’s pretty sick, the outrage of the injury the matter seems certain to inflict on the Napthine government notwithstanding.


In A Lather: It’s Time For Tim Mathieson To Just Shut Up

BACKING UP from his entry to the political fray — launching an unsolicited, unwarranted and malicious attack on Tony Abbott’s wife — former “First Bloke” Tim Mathieson has struck again, threatening a lawsuit against Victorian Premier Denis Napthine for likening his misuse of Julia Gillard’s car to notorious state MP Geoff Shaw. Mathieson, an irrelevance, wasn’t worth a can of beans when Gillard was Prime Minister. Now it is time for him to shut up.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve given readers something to listen to while they read, although right here is something that fits the bill perfectly; I first heard it, horrified, walking through the staff kitchen whilst running the dinner shift in a Brisbane restaurant in late 1994 and never imagined I’d be using it in an article about politics.

Yet here it is: it’s irritating, puerile, and downright tasteless — just like Tim Mathieson, partner of Julia Gillard, the sometime “First Bloke” thrust upon an unreceptive public — and as readers will see, there is a clear connection to shampoo, which has made Mathieson a figure of some infamy in his own right since his girlfriend was ejected from the Prime Ministership. Rather fittingly, its banal lyrics retell, in idiot-simple terms, a story that it’s a shame hasn’t as yet befallen Mathieson. Still, we live in hope…

“Idiot-simple” is an apt term to describe Mathieson, who has unwisely seen fit to leave a message on an answering machine (that also recorded his mobile number) in the Warrnambool electorate office of Victorian Premier Denis Napthine, threatening “legal action against Denis the Vet” if Napthine again mentions him in the Victorian Parliament in relation to the miscreant state MP for Frankston, Geoff Shaw.

And I say that because first and foremost, any idiot with half a clue about how Parliaments in this country work knows that whatever members say inside the chamber, during parliamentary sittings, is subject to parliamentary privilege — and is thus immune from legal proceedings for defamation.

It is clear that Mathieson doesn’t even know this much.

And before I go further (assuming readers have by now listened to the little gem I linked to the second paragraph), those unfamiliar to date with the story can read about it here — and listen to the imbecilic message Mathieson left for “Denis the Vet.”

The problem Mathieson faces at first blush is that there are valid and compelling comparisons to be drawn between Shaw, who was suspended and fined by the Victorian Parliament last week over the misuse of a taxpayer-funded vehicle that he used to drive all over the state and beyond in his private business, and himself — who did practically the same thing in Gillard’s taxpayer-funded vehicle all over Victoria selling shampoo in his job as a sales representative for a haircare products company.

We discussed this at the time, when Geoff Shaw was facing 24 criminal charges — subsequently dropped — over the misuse of his car despite making reimbursing taxpayers for his misdeeds, and when a 10-month fight by then-Prime Minister Gillard to stop the Department of Finance from complying with a decision by the Information Commissioner that certain material should be released under a Freedom of Information request granted in favour of the applicant was finally defeated.

What did this material reveal? That Mathieson had not only been up to the same thing Shaw had, but that Gillard — like Shaw — had repaid monies to the taxpayer in what can only be construed by anyone with a brain as tacit acknowledgement that the breach had been committed.

As I said at the time, for Shaw to face charges over a breach of regulations similar to that which Mathieson appeared to have gotten away scot-free with was eyebrow-raising, to say the least; and as much as Gillard’s standard tactic of attempting to bludgeon unpleasant revelations about herself and those around her into non-existence under the threat of legal proceedings, the public had a right to know what Mathieson had been doing: a contention the Information Commissioner clearly agreed with.

Now, Mathieson appears to be recycling the strategy, and despite the suggestion some of the Premier’s staff might have been shocked to hear him threaten to have Napthine hauled before the law, the fact remains that this is laughable — and it is Mathieson who is the joke.

This boofhead has, since Gillard was removed from office, shown a propensity for attracting headlines for all the wrong reasons; only last month he tried to damage the reputation of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s wife, Margie, in a vicious and disgusting personal attack that was as lacking in decency as it was in any basis in fact or reason.

At the time, I suggested that Mathieson might have been used as a cat’s paw for forces elsewhere in the ALP, and that he might have been put up to it; with this latest episode involving Denis Napthine, however, it’s difficult to give Mathieson the benefit of the doubt in such a way: after all, in this case, there is nobody else to handball the responsibility to.

This time, Mathieson is on his own.

We’re talking about an individual who is well-known for being “seen” at the “right” events, and getting himself invited to make a slew of public appearances at functions during Gillard’s Prime Ministership — often flying solo — that serve little more purpose than to pander to some weird cult of celebrity that, to be frank, is scraping the dregs of the barrel for “stars” where the likes of Tim Mathieson is concerned.

And whilst I acknowledge he spent a lot of his time on worthy causes whilst “First Bloke,” the merit of those activities really has to be weighed against both his propensity to turn up to the opening of an envelope and these past couple of appearances in the public eyeline, in which he has behaved as nothing more than a thug.

Julia Gillard was a dreadful Prime Minister, and one of the worst specimens to ever hold that office; we could talk about that particular subject for days (and probably will in the next week or so 🙂   ) but if nothing else, she was an elected member of Parliament made leader of her party by her colleagues, and thus Prime Minister — irrespective of the tastelessness of the circumstances in which those events occurred, or her fitness or otherwise to hold the office of Prime Minister at all.

Mathieson, by contrast, is nothing: a loud-mouthed boorish thug of absolutely no standing whatsoever, and his five minutes in the public spotlight as “First Bloke” did and does nothing to alter the fact that in the bigger scheme of things, he isn’t worth a can of beans in the context of public affairs in this country — and, perhaps despite delusions to the contrary, never will be.

He should crawl away and hide behind whatever rock Gillard is using for shelter; in so doing this obsequious, obnoxious toad will find himself in good company, and the rest of us can be thankful not to see or hear from him ever, ever again.

Simply stated, Tim Mathieson should get lost. The world will continue to turn without him. It is time, belatedly, for him to just shut up.



Victoria: Geoff Shaw And A Punishment Fitting The Crime

WITH MUCH DISCUSSION of late suggesting miscreant MP Geoff Shaw should be expelled from Parliament — including in this column — it came as some relief to see Premier Denis Napthine table a proposed punishment that is reasonable, charts a course between extremity and inaction, and sets a precedent to tighten standards. The ALP, in its mad rush for power, will have no truck with it. The outcome Labor seeks is fraught with danger.

I have been “bush” today, making the 350km round trip from Melbourne through Victoria’s goldfields country to Bendigo and back, so I will keep my remarks circumspect; I wanted to quickly revisit this issue as we’ve been tracking it for some time, and make comment on developments in Spring Street as they unfolded during the afternoon.

Readers know that late last week I gave qualified initial support to the ALP’s broad plan to have renegade MP Geoff Shaw thrown out of Parliament in a contempt proceeding over the misuse of his taxpayer-funded vehicle and other entitlements; the rationale (as I saw it) was that expulsion was preferable to a slap on the wrist, and that the timetable apparently envisaged at that time by Denis Napthine suggested due diligence (and, crucially, the requisite time for it) would be taken to ensure the stinking mess of Geoff Shaw’s career didn’t end up in Court.

At the time, I saw the options (as they sat) as either an indefinite suspension of Shaw, mooted by the Coalition, which would render any by-election in Shaw’s electorate of Frankston pointless owing to the state election due on 29 November; and immediate expulsion, as advocated by the ALP, which is in such a hurry to get its collective arse back into government in Victoria that it has factored a win in both a Frankston by-election and a full state election as certainties in its forward planning.

My initial sense was that a middle option would be best, which is why the act of expulsion following a period of I-dotting and T-crossing is what I came down in favour of. However — with the tabling in Parliament of a penalty that even better cuts a third path for consideration — I have to throw my lot firmly in with the Premier.

The Coalition’s plan now calls for a 12-week suspension of Shaw from Parliament, with no pay for sitting days that he is excluded from; it would prevent him from undertaking any taxpayer-funded interstate or international travel, effectively confining him to his electorate; it calls on him to refund, in full, a sum in the order of $7,000, and to make a suitable public apology by the expiry date of his suspension; and it would mean that the residents of Frankston would remain represented by their MP throughout this process.

At the end of Shaw’s suspension, if he failed to comply with these requirements, he would then face immediate expulsion from Parliament.

I think this is fair enough: after all, expelling MPs from Parliament sets a precedent irrespective of what the offending behaviour might have been; to set it at the improper use of less than $10,000 raises the question of whether careers should be destroyed — and the cost of by-elections and other administrative functions running to millions of dollars incurred — at a level most courts would impose less of a penalty for.

The reaction thus far has been mixed, with Shaw — in a reference to the (tougher) abortion legislation he is pursuing — claims that Napthine, a Premier he has repeatedly and publicly endorsed both in his official capacity and on a personal level, is trying to silence him.

It’s a bit of a no-brainer to point out that if that’s all Napthine wants to do, expulsion is quicker, cleaner, and would terminate — no pun intended — Shaw’s capacity to ever again influence any legislation in a meaningful sense or capacity.

Labor has reacted predictably, refusing to back any other course than Shaw’s immediate expulsion; it won’t say so publicly, of course, but the ALP has convinced itself it has any by-election in Frankston in the bag (debatable) and that subsequently, Governor Alex Chernov will commission its infantile leader Daniel Andrews as Premier and/or immediately dissolve Parliament for early elections (also debatable, on both counts).

I think Labor’s unseemly rush to deal with this, metaphorically speaking, yesterday — and its naked lust for the trappings and perks of office — are a sub-plot that will become increasingly clear to voters, irrespective of what happens to Shaw, between now and polling day. There are many reasons I’m confident Napthine remains favourite to be re-elected in Victoria this year; this factor is simply one of those.

But in terms of what happens to Shaw, it seems the ultimate outcome may rest with the Speaker who was deposed to appease the Frankston MP, Ken Smith, who says he may or may not retreat from his threat to side with Labor and see Shaw expelled once he’s had a chance to digest the proposal Napthine has tabled.

I actually think Napthine has pulled a rabbit out of his hat: a sensible proposal to administer proportionate punishment to Shaw, without setting dangerous precedents and without incurring needless additional costs, or leaving Frankston unrepresented for up to five months.

Assuming, of course, Shaw now accepts he’s played his cards with rare skill but has been cornered, and complies.

Another voice whose owner knows a thing or two about matters such as this is former Premier Jeff Kennett’s, who writes in Melbourne’s Herald Sun that expelling Shaw would simply make him a martyr.

It’s a telling point. This column has little time for the martyrdom of crooks at the best of times, let alone bestowing it on the likes of Geoff Shaw in the interests of senseless expediency.

This potentially only has a day or so to play out; how Parliament responds to the Napthine proposal could be decided as soon as tomorrow (Wednesday). I will post again in the evening if anything of interest or salience comes of the deliberations.

Yet however things play out, this entire episode carries the silver lining that whether he’s suspended and fined or expelled, Shaw’s misdemeanours will render the ultimate benefit that one way or the other, the tolerable standard of conduct from MPs in their handling of taxpayers’ monies will have been raised.

And in closing, I should revisit my remark from last week that Labor is unlikely to get its Frankston by-election no matter how this ends; sending 30,000 people to the polls twice in two or three months is in nobody’s interests, and if the imbecile Andrews believes otherwise — or that there will be some kind of statewide backlash against Napthine for saving the taxpayer a little money — then he is even stupider, and more puerile, than I have given him credit for to date.

Victoria: Time To Run Geoff Shaw Out Of State Parliament

THE EVENTUAL FARCE produced by Victoria’s knife-edge election in 2010 has entered its endgame; rebel Liberal-cum-Independent MP Geoff Shaw — found by the Privileges Committee to have misused his taxpayer-funded car — seems set to be expelled from Parliament. Despite the risk of bringing down the government, this is as it should be; but as ever, Labor’s lust to seize power could well gift victory to the Coalition at any early state election.

Sometimes, it only takes one: an adage that might have been tailor-made to describe politics.

Despite winning 51.8% of the two-party vote at the 2010 state election off a swing against Labor of more than 6%, Victoria’s Coalition government took office with just 45 of the 88 seats in the Legislative Assembly; obliged by convention to put one of its own MPs in the Speaker’s chair, the risks posed by a 44-43 majority on the floor of the house are obvious.

Of course, as readers well know, that majority has “progressively” disappeared as Geoff Shaw — the member for the outer Bayside electorate of Frankston — quit the Liberal Party last year in a petulant outburst that led directly to Ted Baillieu’s replacement as Premier by Denis Napthine.

To be sure, Napthine has performed as if the role was made for him, but few of us believed for a moment that the leadership change represented the last time Shaw would cause the Coalition political problems.

Now, it seems the time has finally arrived when Shaw’s rather dubious services as an MP can be terminated altogether; this might lead to an early election and that, in turn, could see the ALP return to office after a single term.

But I wouldn’t bet on it.

I’m not going to run through the entirety of this story; it’s made headlines across the country for so long now, as the suppurating sore has festered, that I think most people know the background.

Still, there is an excellent article being carried by The Australian that readers can access here, and past articles I have published on the Shaw issue can be accessed here and here for those wanting some historical perspective.

I admit that I haven’t been able to give this issue the attention I normally would in the past few days; I’ve been busy. Even so, there are a number of salient points that should be made.

The first is that without question, Shaw deserves a heavier punishment than a slap on the wrist and being allowed to reimburse the cost of his misdemeanour to the State.

There is a clear difference between overclaiming on resources as a result of, say, an accounting error, and using an electorate vehicle and fuel paid for by taxpayers to run a private business across much of the state of Victoria as Shaw did.

Speaking generally, I think it’s time a far tougher approach is taken with elected representatives who do this kind of thing; voters are absolutely fed up with it, and people like Shaw who thumb their noses at the regulations governing MP entitlements should face harsher penalties for their actions, not mild reprimands as a kind of perverse perk their office avails them of when they overstep the mark.

I disagree with the Privileges Committee, which did not recommend Shaw be found in contempt of Parliament: I believe he should be, and to this end I support moves by the ALP to move a motion to this effect.

However, this is where my concurrence with Labor’s objectives starts and ends, and I note Napthine — infamously pressed by Shaw for everything from abortion law reform to influence over a judicial appointment — has gone on record to the effect that he too has had a gutful of Shaw’s antics, and formed the view he should be held in contempt of Parliament as well.

Labor types have made merry with claims the Coalition has relied on a “tainted vote” from Shaw to survive in office but, unlike the Gillard government federally, it has had little choice.

Parliamentary terms are fixed in Victoria, and whilst there is a mechanism to truncate them and engineer an early election (that may be used very soon), it can’t simply be done on a whim. The numbers — for as long as Shaw remained prepared to support the government on confidence matters — made the option of resolving the Shaw issue with an election one Napthine couldn’t choose.

I want to turn Labor’s taunts on their head to show just how brazenly juvenile and ridiculous they are: let us hypothesise that Napthine advised the resignation of his government. Let us suppose the Governor, Alex Chernov, commissioned the childish Daniel Andrews as Premier. Labor would be required to provide a Speaker, reducing its strength on the floor of the House to 42 MPs, with 44 Coalition MPs opposing them. Even if Shaw (who claims to “hate Labor”) voted with the ALP, it would be unable to control to House.

In other words, Chernov (who does not dispense advice, but has the capacity to act independently in certain circumstances) would have commissioned a government with no prospect whatsoever of controlling the lower House. This was never going to happen, and is proof that Andrews’ demands and taunts of Napthine have been predicated on a scenario that, legally and constitutionally, was never going to be implemented by a Governor in the proper performance of his duties of office.

It is true that the Speaker deposed in an attempt to soothe Shaw and keep him sedated, Ken Smith, has announced he is prepared to cross the floor and vote with Labor to ensure Shaw is found in contempt of Parliament and expelled from it. But Smith is neither a martyr nor a Liberal dog, and any notion that his vote might then help sustain a Labor government is a fatuous one.

Labor is seeking a fast conviction followed by a quick execution. It is here it is making mistakes likely to cost it in the longer run.

Regular readers know I have no time for the cretinous Andrews, Labor’s juvenile and puerile leader; I have to single Andrews out here — not to be obtuse, but because it is evident to anyone watching these events that it is Andrews making the running in a naked lunge at power, and at the earliest opportunity.

There’s nothing new, of course, in Labor doing that, but its “principles” are laid bare as being based in either ignorance or expediency, and show little political nous to boot.

Andrews proposed (apparently seriously) early this week that he and Napthine visit the governor together to “receive advice;” this appallingly naive suggestion ignores the fact that Premiers give state Governors advice, not the other way around, and certainly not in the kind of political crisis into which Victoria is rapidly tumbling. It shows complete ignorance of and/or total disregard for accepted process and the role of the Governor that go to the heart of Andrews’ and Labor’s unsuitability for office.

For most of the week Andrews has been running around Melbourne, telling anyone who would listen that “we can have a by-election in Frankston as soon as 12 or 19 July.”

This shows three things:

1. Andrews and Labor are less concerned with punishing Shaw than they are with engineering what they think is a winnable by-election through which they might seize power.

2. Labor is perfectly happy to bombard Frankston voters (and by extension, the rest of Victoria) with the atmospherics and intrusion of a quasi-state election campaign whilst children are on school holidays and families are away. The hunger for power outweighs this basic political sensitivity, it seems. And

3. Whilst there is an obvious benefit to the Coalition in deferring the time any expulsion of Shaw takes effect — with a state election due anyway on 29 November — Andrews’ mad haste to get into the Premier’s office is dangerously blind to the very real need Napthine speaks of to take the time to ensure that action against Shaw is watertight on legal grounds, lest the entire mess should end up in the Supreme Court.

Napthine has a point here, and just as undue haste is inadvisable on legal grounds, so too is excessive delay on political grounds.

My sense is that if Frankston is vacated through Shaw’s expulsion it will be too close to the scheduled election date to make a by-election worth the expense or trouble. Even if Shaw is booted out at the end of the month, we’re talking a mid-August by-election at the earliest, and there’s not much to be gained for either the electors of Frankston, or for governance in Victoria, by sending 30,000 voters to the polls twice in twelve weeks at the cost of millions of additional dollars.

But just as Shaw must be punished — and be seen to be punished — nobody should kid themselves for a minute that the real game is about anything other than who governs Victoria, and when.

Labor certainly doesn’t. But it would be foolish to think the Coalition won’t enter any state election campaign — be it now or in November — as anything other than the clear favourite to win.

For one thing, a redistribution has largely removed the pro-Labor boundary bias that saw Baillieu claim such a slender majority in the first place with such a solid vote; notionally, the Coalition faces an election with 47 seats to Labor’s 41, and whilst it’s only a couple of seats the difference, every bit helps.

So, too, does the fact the Liberal Party is led by a country MP in Napthine; “the bush” never really swung back to its traditional conservative custodians after it turned on Kennett in 1999, although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest it is ready to do so now. Sources within both parties privately acknowledge up to eight ALP-held regional seats could fall to the Coalition, and picking up ten seats in Melbourne would be a big ask of the ALP to offset those losses.

What also helps the Liberals is that in the must-hold marginal seat of Macedon and the must-win Liberal marginal of Prahran, the ALP botched its candidate selection, installing candidates to satisfy factional considerations over the wishes of its (seething) local branches; it effectively guarantees the Liberals will win Macedon, and should have Clem Newton-Browne more confident of re-election in the notoriously volatile, and diverse, inner-city Prahran electorate.

And Labor also has to contend with yet another assault on four of its prized inner Melbourne seats — Northcote, Melbourne, Richmond and Brunswick — from the Communist Party Greens, who at some point are likely to take some or all of them, starting with Melbourne and Northcote. Again, every seat lost to the Greens is another it must offset with a win elsewhere to avoid a localised rerun of the abject disaster that was the Gillard dalliance with the Greens in Canberra.

Published polling might well show Labor clearly (but not overwhelmingly) ahead, but nobody has a clue six months from a scheduled election what it would actually do in office. This fact will come back to bite it, as will the excellent state budget — overshadowed for now by its federal counterpart, but certain to attract attention come election time — that the Coalition delivered last month.

These are real political considerations. And they are paramount to the question of Shaw’s expulsion from Parliament and the subsequent course of events.

Whatever happens to Shaw, the likeliest outcome is a state election on 29 November or sooner; Labor, in spite of its raw lust for power and control, is unlikely to get its by-election in Frankston. Even if it does, there is no guarantee it would win it.

In other words, Daniel Andrews is playing with dynamite.

As unelectable and infantile as he might be, he ought to reflect that Labor is likely to jettison him as its leader anyway if it loses in Victoria; were it to lose at an earlier election resulting from the Shaw matter, it would absolutely crucify him.

They eat their own sometimes over at the ALP. Is it too Machiavellian to think this could be why Shaw — with his stated hatred of Labor — has signalled he’d vote for a no-confidence motion in the Napthine government?

Tricky times on Spring Street.

But I’d rather be in Napthine’s shoes than Andrews’ — however the outrage over Shaw is finally dealt with.



Good Riddance: Geoff Shaw Quits The Liberal Party

IN A WELCOME DEVELOPMENT, rogue Liberal-cum-Independent state MP Geoff Shaw has resigned his membership of the Victorian Division of the Liberal Party; whilst the move is likely to make no difference to the comfort or otherwise of the Napthine government in Parliament, it brings to an end one of the sorrier episodes in conservative politics in this country in recent times — even if, as seems probable, Shaw continues to cause Napthine trouble.

For someone who says that he “hates Labor,” Geoff Shaw has certainly provided plenty of succour to the ALP in recent times; now he is free to continue to do so.

Feelings of relief and dread are likely to be the simultaneous sensations in state government ranks in Victoria tonight, as rogue Liberal MP Geoff Shaw’s resignation from the party becomes final; having played a central role in the downfall of Ted Baillieu as Premier, Shaw has spent the last year sitting on the crossbench as an “Independent” who has caused the ongoing Coalition government no amount of grief.

The news that Shaw has now thrown in his party membership altogether is extremely welcome, albeit little more than a symbolic gesture, as he was due to face expulsion proceedings at a meeting of the party’s State Assembly on Friday night that will now no longer need to be held.

Shaw has been a constant source of embarrassment to the government, first coming to public prominence shortly after he was elected in 2010 amid allegations he had misused his taxpayer-funded vehicle for purposes linked to his hardware supplies business, and whilst the charges were eventually dropped, the episode was perhaps an object lesson in the high requirements of probity from MPs and the ease with which poor perceptions can fester explosively around activities that might be regarded as questionable.

Even so, controversy and Geoff Shaw have never been far apart, and his antics have — unduly — caused plenty of angst for the government.

Uproar around his presence on a committee trip to Europe, altercations with taxi protesters on the steps of Parliament House in Spring Street and the like may very well have featured Shaw as an innocent and unwitting participant, but in view of what was already his history in the short time he had served in Parliament to that point all of this was publicity the Liberal Party could have done without.

Shaw — either oblivious to or hellbent on the chaos it would cause — has twice voted down the government’s legislative agenda on the floor of the lower house; the ensuing anarchy has seen the speaker, Ken Smith, resign and be replaced with Shaw’s preferred candidate in an effort to appease him, and there is no reason to think he will refrain from repeating the stunt despite engineering the removal of a Speaker he claims failed to show him adequate respect.

With the numbers in the Victorian state Parliament finely balanced — now 44 Coalition MPs to 43 for Labor, plus Shaw — the ALP and its imbecilic leader, Daniel Andrews, have sought to raise merry hell, making outlandish and childish proclamations to the effect that Premier Denis Napthine is a consort of criminals, and similar.

The irony that without the tacit advantage Shaw’s shenanigans provide Labor — and which Andrews seems happy to exploit — he would be unable to do so seems to have escaped the opposition leader. Even so, the lingering and festering stain on the institution of Parliament that Shaw represents is an isolated one and the product of a close election result in 2010, not the characteristic of a rotten Liberal Party as Andrews is wont to claim.

And whilst Napthine will remain a prisoner to the numbers, he will no longer be hamstrung by any official association with Shaw — involuntary or otherwise — no matter what fun Andrews may attempt to engage in.

Already, the Liberal Party organisation has commenced the process of replacing Shaw as its endorsed candidate for the seat of Frankston at the state election that must be held by the end of the year; that process will resolve soon enough.

Yet between now and polling day — and irrespective of today’s developments — there is no guarantee that Shaw will refrain from activities that seriously undermine the state Coalition, or jeopardise its tenure in office.

Shaw has already shown — despite stating a purported desire to rejoin the Liberal party room — that he can be neither trusted nor relied upon to support the state government in Parliament in any way, shape, or form.

There is no reason to think he will begin to do so now: indeed, his prejudicial conduct toward Napthine and his colleagues may become even more destructive now he is freed from the restrictions placed upon him by membership of the Liberal Party — not that he ever abided by them in the first place.

Even so, the move liberates Napthine from being caught in the middle of an ugly and potentially explosive brawl over abortion law reform, which seems to be the next crusade Shaw — a fundamentalist Christian — seems determined to embark upon.

And it goes without saying that it removes, at the very least, the ability for the cretinous Andrews to continue to try to smear the Liberal Party as a whole on account of the alleged misdeeds of one miscreant ex-Liberal MP.

In terms of political outcomes, Shaw’s departure changes nothing; in a difficult election year, the fortunes of the Napthine government will largely be determined by other factors, although only a fool would fail to acknowledge the ongoing potential for Shaw to continue to cause trouble.

Whether he chooses to do so or not is an uncontrollable, and entirely a matter for Geoff Shaw.

Anecdotal reports suggest that Shaw, in person and at face value, is a nice enough fellow, and I’m sure he is: and to that extent I wish him well.

But as a member of the Liberal Party for most of the time since I turned 18 back in 1990, I have been aghast (and angry) that one of the party’s MPs, who occupied a rare position of trust in receiving the Liberal Party’s endorsement for a winnable seat that he otherwise would have stood no chance of winning, should have treated the party so shabbily in return.

It would have been satisfying to see Shaw suffer the indignity of being expelled from the party, although speaking personally I’ll “take” his resignation if it’s a choice between that or nothing.

Good riddance.

Parliamentary Quagmire: Napthine’s Only Way Forward In Victoria

LIBERAL-CUM-INDEPENDENT MP Geoff Shaw — in willing cahoots with the state ALP and its puerile leader Daniel Andrews — has transformed the Victorian state Parliament into an unmanageable and ungovernable quagmire; the Coalition government of Denis Napthine has an excellent record to sell, but its message is lost in the explosive parliamentary spectacle that is an embarrassment to the state. Napthine does, however, have a potent card to play.

It is a measure of just how irresponsible Geoff Shaw is prepared to be to flex his “muscles” — and how irresponsible Labor is prepared to be in its raw lust for power — that having achieved the outcome they sought in relation to the Speaker of the Parliament, both Shaw and Labor continue to wreck parliamentary proceedings in an attempt to destroy the Coalition government, but to avoid an election (for now) at all costs.

For readers unfamiliar with the state of play in Victoria, here is a potted report.

At the state election of November 2010, the Coalition — led by Ted Baillieu — achieved a 6.1% swing against the ALP government of John Brumby, winning 45 of the state’s 88 lower house seats and with them, returned to government for the first time since the Kennett administration was forced from office in 1999.

Baillieu also secured a majority in Victoria’s upper house: that, a lower house majority and a share of the two-party vote in the lower house of almost 52% all add up to a mandate to govern — if ever there was one.

Faced with crashing opinion poll numbers and widespread unrest within his parliamentary party, Baillieu was replaced as Premier by Denis Napthine about a year ago, and — to put it bluntly — chaos has ensued virtually ever since.

The member for Frankston, Geoff Shaw (against whom a multitude of criminal charges relating to improper use of parliamentary entitlements were withdrawn) has behaved as a “gang of one;” now sitting on the cross bench, the self-appointed role of God he seems to have arrogated to himself clearly sits well with him, and the consequence has been that state Parliament has descended into farce on account of the finely balanced state of the numbers.

It is ironic that Labor leader Daniel Andrews — an odious specimen who gives every impression he would sit more comfortably in the thick of battle for control of a university student union than at the head of the Labor Party — repeatedly attempts to cultivate a “circus” analogy to describe the state of the Victorian Parliament, when arguably the biggest clown in Spring Street, Geoff Shaw aside, is himself.

Far from presenting as the embodiment of sober responsibility, Andrews is doing his level best to render Victoria ungovernable, and in this enterprise has a willing accomplice in Shaw.

Three-quarters of the way through a four-year term that is only fixed because of so-called “reforms” legislated by the previous government, the cavalier game of roulette Andrews seems determined to play with the governance of Victoria is a dangerous one indeed.

Having secured both the resignation of the Speaker of the Parliament, Ken Smith, and the appointment of their preferred replacement in deputy Speaker (and Liberal MP) Christine Fyffe, one could be forgiven for thinking that Andrews and Shaw might have had the decency to wait at least beyond the very first parliamentary session to comprehensively trash the very outcome their destabilisation was designed to achieve.

Playing the wrecker, however, is a stronger imperative to these people  than any half-arsed form of words about responsibility and stability they may utter for the news cameras, with the ALP and Shaw combining to vote down the government’s legislative agenda for the week less than an hour after Fyffe had taken her place in the Speaker’s chair.

The ruthlessness and determination with which Labor pursues its destructive political objectives should never be underestimated — just look at the state of that party in Queensland, NSW, and federally, to see the end results — and whilst Andrews and Shaw obviously think their gamesmanship on the floor of state Parliament is a ticket to Easy Street, it is more likely to prove a recipe for self-destruction.

It will certainly be so if Napthine plays his cards right.

Now there is talk of Shaw combining with Labor to block the May budget and force an election; Labor’s intent to do so should be taken as certain. So — given his refusal to rule such action out — should that of Shaw. “I will need to have further discussions with Denis Napthine before that happens,” he said yesterday.

The absolute last thing in the world that Daniel Andrews needs, at this point in time, is a state election.

Conversely, if I was Napthine, I wouldn’t be able to get to the polls fast enough right now: with a couple of qualifications, as readers will see.

Whilst Labor has held a consistent lead in reputable opinion polling for about nine months — the last Newspoll saw the Victorian ALP ahead of the government 53-47 — Andrews’ own ratings are soft, continuing to trail Napthine on the “preferred Premier” question and recording personal approval numbers that are mediocre at best.

And I still think (to make a call on it) that despite polling numbers reflecting a lot of churn and unrest in the electorate about the finely balanced parliamentary numbers, come election time the Coalition will remain far more attractive to voters than any return to Labor after a single term.

Labor has inadvertently shown a chink in its political armour with is mindless, senseless opposition to Napthine’s determination to build the so-called East-West Link, a road connecting the Eastern Freeway to the Tullamarine Freeway and ultimately the Western Ring Road; so concerned about the prospect of losing four inner-city seats to the Communist Party Greens (Richmond, Melbourne, Brunswick, Northcote) is the ALP that Andrews is prepared to sabotage the building of a critical piece of road infrastructure that will benefit Greater Melbourne and Victoria as a whole simply to optimise ALP prospects in those seats.

It’s a tantalising clue to the real message Labor is deriving from its own private polling.

Andrews himself will enter any election campaign as leader with questions over his suitability for office that the Coalition will ruthlessly exploit; aside from contributing very little of substance in three years as opposition leader, Andrews faces the additional electoral impediment of a fiasco over hospital waiting lists that were doctored by bureaucrats on his watch as Health minister to provide a rosier-than-real picture of the true state of Melbourne’s public hospitals under Labor.

There is also the small matter of the litany of Labor disasters Victorians remain locked into footing the bill for: Labor couldn’t complete major projects in a timely fashion or within budget, but it certainly knew how to execute watertight contracts with private sector partners that bent the state of Victoria over a barrel.

The “memories” campaign over Myki, the Wonthaggi desalination plant, the so-called North-South Pipeline and other monuments to Labor incompetence should be mandatory.

But before it gets to fighting that campaign, Napthine must first till the ground.

On the assumption the government is on an election footing — because it is — Napthine and his ministers need to start releasing their election policies now: there won’t be an election in November, and if Napthine wants to control the timing and terms of whatever the date ends up being, he needs to get his skates on.

So, too, does the Liberal Party organisation, which at the time of writing is yet to finalise its preselections; any more Liberal MPs contemplating departure from politics must be prevailed upon to make and announce their decisions over the next few weeks, and replacements found and endorsed as quickly as the party’s constitution permits.

The messy Kew preselection must be shut down quickly and quietly, perhaps by guaranteeing young turk Tim Smith the next available safe seat in return for calling off his damaging challenge to Health minister Mary Wooldridge, who is seeking to transfer to the seat after her own safe Liberal electorate of Doncaster was abolished.

And while Napthine and his team do their level best to generate an election atmosphere around Spring Street, the message to voters must be unambiguous: Labor and Geoff Shaw have prevented the Coalition from doing the job Victorians elected it to do, and that soon they will have a choice: to re-elect the government to deliver on its pledges, or return to Labor — with all the incompetence and waste, and higher taxes and charges for Victorian families to be hit with, as a result.

Shaw, for his part, is a red herring who shouldn’t matter a can of beans after the coming election; there is one scenario that might save him, however, and one only — formal defection to the ALP and endorsement as its candidate for Frankston. Stranger things have happened, no matter where the ALP is at with its candidate roster. Napthine needs to head that off, too, however unlikely it might seem now.

And Treasurer Michael O’Brien should take a leaf out of the British Conservative Party’s template of 1992; faced with a supposedly unwinnable election in the wake of Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax debacle, new Prime Minister John Major had his Chancellor, Norman Lamont, deliver an early pre-election budget in February followed by a sprint to the polls in April.

Major — a reasonably popular mid-term replacement for Thatcher, a description that could equally be applied to Napthine — faced a walking political abomination in Labour leader Neil Kinnock: a parallel that could be easily drawn with Andrews.

This “compressed” approach to a difficult election year paid dividends, with the Conservatives narrowly re-elected for a further five-year term instead of being booted from office in a landslide, as had seemed likely for most of the time since Thatcher’s departure as Prime minister in late 1990.

In short, condense all the planned goodies for the year into the next three months, whilst getting the message across that Shaw and Labor are wreckers, not credible pretenders to effective governance.

And as for the “fixed” four-year term?

Very simply, with all cards and the early budget on the table, Napthine should engineer a confidence vote in his government — if the ALP can’t be taunted into moving the no-confidence equivalent in a timely enough fashion to facilitate a May election — and have one of his MPs miss the vote.

Whether he or she falls asleep, or misses a flight from interstate, or has a sudden medical crisis involving an itchy toe or something, Labor and Shaw will vote down the government in any such division, irrespective of who moves the motion.

Napthine and the Coalition should proceed on that basis: the forces ranged against them are playing for keeps, and will cut the Coalition no slack.

Prepare the ground, set the scene, and then engineer the big bang at the end. Lose the vote in Parliament, and an election option becomes a reality.

The alternative is for the torrid state Parliament to drag on for the next eight months, and whilst Napthine has a good chance of short-circuiting what is obviously a co-ordinated strategy against him now, if it goes on for months, that window will be much more difficult to keep open.

A cool head and quick, resolute action could well win Napthine a second term as Premier, and an election victory in his own right.

If he plays this correctly, the only “clown” in the tent will be Andrews: and there won’t be anything to laugh about at Victorian Labor once the final act is finished.