Reserving Judgement: Malcolm Turnbull’s Latest Reshuffle

THE LATEST reshuffle of Cabinet — necessitated, of course, by the departure of Sussan Ley — is questionable, and any judgement of the arrangement should be deferred; Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has chosen to eschew a comprehensive overhaul of a line-up that has mostly failed to fire since the election, rewarding leadership supporters as usual, and delivering a double kick in the guts to Tony Abbott. Yet again, the portents are not good.

This evening’s piece will be relatively brief; I have partially completed something of an omnibus piece on the government as a whole, and once this is finished, it will be published: it probably would have been up during the day today, but thinks to the interference little children are wont to run when “big people” are visibly occupied with something, I ran out of time before needing to head out this morning. Any parent reading will understand.

But despite the news that Greg Hunt is to be Australia’s new Health minister being the worst-kept secret in politics for some time, there is very little to get excited about where Malcolm Turnbull’s latest, involuntary ministerial reshuffle is concerned; it is one thing to be pushed into a corner by an unavoidable ministerial departure, but — in the broader context of a clearly misfiring government — it is another matter altogether to fail to use that inconvenience to make more widespread changes.

Watching the Coalition at work (and this was also true during the tenure of Tony Abbott) is akin to watching a very poor imitation of a decent political drama; you can almost hear the stock lines jumping out from the screen, things like “simply stand firm” and references to nights of long knives that ultimately land in the (metaphorical) skull of the leader who wields them.

“Cynical club of cronies” is another such line that is especially pertinent where Turnbull is concerned; once again, the chief beneficiaries have all been MPs who voted for dear old Malcolm at his successful leadership coup, and if Turnbull wonders why the conservative wing of the party despises him (and especially at the grassroots level, without which the Liberal Party would be unable to fight effective election campaigns), perhaps his penchant for stacking the frontbench more and more heavily with sycophants could provide a clue.

In making Hunt Health minister, Turnbull has — whether he realises it or not — probably marked him out as his preferred long-term successor; after all, Julie Bishop (solid ministerial record aside) is anathema to the Liberals’ parliamentary conservative wing now on account of being seen to have been not quite straight with her involvement in the Turnbull coup, and Treasurer Scott Morrison’s prospects are…well, they’re the collateral damage sustained from the ridiculous tax reform “debate” during the top half of last year. Beyond that, it’s hard to imagine who, on the moderate side of the party, might step forward when the time comes with a better or more persuasive claim.

But Hunt comes with risks; Turnbull and his mouthpieces have been out and about today, spruiking him as “the son and husband of nurses” — whatever that is meant to matter — whilst a willing press and a ready onslaught from the ALP conspired to quickly remind everyone that just like his predecessor, Hunt faces questions emanating from unclarified travel expense claims that ought to be resolved. More on that shortly.

When it comes to the utterances of opposition “leader” Bill Shorten, on this issue or any other, he should simply be ignored.

Moving Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinis — another Turnbull man — into the Industry portfolio comes with risks; after all, he was so swiftly demoted a couple of years ago as Assistant Treasurer, when caught up in an ICAC scandal over which it was found he had no case to answer, that he remains a virtual ministerial neophyte despite his years running John Howard’s office when the latter was PM himself.

Turnbull failed to resist the opportunity to aim a kick at Abbott and his former Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, noting that Sinodinis’ duties as Cabinet Secretary would return to being a function of his office rather than a ministerial post; saying that as proper process had “been restored” to the functions of a Cabinet Secretary on Sinodinis’ watch, there was no longer the need to assign a minister to them. It was a cheap crack that was as unnecessary as it is likely to fuel the grievances of those MPs who viscerally loathe the sight of Turnbull.

This slight, of course, was the doubling down on the failure to offer Abbott a frontbench position at all, despite the fact that whatever risks might have flowed from doing so, Abbott is more capable as a minister than most of the current frontbench — and was proven as such during the Howard years.

But when sycophancy rules, as it does in the Turnbull government, such distinctions are pointless.

Promoting Ken Wyatt to Aged Care and Indigenous Health is an unknown; good luck to him. But really, about the only unequivocally nice thing that can be said about Turnbull’s reshuffle is that he (wisely) resisted calls to make a female backbencher Health minister: any untried backbencher, female or otherwise, is a completely unfit option for such a senior, politically sensitive and central domestic portfolio — and those who make these brainless, unreasoning calls need to have a Bex and a lie down, and temper the blind gender crusade with more than a little dash of reality.

But Turnbull has left a slew of good people languishing either on the backbench or the outer reaches of the ministry — Dan Tehan, Angus Taylor, Alan Tudge — presumably for the sin of remaining loyal to Abbott when others were prepared to pay their 30 pieces of silver in September 2015.

And he has left liabilities like the chronically underperforming Kelly O’Dwyer, and the rank political embarrassment that George Brandis has come to represent for the government as Attorney-General, right where they are: but then again, they voted for Turnbull in 2015 as well.

For the sake of the Liberal Party and the country, I hope that the piecemeal fiddling Turnbull has engaged in today really does add just enough oomph! to his ministry to kickstart its capacity to generate political momentum; God knows, political momentum is something Malcolm has spent nearly 18 months pissing away, and now has none.

I’m unenthusiastic, to be sure.

But with several continuing ministers under the cloud stirred up over the travel rorts affair — in addition to a raft of ALP identities who have sensibly kept quiet in the hope of not being noticed — if Turnbull does not follow today’s announcements up with an immediate, rigorous and genuinely independent audit and review of all MPs’ travel expenditure claims, his government might be right back in the same situation it was a week ago before another week is out.

Readers will forgive the obvious lack of confidence I have in today’s reshuffle, but in the final analysis, we have been here with Malcolm before and, as sure as night follows day, we will be here again.

 

 

Tony Abbott And His Cohorts Dishonoured Australian Conservatism

AS 2016 takes early steps toward post-silly season normality, a ministerial reshuffle looms as the first task of the Turnbull government; far from finding a portfolio for Tony Abbott — who really ought to leave Parliament — those on the Liberal Right must accept their deposed leader, and the coterie assembled by him on their behalf, dishonoured Australian conservatism at a time this country most needed sound, orthodox Tory governance.

Today, I’m not interested in the ghastly (and to some degree, self-inflicted) problems Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull faces when he returns from his Christmas holiday; if Jamie Briggs can’t keep his hands to himself on a work’s outing, or if the risk of appointing Mal Brough to Cabinet whilst under federal police investigation has blown up in Turnbull’s face, or if Peter Dutton continues to substantiate the error of leaving him in Cabinet, those matters are ones that will sort themselves out in the fullness of time.

And of course, there’s no need to talk about Turnbull’s defective political judgement. Not today, at least.

This morning’s essay is lengthy; partly to atone for going walkabout these past few days, but also because it’s high time we covered this subject thoroughly.

I remain as committed as ever to the principles of reasonable, moderate, mainstream Conservatism, and believe passionately and without reserve that these offer the very best model for government in a liberal democratic society, ensuring all boats are lifted as the tide rises, and providing a bulwark against its inevitable ebb and flow.

But the tremendous opportunity that was delivered on 7 September 2013 was summarily squandered, in a thousand steps before and after, in a pantomime and a farce that could hardly be described as conservative, and which brought great dishonour to the conservative cause. It will be many years before such an opportunity again presents itself.

I was reading an article from Brisbane’s Courier Mail yesterday, and it behoves me to opine just what a failure and a disappointment the Abbott government was; all but the most recent readers of this column will know I was a staunch advocate of Tony Abbott for 20 years before he became Prime Minister, and for much of his subsequent ill-fated tenure in that post.

But the Abbott government — to paraphrase former Liberal Party member and fellow online columnist Andrew Elder — was a fuck-up, and far from finding Abbott a portfolio in Malcolm Turnbull’s Cabinet now a couple of foreseeable accidents have come to fruition, I think that not only should those of us on the mainstream Right call time on Abbott’s career, but that those among us who refuse to see the reality should also recognise that the path he led Australian Conservatism down was destined to end in disaster.

That’s not a prescient judgement on the likely fortunes of the government under Turnbull — although those, too, could well end in catastrophe — but had Turnbull not overthrown Abbott, the likelihood of electoral defeat this year was very high indeed.

I have little time for the quasi-socialist politics of Malcolm Turnbull, but I’m pragmatic enough to accept that — provided he gets his finger out and battles off to Government House in the next few weeks — his opinion poll numbers are likely to translate into a sizeable election victory, the question of what might follow notwithstanding.

Yet when possibly the most inappropriate candidate for the Prime Ministership since Doc Evatt 60 years ago can spend 18 months maintaining election-winning leads in every reputable opinion poll — the average of which, at 54% for the ALP, represents a 7.6% swing and 90 seats in the House of Representatives, a 35-seat gain — the truth, however unpalatable, of the utter failure of what was meant to be a conservative government simply cannot be ignored or glossed over.

To be sure, the fault for this was simultaneously Abbott’s alone and the fault of many people around him; Abbott personally must carry the can in terms of responsibility for the truncation of his political career, but many others are equally, if not more, to blame than he is, albeit not invested with the Prime Ministerial imprimatur that rested in Abbott himself.

The conservative model of low taxes, small government, strong national defences, low government spending, less government intrusion into ordinary people’s lives, more choice, national pride and a tight ship encompasses proven values that work; one look at the booming British economy (which, after nearly six years of Tory government, is outperforming almost every other OECD country, including Australia) is enough to appreciate the fruits these principles can bear if soundly implemented.

In many respects, the circumstances in which the Conservative Party took office in the UK in 2010 are reflected in those that prevailed when Abbott won office here in 2013.

Both faced rocketing public debt and recurrent spending obligations bequeathed them by Labour/Labor predecessors. Both faced collapsing revenue bases, the British government thanks to the Global Financial Crisis, which knocked the stuffing out of its economy; the Abbott government on account of the progressive (and now near-total) collapse of record commodity prices. Both inherited burgeoning, ballooning welfare bills that extended largesse and profligacy on the clear but deadly assumption that the requisite “boom times” to pay for them would never end. And both governments inherited budgets that were haemorrhaging red ink, meaning the only way to pay for Labour’s/Labor’s “civilised” social spending was to borrow the cash: mostly from the Arabs, in the case of the UK, and from China, here in Australia.

I don’t intend to continue the comparison with Britain throughout this article, although by way of summary it should be pointed out that the British economy — now growing at an annualised rate of 3% and set to accelerate this year — is generating hundreds of thousands of jobs per year; the budget deficit the Cameron government inherited (far worse than anything we’ve seen in this country) has been cut by two-thirds, and will be eliminated altogether by 2018; income and business taxes are being cut; welfare spending has been reined in, streamlined into a single universal benefit payment, and capped at payments per household of 80% of the average annual British wage (£21,000 per year, or $43,000); business has been incentivised not just to hire people, but to invest within Britain and in opportunities abroad that can generate revenue and other benefits for the UK; and the damage 13 years of Labour government inflicted in the form of defence cuts and downsizing (at a time of heightened international instability, and not least where Europe, NATO and Russia are concerned) is beginning to be undone. The British national debt pile of £1.5 trillion ($3.3 trillion) will begin to be repaid from 2020: not according to fanciful “estimates” that extend four years and are constantly revised into the never-never, but on account of substantiable economies in government outlays that will return the UK to surplus within the next three years.

It’s an impressive achievement.

But just as the Abbott government had the (exceedingly hostile) Senate to contend with, the Cameron government arguably faced even greater obstacles: a left-leaning coalition partner of necessity until May last year in the form of the Liberal Democrats, for one thing, whose chief effect was to impede the reinvigoration of the British economy with no better objection than the rate of change. An intellectually dishonest separatist movement in Scotland, led by a man whose hatred of the English borders on the pathological, and which would have bankrupted Scotland and caused great upheaval throughout what was left of the UK. European Union “partners” who have spent decades making it abundantly clear they do not regard Britain as “European,” but whose hands eagerly pocket more than £2bn every year in payments from the UK to fund the swollen EU bureaucracy and its insidious, slithering intrusion into all aspects of the governance and societies of its constituent countries. And last but by no means least, the basket case status of many of Britain’s neighbours — not least its nearest, Ireland, which continues to teeter on bankruptcy — means that the UK has hardly been operating in the most propitious economic circumstances (or trading environment) in its own region for the duration to date of the Conservative government.

The reason I relate all of this, before moving to the thrust of my argument today, is to illustrate just how divergent two Centre-Right governments taking office in very similar situations can be; David Cameron’s government isn’t perfect, and I don’t think British Conservatives would claim as much. But the enviable record it is able to boast is one that should shame the Right in this country. It had one obstacle: the Senate. Yet with just about everything else stacked in its favour, it was (as Elder has often reiterated) a monumental fuck-up during its tenure in office.

It is easy to point the finger at wrecker and troublemaker Clive Palmer: after all, the three Senate spots his stupid grudge party won in 2013 in WA, Tasmania and Queensland would all have likely been won by the Liberal Party (or the Nationals) had Palmer not stomped out of the Coalition tent because he couldn’t control Queensland’s LNP government; had it won them, the Coalition would have been two seats shy of a Senate majority, with at least one friendly crossbencher (Family First’s Bob Day) putting it halfway toward passing whatever bills it liked provided it accommodated Day’s concerns.

Yet the fact it didn’t points to the defective “brains” trust at the Liberals’ federal secretariat — and, to varying degrees, their counterparts in state divisions of the party across the country — who were loyal to Abbott and the party’s Right, but who proved completely inept at running an election campaign for the Senate that mitigated against the onslaught of the bellicose tyrant Palmer. The Coalition has paid for this ineptitude ever since.

At a time of rising public sector debt, collapsing revenues and increased recurrent spending that will continue to increase exponentially as the National Disability Insurance Scheme soon adds $24bn to the annual pile of outgoings, it is clear this country blundered badly into trouble by electing a Labor government at all in 2007.

Far from substantiating the solemn assurances of fiscal “conservatism” pledged by Kevin Rudd, as he sought to sell himself as “John Howard lite,” the ALP quickly embarked on a tax, borrow and spend binge that cannot be justified or explained away by glibly pointing at the Global Financial Crisis — irrespective of whatever vapid claims to competence are uttered by Rudd, his useless Treasurer Wayne Swan, or their replacements in Julia Gillard and Chris Bowen.

But that’s history; the Abbott-led Liberal Party had three years to make comprehensive plans for a return to office after the stunning near-miss it achieved against Gillard in 2010, or nearly four years if you instead start the clock from the day Abbott succeeded Turnbull as Liberal leader in 2009: arguably the day Labor’s defeat became a matter of “when,” not “if.”

Armed with idiot-simple slogans and an apparatus for destroying an uber-popular government ahead of time, Abbott and his coterie duly set forth.

There were big targets, and big hits were landed — think the “great big new (carbon) tax” that Julia Gillard explicitly promised not to introduce but went ahead and legislated anyway, in a sop to the Communist Party Greens (who were a big liability to Labor in their own right), and Wayne Swan’s botched mining tax, which unbelievably raised no revenue — to say nothing of the permanent state of warfare over the ALP leadership and thus the Prime Ministership.

There were controversies, such as the “Ditch the Witch” fiasco and Julia Gillard’s reprehensibly dishonest “misogyny” speech, which even now very few people realise was a defence of then-Speaker Peter Slipper after the latter had been found out for sending filthy text messages about female genitalia.

There were also colossal campaign mistakes that, in hindsight, offered a very large pointer to the dysfunction likely to beset an Abbott government if it materialised, like the shopping list of things Abbott explicitly guaranteed would be immune from spending cuts if he won the election. Yes, the silly statement was offset by a catch-all that followed, elaborating that if “things are worse than we believe they are” once the Coalition took office then all bets were off. But the first statement was the one that resonated. It was a gaffe that should never have been made.

In and amongst those instances of bad judgement on the part of Turnbull we’re not going to discuss, one notably shining exception stands out: the decision to remove Peta Credlin as his Chief of Staff, replacing her with journalist Chris Kenny a year before he lost the Liberal leadership; as subsequent events would show, this one action — irrespective of the errors and misfortunes that persisted within Turnbull’s office — was the only opportunity that would be open to the Liberal Party for almost seven years to get rid of an ingrained problem.

That the demotion was reversed when Abbott won the leadership, and Credlin restored as Chief of Staff to the opposition leader, sowed the seeds of the pitiful failure of the Conservatism Australian electors would vote overwhelmingly in favour of in September 2013.

Abbott — in his various defences of his deeply divisive and rightly loathed adviser — memorably described Credlin as “the smartest and fiercest political warrior (he’s) known,” and perhaps in some respects she was, and is. But political warriors fight political fights. Governance of a country like Australia is an altogether different task than fighting the petty political blood feuds prosecuted by an ascendant opposition.

There is a school of thought that says Abbott — who was initially confronted by a new-ish Labor government sitting on well above 55% of the two-party vote in opinion polls, and who tore that government down in two reasonable anti-Labor swings totalling 6.3% — was the most effective opposition leader this country has ever produced.

Certainly, the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd outfit had been so comprehensively trashed by the time the 2013 election rolled around that it was deeply panicked about “saving furniture.” But how much of the dysfunction within the ALP was self-inflicted and how much the result of Abbott and Credlin’s efforts is a matter for conjecture, especially as Labor today remains a deeply defective political outfit under the “leadership” of an ex-union grub who makes the likes of Evatt and another former Labor leader, Mark Latham, appear positively sane and rational by contrast.

Whatever the means, the end result is that Abbott arrived as Prime Minister with a huge task ahead of his government to restore public finances to a sustainable footing, as well as (famously) to stop the flow of asylum seeker boats, get rid of Labor’s hated carbon tax, repeal the pointless and investment-destroying mining tax, and to wind back the profligate waste and unrestrained spending spree Labor, under Swan, had imprudently embarked upon.

Right from the outset, the Senate was an impediment that might have been avoided: in another glimpse into the future, the federal Liberals had fought a campaign that whilst delivering government, had singularly failed to deal with the rising menace of Clive Palmer: little (or no) attempt was made in the runup to polling day to confront the Palmer United Party head-on, and this failure underscores a methodology that was repeatedly revisited in the aftermath of the election.

Sometimes, in democratic politics, it is necessary to confront rivals and opponents directly; one of the criticisms I have repeatedly made of my own party in the past few years is that it houses far too many insiders and apparatchiks who think they’re Francis Urquhart. The notion that “the worst humiliation is not to be taken seriously” is well and good, but in failing to attack Palmer or to deal with the threat he posed, the Liberals ceded three Senate berths to his God-forsaken rabble that would otherwise have been their own.

Where Senate elections are concerned, red herrings like Clive Palmer only have to be relevant for the metaphoric five minutes of an election campaign to encumber the country — and the government — for six years. The three Senators elected on the Palmer ticket may have fragmented, but two remain almost implacably opposed to the government’s agenda whilst the third is at best unpredictable. All three form a potent political pretext for a double dissolution election to at least try to improve the government’s Senate position and prematurely terminate their six-year tenures.

Early on, the Abbott government showed some promise; the consolidation of revenue arrangements and the recapitalisation of the Reserve Bank that were undertaken by Joe Hockey as treasurer were a good start.

Yet another necessary move by Hockey — abolishing the debt ceiling to accommodate the unstoppable ballooning of debt that was a direct consequence of years of Labor mismanagement — was allowed, by the Coalition, to be framed unchallenged as an “increase in debt” by the ALP under its insidious new leader. It was yet another pointer to the likelihood that when the real business of governing moved into full swing, the Abbott outfit would prove ineffectual at best at either implementing its agenda adroitly or, tellingly, at selling it.

A Commission of Audit report, which (as expected) found the state of the country’s books was far worse than anything Swan or Rudd or Gillard had had the honesty or integrity to admit, was finalised and delivered by January 2014; for reasons that were never explained and which are beyond belief anyway, Hockey sat on this report until a matter of days prior to his first budget, instead of using it — as Peter Costello had done 18 years earlier — to comprehensively shred whatever remnants of perceived competence the ALP still retained publicly.

This failure to fully expose the disastrous misadventure in economic stewardship that had been six years of abysmal Labor government is a fundamental mistake that still hobbles the government today, even after Abbott and Hockey have been dispatched from their positions of authority.

But look around what was the Abbott ministry: there were plenty of wanton duds occupying plenty of the blue-ribbon seats.

There was Hockey, delivering a budget that increased taxes and spending; to the extent it cut spending at all — and with an eye to the Senate, it wasn’t by much — Hockey’s abysmal 2014 effort broke every rule in the political book by targeting floating voters in marginal Coalition-held constituencies.

There was Kevin Andrews, in Social Services, who seemed to turn not just every welfare-addicted handout recipient against the government (without actually doing much to hurt them) but also every fair-minded person in the country who listened to the vacuous diatribes of the ALP and who had real compassion for people worse off than themselves whose lot they were convinced was set to be made much harder.

Perhaps Andrews’ free marriage counselling voucher program was designed for couples whose marriages were pushed to breaking point by his welfare and family services changes.

There was Peter Dutton — lucky in my view, as readers might have guessed, to be in Cabinet under Turnbull at all — who managed to take a straightforward $5 co-payment for GP visits (which, anecdotal evidence early in 2014 suggested, would be tolerated in the community) and to turn it into an oddly figured, compounding $7 charge that would apply to GP visits, and radiology, and pathology services, and heaven knows what else. It was complicated, confusing, and was said to be destined to fund a $20 billion medical research trust that defied the notion of paying down government debt in the first place.

There was “Industry Assistance” minister Ian Macfarlane — so sure of his own adequacy and value to a conservative government that he tried to jump the fence to the Nationals just weeks after finalising his preselection for the Liberal Party — whose idea of industry policy was to stand shoulder to shoulder with unions as an advocate for bottomless, endless buckets of cash to prop up in perpetuity an inefficient and internationally uncompetitive manufacturing industry that swallowed billions of dollars every year with nothing to show except jobs that were bought by government from the companies that provided them, rather than jobs that were sustainable.

Macfarlane followed that effort up, of course, by advocating more millions to be poured into a small, loss-making division of a conglomerate that cumulatively generated hundreds of millions of dollars in profits the previous year.

There was Eric Abetz in Workplace Relations Employment, promising a minimalist approach to labour market reform so as not to awaken the sleeping WorkChoices scare campaign of the ALP and the unions (which would have been trundled out irrespective), who — when the promised Productivity Commission report that he solemnly swore the government would adopt the recommendations of materialised — disappeared to hide in the toilet the instant blathering Bill Shorten began whining about “fairness” and “cruelty” over the suggested minor changes contained in that report.

There was Attorney-General George Brandis, who once questions around travel allowances and library entitlements were cleared up, proved spectacularly unable to articulate clearly, simply and concisely a) what metadata was, b) what the government’s approach to it actually meant, and c) how the provisions it legislated to collect/store/monitor metadata were consistent with a government championing freedom, personal choice and the rolling back of state intrusion from people’s lives.

There was Christopher Pyne in Education, whose moderate education reforms were screamed down by students on campuses across Australia, backed — incongruously and ridiculously — by demonstrating construction workers from militant unions whose connection to the reforms was unclear, but who nonetheless brought capital city CBD areas to a halt for several hours at a time in “solidarity” with the students.

There was a heavy-handed (but justified) get-square crusade against anti-Coalition bias at the ABC, which can’t even bring itself to provide equal numbers of representatives from the Left and Right on its loathsome “adventure in democracy” panel programme, QandA: and there was Malcolm Turnbull as Communications minister who singularly failed to rein the ABC in, which instead engaged known sympathisers of the Left to conduct a review that concluded the Left, itself, had in fact been discriminated against. Christ alive!

There was David Johnston in Defence, who helpfully pointed out that the South Australian shipbuilding industry couldn’t build “a canoe.”

Then there was Kevin Andrews — again — in Defence, after Johnston was forced to walk the plank; not content with effecting one reprise of his botched performance in charge of WorkChoices under Howard, this time he set about performing a second, with the letting of a contract to build replacements for the accident-ridden Collins class submarines all but turned into an international debacle.

And sitting in the Speaker’s chair was Bronwyn Bishop (and I cringe every time I recall jumping enthusiastically on the “Bronwyn for PM” bandwagon in 1994, like most otherwise sane Liberals around the place did at that time, only to jump back off just as enthusiastically shortly thereafter) whose idea of small government clearly did not extend to exercising any sense of frugality where “official” travel arrangements were concerned.

If I’ve offended anyone by leaving them out, I’m very sorry. (If your name is Andrew Robb — one of the finest ministers of the Crown to ever hold office in this country — then you are summarily excused from this assessment).

But someone had to carry the can for all these “accomplishments,” and that someone is Tony Abbott; for a Rhodes scholar with degrees in Law and Economics, an excellent pedigree of ministerial service under John Howard, and solid credentials as a conservative thinker, Abbott — for all the promise he showed — was a great big disappointment.

People can point the finger at Credlin all they like (and I’ve been wont to do it often enough); amateurish, micromanaging to an obsession and completely out of her depth, Credlin — and the structures she was given the authority and the freedom to erect around Abbott and the government — bears a disproportionate share of the responsibility for the failure of the Abbott government.

Ministers were berated just out of sight of cameras if they didn’t accurately parrot the lines she gave them. Their staff were more or less hand-picked by her, with more of an emphasis on pliability and obedience than on actual competence in doing their jobs. Credlin seemed to think she was of Cabinet rank (she wasn’t) and was stoutly defended for too long by Abbott against (wholly appropriate) objections from Cabinet ministers over her presence in the Cabinet room. Advisers responsible for media management, communication, and the sales and marketing functions of the government — assembled on her authority — were completely incompetent, for as defective as the activities of the Abbott government mostly were, there were nevertheless enough saleable points to mount a case for them.

Monitoring opinion polls over an 18-month period consistently reflected the utter uselessness of such efforts. If, some days, it even appeared any effort had been made at all.

All of these things, and much more, were within Credlin’s remit; all of them were monumental fuck-ups. As I have said before, Credlin was given both the most senior non-elected job in Australian politics and the freedom and authority with which to carry it out. The resulting Armageddon is one for which she can only blame herself: nothing to do with “sexism” or “misogyny” or whether her name is spelt “P-E-T-E-R.” Credlin was an utter failure, and the ultimate responsibility for her lay with Abbott himself.

I knew it was all over for Abbott just weeks after he survived the “challenge without a candidate” (and said so at the time — the article has a date on it, you see). By the time his involuntary demise rolled around almost seven months later, I was resolute that he — and the “support” axis of Credlin and her husband, federal Liberal Party director Brian Loughnane, and those closest to them — had to go.

My only reticence was the likely victor in any contest to replace him — the current Prime Minister — and whilst I did not support Turnbull, just about any other candidate who stood in his place would probably have received a ringing endorsement from this column.

Time will tell if my historic critique of Turnbull rings true or not: loyalty to the Liberal Party dictates that I give him a fair hearing with a clean slate. I think there are some ominous signs that the “old” Turnbull has learned nothing; that he never really went away. But for now at least, Turnbull’s performance sees his overall tally at just the right side of the balance sheet.

Yet whether Turnbull succeeds in the longer run or not, his peculiar blend of social democracy and small “l” liberalism does not equal a conservative government, and nor will it deliver one. Ironically, however, if Turnbull delivers a moderate liberal programme, he will have exhibited fidelity to his beliefs. The same cannot be said of Abbott and his coterie.

It has been fashionable on the Left (and among others elsewhere who don’t know any better) to deride the Abbott government as a “far Right” government: it was nothing of the sort. It implemented big increases in taxes and social spending. It targeted families. It proposed burdening business to pay for yet more social spending. It did nothing to roll back the march of Big Brother into the lives of ordinary, decent folk, nor to roll back the creeping, insidious slither of socialism through every facet of Australian society. Like most points of principle, it botched what should have been an obvious and praiseworthy position on free speech — not least because Brandis effectively gave licence to the government’s opponents to smear it as bigoted. And to the extent any cuts (real, perceived, or imaginatively engineered by Labor despite failing to legislate certain items of “funding” in the first place) could possibly be characterised as right-wing, they weren’t adequately explained or even convincingly positioned as budget savings measures.

For those readers who missed it at the top of my piece today, here’s the article from the Courier Mail again: aside from the fact its author apparently affords a modicum of respect to the ghastly Senator Sarah “Accidents Happen” Hanson-Young, I find it difficult to argue with any of the points she has made.

As the clamour among some conservative Liberals for Abbott to be given a frontbench spot in Turnbull’s impending reshuffle grows, certain realities need to be accepted, however unpalatable they might seem and no matter how regretfully such conclusions are drawn.

Abbott is a good man, a decent man, and has been outrageously accused of all kinds of things that simply aren’t and never were true. People like Julia Gillard and her “handbag hit squad” should be ashamed of themselves, but this is scarcely the point: whether you like him or detest him for whatever reason, Abbott is human too.

In the most immediate sense, Abbott being restored to the ministry would almost certainly see the return of Credlin to the ministerial wing: an opportunity cost in harnessing the former PM’s experience that is simply too high to countenance in view of what has transpired over the past couple of years.

I offer no opinion on whether there would be “undermining” going on or not. After the precedent set by Gillard and Rudd, however, and with passions on the Liberal Right still simmering explosively four months after his dumping, the best thing for all concerned — Abbott included — would be to avoid the situation altogether.

And just as the men and women who served — dismally — under Abbott are good and decent people, the unrestrained anger of none of them is a suitable pretext to revisit that situation.

Blame the Senate? Fine, but the astute approach would have been to systematically stockpile double dissolution triggers from the moment the government took office, “just in case;” there should be enough of them in hand to throw them like confetti at the Governor-General along with advice of an election for both Houses of Parliament. Instead, it did deals with anyone prepared to cut them — often Palmer — that delivered in some instances worse outcomes in terms of the budget than if there had been no deal at all. There is now only a few months remaining for a double dissolution to be called, if there is to be one. To date, the Coalition has accrued just two potential triggers — the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Registered Organisations bill — and of those, the validity of the former isn’t even clear, rejected as it was once by the pre-July 2014 Senate, and once by the Senate that sat from 1 July of that year.

So blaming the Senate only cuts so much ice when in reality, it was tactically and strategically mishandled from the start.

Abbott has a handful of achievements to be rightly proud of, and to point to, but the tragic reality is that two years of governance in his name left Australia — already in desperate need of sound, decisive, astute conservative leadership — in a worse state than when he took charge.

Painful as it is to admit it, the Abbott government dishonoured the conservative vision and badly damaged its image in the eyes of an already sceptical, jaded electorate.

News reports at the weekend suggested another of the Abbott-Credlin-Loughnane junta — Loughnane’s deputy at the Liberal federal secretariat and its former assistant federal director, Julian Sheezel — has got it into his head that he should occupy the number one position on the Liberals’ Senate ticket for Victoria at this year’s election.

I’ve known Julian for more than 25 years, and when I say I’m ambivalent, I mean it: but for those Liberals already looking for an avenue to make some kind of protest against the manner of Abbott’s dumping but wishing to keep it in-house, Sheezel at the top of the Coalition’s joint Senate ticket in Victoria would offer an almost irresistible argument to vote for the National Party candidates on the ticket, to number all the squares — however tedious — and to place Sheezel last.

After all, a clean break should be just that: and just as Abbott and Credlin and Loughnane had to go, so too should those of their most senior lieutenants behind the scenes whose opportunities to serve arguably should have ended with Abbott’s commission as Prime Minister.

Sheezel accepted a job as chief of staff to new minister Kelly O’Dwyer just two months ago, and took a leave of absence from it just as retiring Senator Michael Ronaldson (and number one position holder on the Senate ticket) announced he was quitting.

Aside from the breathtaking arrogance it suggests and the failure to make any attempt whatsoever to disguise the naked ambition that accompanies it, if that doesn’t sound like a repeat of the same defective methods that have turned Conservatism into a dirty word in this country — and by one of their practitioners, no less — then I don’t know what is.

 

Possible Abbott Reshuffle, And A Not-At-All Idle Threat

WHISPERS OF A RESHUFFLE in the Abbott government raise several tantalising scenarios, but whichever way you cut it — especially after the botch made of a similar exercise late last year — a reshuffle ahead of a scheduled 2016 election would cap a stunning return to form. Even so, one rumoured change would prompt your columnist’s immediate resignation from the Liberal Party on principle, and issue a nationwide call to arms for support.

I want to talk this morning about a bit of chatter I have been hearing around the place for a little while, and which has now found its way into the mainstream press through an article in today’s edition of the Herald Sun in Melbourne; it centres on a possible reshuffle of the Abbott ministry — the second since it came to office — and provided such an undertaking avoided (or, to be sure, corrected) the glaring mistakes and misjudgements of the one that was badly botched late last year, a reshuffle should be regarded as good news indeed.

The very fact another reshuffle is being contemplated, with the Coalition’s position in reputable polling continuing a slow but steady recovery this year, is a triumph over the opposition “led” by Bill Shorten; twelve months ago a sizeable number of the sound political minds I regularly pick — the ones prepared to offer honest off-the-record opinions, that is, rather than regurgitating party-line crap — agreed with my own view that thanks primarily to Joe Hockey’s woeful 2014 budget (with a few peripheral contributions from elsewhere to round out the self-inflicted hit on the government), the Abbott government was terminal.

Perhaps it will yet prove to be so; but if it doesn’t, nobody should be under any illusion that Shorten, Labor, and their ghastly masters at Traders Hall are driving much of the government’s recovery: it would be dangerous to believe, for now at least, that Abbott’s outfit is held in fonder regard on its merits by voters.

And less than six months ago, with the state election debacle in Queensland the precursor to an ill-fated move against Abbott as Liberal leader and Prime Minister, the government’s fate seemed all but sealed: Malcolm Turnbull was (and is) a red herring in the leadership stakes, but under his or anyone else’s prospective leadership the Coalition appeared doomed.

So here we are: the government trails Labor after preferences by just a few points, when it had lagged by 15 points; a reshuffle would enable Abbott to finally clear out some deadwood from his frontbench once and for all, and to promote some of the embarrassment of new talent that has until now languished on the backbench.

The cynic in me does allot more than a passing thought to the prospect that talk of a reshuffle could be used as cover to bring on a snap election; after all, Shorten has pretty much passed his useful lifespan as Labor “leader” (if there was ever anything useful about him at all, that is) and with his date to answer questions arising from damning testimony at the Royal Commission into the unions — and his role in alleged events in his past life as head of the AWU — drawing closer, it seems Labor is boxed in by Shorten and the rank embarrassment the unions are now proving on the one hand, and the odious, messy and protracted process that getting rid of him before an election would entail on the other.

Talking about a reshuffle might tempt Labor hardheads to calculate replacing Shorten is a worthwhile exercise. In those circumstances, it would be a dreadful surprise for the Liberal Party to spring by calling an election whilst the ALP was amidships in its silly leadership ballot process and effectively devoid of a leader to fight an election with.

Wouldn’t it? 🙂

Assuming, however, we are talking about a reshuffle ahead of an election no earlier than, say, May, here’s the good news.

As the Herald Sun article notes, the first cab off the rank to get it in the neck would be Industry minister Ian Macfarlane — or the “Minister for Industry Assistance” as this column has known him ever since he saw fit to plead for more government money to prop up the car industry — despite billions of taxpayer dollars having disappeared into the endless black hole of union-negotiated enterprise agreements that delivered ridiculous and unjustifiable largesse to those workers covered by them, but which meant that every time the grants were increased manufacturers still couldn’t turn a profit because more and more money disappeared into “renegotiated” wage agreements that just happened to mirror the size of those increases.

The sooner Macfarlane is put out to pasture, the better.

Defence minister Kevin Andrews can’t be too far behind him, having botched Workplace Relations under the Howard government, botched Social Services under Abbott, and underwhelmed in his present portfolio.

Treasurer Joe Hockey — someone I like enormously, but who is clearly out of his depth as Treasurer (a sentiment known to be shared by several of his Cabinet colleagues privately) — should not be sacked, but moved to another portfolio, perhaps Defence, whilst Malcolm Turnbull or Scott Morrison are promoted to take his place.

But I would go further than the obvious names being bandied around; Senate leader Eric Abetz has been a solid servant for the Coalition, but has barely landed a glove on either the ALP or the unions — nor advanced anything constructive by way of industrial relations policy on the government’s behalf — in his role as Employment minister.

His deputy, George Brandis QC — an intelligent operator who ranked among the Liberals’ best performers in opposition, only to become one of the party’s greatest political liabilities in office — should perhaps be redeployed to a post less directly responsible for prosecuting the case to spread freedom and liberal rights: his “freedom to be a bigot” remarks were surely among the worst publicity the government has attracted, and his attempts to explain the government’s metadata laws were confusing at best. Unfortunately these have not been Senator Brandis’ only unhelpful contributions as a minister.

And Howard era figures who have scarcely set the world on fire, like Small Business minister Bruce Billson and Health-turned-Immigration minister Peter Dutton, would scarcely be missed by the electorate if they were moved on to open opportunities for fresh talent.

Of course, the inevitable potential retirements are spoken of, for nothing lasts forever; chief among them is veteran National Party leader and deputy PM Warren Truss, who — at 66 — is being implored by some to stay for another term in Parliament to ward off the “threat” Barnaby Joyce could take his place.

Joyce comes with problems and limitations — like Truss — but unbelievably for someone who was a magnet for public ridicule when he first entered the Senate a decade ago, cut-through and positive sentiment in the electorate are not among them.

But the Coalition’s next generation of stars, drawn from the backbench and the ranks of existing parliamentary secretaries and “Ministers Assisting” — Angus Taylor, Christian Porter, Kelly O’Dwyer, Bridget McKenzie, Dan Tehan, Steve Ciobo, Sarah Henderson and Michaelia Cash, among others — should stand to compete for numerous vacancies as ministers in their own right in any reshuffle, and the short- and long-term political health and policy vigour of the Coalition would benefit immeasurably from a substantial injection of this impressive new talent at senior levels.

Of course, and discounting any surprise election announcement altogether, such a reshuffle — properly executed — could take the Coalition to the polls next year with a team that would set it up for a decade of competent, effective, and electorally popular government.

The one other change I want to touch on is the situation of Trade minister Andrew Robb; undoubtedly one of the top-tier standouts of the Abbott government, Robb, like other long-serving Liberal MPs, faces the ceaseless pressure of the passage of time: soon to turn 64, it is hard to fathom he would serve any more than a single additional parliamentary term: if, that is, he stands at the next election at all.

Robb is also my local MP, as member for Goldstein: the electorate I have lived either in or adjacent to (in the neighbouring seat of Melbourne Ports) ever since I moved to Melbourne 17 years ago.

The article I’ve shared from the Herald Sun today suggests Robb could replace former Labor leader Kim Beazley as Australia’s ambassador to the United States, and were this to occur he would go with my very best wishes on a deserved appointment indeed, and his tenure in that role would ensure Australia’s interests in the US are well represented — just as they have been by Beazley, to be clear.

But under this scenario — which would see Robb head across the Pacific late this year — a by-election would need to be held in Goldstein and, despite repeated denials of interest in a seat in Parliament that the Herald Sun has dutifully noted and reiterated on her behalf, the name of Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, has been raised as a prospective Liberal candidate to replace Robb in the usually safe Liberal seat in Melbourne’s Bayside.

At the risk of introducing a sour and provocative note to the discussion, I should reiterate that my criticisms of Peta Credlin in this column in the past remain very much in force; too many stories of her idea of management have spilt from too many appropriately placed sources — and the political consequences of those deficiencies writ large for the country to see in the form of poor governance, bad strategy, incompetent communications and woeful opinion polling — for me to reasonably take any other view.

And of course, her “star chamber” vetted me out of consideration for any formal involvement in the Abbott government in 2013 for reasons best known to itself — or, indeed, to her — well before so much as a syllable of criticism was ever published in this column.

Sometimes, principle has to come before any other consideration in politics, and readers will have heard me say often enough over the years that I’m a conservative first and a member of the Liberal Party second.

Indeed, had legendary powerbroker and political strategist Michael Kroger not resumed the presidency of the party’s Victorian branch earlier this year, with an explicit brief to knock the division into more professional and competitive shape, I would have left the party.

Happy as I am to remain a member, I cannot and I will not be a party to Credlin being imposed on Goldstein (even via a sham preselection process and/or administrative committee rubber-stamp to make it look legitimate) and I cannot and I will not campaign for her election in Goldstein, another seat that falls vacant (perhaps Andrews’ seat of Menzies) or, indeed, anywhere else in Victoria at all.

I’m sure this threat will have people around Credlin shaking in their boots with fear — do, of course, note the self-deprecating sarcasm — and acknowledge that I might end up polling a single vote on the day, but in the event Credlin is endorsed as the Liberal candidate for Goldstein, I will resign my membership of the party the same day and contest the seat against her as an independent conservative.

I have no particular ambition to be a member of Parliament, but on principle — faced with a backroom operative foisted on my community, whose record to date seems more concerned with the exercise of power than with the advancement of any cogent set of principles — were Credlin to contest Goldstein, I would feel bound to stand against her.

It won’t be the hottest news in town, and I’m sure it will generate amusement among those who think they know better than everyone else, but if push comes to shove, I’m prepared to get out and fight for conservative ideals against a candidate who has more or less overseen a government that could hardly be characterised as conservative, or even liberal — in the orthodox sense.

Stay tuned. And should the contest eventuate, I’ll be sounding a clarion call to readers — and anyone else more concerned with the advancement of conservative objectives than with the expedient use of power — for all the support they can offer.

I’ll be back this evening to talk about some of the other events going on in the world of Australian politics.

 

Diversity, Inclusion, Tolerance, And Attacking Jewish Kids

ANTI-SEMITIC ABUSE and threats to kill a busload of Jewish children on Wednesday have no place in Australia; yet fresh from their win against a repeal of S18c of the Racial Discrimination Act, the voices of the Left have remained mute. Jewish Australians are no less worthy of the open arms of this country than the Muslims the Left has thrown in its lot with. Regardless of the realities of Gaza, the Left’s silence over a vicious attack on school kids is obscene.

Tolerance. Diversity. Inclusion. The sacred mantras of the Left.

Everyone knows the story; Australia is a nation of immigrants. People who have fled countries ravaged by war, or from persecution, or the prospect of being tortured or killed in their homelands are welcome in our tolerant, diverse, inclusive country. Anyone from any corner of the globe seeking a better life and the Australian lifestyle is welcome here, they say.

Not, it seems, if you’re Jewish.

I think by now everyone knows about the shocking incident in Sydney on Wednesday, when a bus full of Jewish school children was stormed by a group of drunk teenage louts; chanting anti-Semitic and fascist slogans such as “Heil Hitler” and “Free Palestine,” the young thugs terrorised these defenceless kids, threatening to slit their throats and to “slit them wide open,” and it is an unprincipled outrage that in the rush to capture the agenda over Gaza and to paint Israel as a villain, the so-called intellectuals of Australia’s Left have remained silent over an incident that — if perpetrated upon a comparable group of Muslims — it would be seething with fury about.

It is a sickening irony that spared the prospect of being obliterated from the country’s statute books, the sheer hypocrisy that spawned Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act in the first place literally took a matter of minutes to become apparent to anyone who cared to look upon it with open eyes.

Just as there is no justification for the attack on the busload of kids, there is nothing to justify the silence of the Left in response.

I touched on this issue briefly yesterday, as I presented a digest of the week’s issues to restart our conversation; one point I omitted to note is that the government’s abandonment of proposed amendments to 18c didn’t derive from community outrage over the changes, or from some about-face on principle: it arose purely from the reality that with the Senate constituted as it currently sits, the enabling legislation had no chance of clearing Parliament.

More’s the pity.

As I said yesterday, there is a very great lie being perpetrated by the Left; the objective is to make Israel the target of international recriminations and retribution over the death of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, with “responsibility” for the deaths of women and children sheeted home to Israel directly and to its hawkish right-wing Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, specifically.

As noted yesterday, the lie derives from the fact that Hamas terrorists use schools, hospitals and other similar places to camouflage their missile and rocket batteries and — when the inevitable retaliatory barrage strikes — it is those establishments, and their occupants, who are hit.

I heard Tom Elliott speaking about this on 3AW yesterday, and he made the point that in a state of war there are losses on all sides, irrespective of who might be right or wrong; so it is in Gaza, and the Left might reflect that it is the very battle tactics of the Hamas terrorists fighting against Israel that is maximising the casualties on their own side: it has nothing to do with any ambit or discretionary action on Israel’s part.

Yet this is now apparently being used to target, vilify and threaten Jewish communities in Australia — including the very children for whom the Left would be deeply compassionate and sympathetic, were they Arabic or Islamic — and it seems the case that for everything the Left’s enemies must be prevented at law from doing or saying, there is always an exemption for the Left to behave as it sees fit.

Its response to this incident, clearly, is one of them. At the very least, it shows up the rhetoric about inclusion and respect as the furphy it is, and underscores the fact that for all the raging and railing against “bigots” and “bigotry,” the Left is well and truly versed in precisely those vocations and is unafraid to engage in them.

I’ve been reading Piers Akerman’s piece in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph this morning and, as he usually does, Piers hits very near the mark; I have avoided discussing the hateful antics of the horrible old reptile Mike Carlton, lately of the Fairfax press, but Piers is absolutely right to take aim at him.

Carlton — and others like him, masquerading as impartial journalists reporting “fact”-based material without fear or favour — have abused their trusted sinecures in acting as the Left’s cheer squad time and again; in this case, their anti-Israel, anti-Jewish rantings have fostered an anti-Israeli view among a public which often knows no better than what it trusts its newspapers to inform itself with, and the distinct rise in anti-Semitic events in Australia in the past few months can be no accident with Fairfax, along with the Guardian, the ABC, SBS and others like them actively, maliciously and deceptively using the cover of the Gaza conflict to proliferate an obsessive ideological idiocy.

As for “Greens” Senator Lee Rhiannon, the less that is said, the better; I simply reiterate my long-held view that she has no moral right to sit in any Australian House of Parliament, and on account of her background as a declared Communist and enemy propagandist for the USSR I don’t think she should have the legal right to do so either.

Certainly, the Senator’s fixation with helping to smash Israel is well known; her advocacy (if you could call it that) for the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) campaign is legendary. But just to rub it in — and as Piers correctly observes — Rhiannon has unsurprisingly thrown her lot in with the Palestinians. It is not too fine or delicate a point to make that Hamas is a terrorist organisation, and its tactics in using its own people as human shields are far worse than anything Rhiannon accuses Israel of.

But that’s the point: the terrorists on the one side are excused, explained away, and denied; by contrast, people like Rhiannon would remain mute where “compassion” is concerned if the Palestinian protagonists were to succeed in their objective of destroying Israel forever.

And as I said yesterday, where are the champions for the dead kids, women and other innocents on the Israeli side?

The almost barbaric irony is that Carlton, Rhiannon, and every other “leader” of the Left who share their odious views will never utter a syllable on their behalf.

And that brings me back to the extraordinary attack on some harmless kids in Randwick for no better reason than they were Jewish.

In the welter of rhetoric that has spewed forth from the cabals of the Left to justify the Gillard-era race hate laws that 18c constitute, the objective has been to convince the public of their necessity to prevent the vilification, victimisation, persecution or otherwise causing harm to those sections of the community who might be at risk of being otherwise forced to endure this.

Doesn’t Wednesday’s incident fit the bill exactly?

And isn’t it true that whatever might be going on between Israel and Palestine over Gaza, and irrespective of where one’s sympathies might lie in that conflict, that this is Australia, the very country the Left so vocally holds aloft as a haven for the oppressed and persecuted of the world?

A country that practices tolerance, diversity and inclusion to the point of enacting legislation to force people into doing so?

At least the Guardian had the intellectual decency yesterday to publish an article that conceded Section 18c basically elevates Muslims above criticism, even if there was not so much as a syllable condemning the attack on the Jewish kids apparent anywhere on its website. (If I missed it, I acknowledge the error, but the fact I couldn’t easily find such a statement even if there was one simply proves the point).

The Left has its laws intact, whatever the reason that prevented their abolition, and in spite of the dubious case that underpins their very existence. It now has a responsibility to practice what it preaches; regrettably, its virtual silence over Wednesday’s events show it to be complicit at best.

It might not have been shouting from the rooftops its exuberant endorsement of the fact a group of terrified young Australians had been abused, vilified and threatened with violence on account of the fact they were Jewish.

But based on the very standards the Left loftily purports to uphold and to stand for, its failure to condemn the act in the strongest possible terms means that it might as well have done exactly that, and that reality is the greatest shame of all from this episode, the farce of Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act, or the charade of the Left in bothering to defend it at all.

If it’s OK for some kids on a bus to have to endure what the Jewish children did on Wednesday, then the Left is a national obscenity. Alas, its sacred “virtues” of diversity, inclusion and tolerance are nothing more than expedient spin, and readily abandoned when the targets of its hatred are exposed in their weakest and most innocent form.

 

On BoJo, Gaza, Ukraine, 18c, And Squaring The Week

WITH AN AWFUL LOT going on this week — both at home and abroad — it has been an inauspicious time to disappear for a few days; yet the Abbott government’s retreat from attempting to modify racial discrimination laws heads a litany of issues that have percolated whilst your columnist has been unwell. This morning we “do the rounds” with some brief comment on each of them, and square away the week to date in so doing.

Firstly, an apology: I think readers know that I maintain this forum in my spare time, and that whilst I am keen to aerate the conversations we have here other factors must sometimes take precedence; this week those conversations have been thwarted altogether on account of something rather nasty that found its way into (and through) our household. Nothing serious; just the perfectly logical result of having two children in childcare with the younger one experiencing (and inflicting) the “delights” of illness for the first time.

Needless to say, pushing out articles has not been my uppermost priority, and I apologise for the hiatus. But as Murphy’s Law would have it, a lot has been happening in the few days that I really haven’t been up to doing anything about it. So today’s piece is a bit of a wrap, with plenty of links, mainly because dealing comprehensively with everything would take another week to catch up. I may, however, post again this evening.

I’m starting off with a bit of indulgence this morning; regular readers know the UK is a part of the world very near and dear to my heart, and the news that London’s colourful Mayor, Boris Johnson, has announced his intention to seek re-entry to the House of Commons at next year’s general election is welcome. I am an unabashed fan of BoJo, and I think his brash vigour and energetic record as Mayor of London underline the reasons many think he would make an excellent successor to current Prime Minister David Cameron.

Should BoJo succeed in this enterprise, he will combine the role of an MP at Westminster with that of London mayor until 2016, when his term in the latter office expires.

I think there’s real cause for excitement in Australia about Johnson’s potential return to the Commons; one of the ideas he champions is freer relations between the UK and Australia, and particularly in the areas of labour exchanges and residency. There is a lot of resentment in some quarters in the UK over the flood of immigration the country experienced from Eastern European ex-Soviet satellite countries when they joined the EU; Johnson (rightly) believes Britain has much more in common with Australia than it does with Europe, and this advocate of Britain’s exit from the EU is potentially a powerful champion of Australia’s interests in the halls of power at Westminster.

Johnson’s only obstacle would appear to be finding a suitable seat to contest; his old electorate of Henley (once held by Michael Heseltine) is not available, and BoJo himself tempered his announcement of a return to the Commons with an assertion that he would “probably fail,” but it is to be hoped — in the interests of both the UK and Australia — that he doesn’t.

I saw a piece of graffiti outside a tube station in Camden a few years ago proclaiming that “Boris Rocks!” I tend to agree, and excluding any other considerations, it will be fascinating to watch for signs of leadership tension between a Prime Minister who arguably heralded limitless promise but has disappointed, and a putative Prime Minister-in-waiting whose stature has grown in the London job, but whose time at the top might or might not arrive at all.

(While we’re on the subject of the UK, for those who share my interest in the independence campaign in Scotland, it was particularly satisfying to see the separatist leader of the SNP, Alex Salmond, trounced in the key referendum debate overnight. Salmond is motivated by two things, and two things only: hatred of the English and attention to his own aggrandisement. The welfare of my native Scotland and its people — which would overwhelmingly be best served by remaining in the UK — is of little real importance to this prat in my view. Happily, the referendum appears to remain destined to go down in a landslide).

Talking of leadership tension, it seems erstwhile dinner partners Clive Palmer and Malcolm Turnbull have become, in dating parlance, a regular item, with the power couple spotted once again supping surreptitiously in Canberra this week. On a personal level I have considerable time for both of these fellows but as readers know, I will never support Malcolm for the leadership of the Liberal Party and cannot support Clive Palmer politically in any way whatsoever. I tend to think — for now — that the increasing number of dinner dates the pair is being spied at is likely to be as innocuous as Turnbull claims.

But the mutterers have made little secret that Palmer would prefer Turnbull as Prime Minister for personal reasons as much as anything, and that the Coalition would find the Senate more pliable in such an arrangement as well, the tiny matter of the electoral revolt the Coalition would suffer notwithstanding. It is something we will keep a weather eye upon.

More ominous weather seems to be brewing on Europe’s eastern flank, too, with the situation between Russia and Ukraine in the aftermath of the MH17 atrocity apparently drifting toward war, perhaps irretrievably, and toward a conflict that this column has repeatedly warned could spiral quickly and dangerously out of control. Britain’s Telegraph newspaper is reporting that Vladimir Putin has signed an oil and trade deal with Iran worth about £12 billion over five years, that if enacted will largely ameliorate any adverse effects Russia might feel from the sanctions regime currently being ratcheted up against it by the West.

Indeed, the flipside of the deal with Iran — long a military protectorate of the Russians, whose energy deal with the pariah state adds another layer of complexity to any Western response — is that Russia will now refuse to trade with any country participating in the heightened sanctions being implemented against it.

This will hurt Australia to the tune of a couple of billion dollars per year. Its effects on Europe, which has grown dangerously and ridiculously reliant on Russia for heating gas in particular, remains to be seen. But the bottom line is that Russia will be barely impeded by the “response” to the MH17 debacle that was intended to punish its complicity in the separatist forces within Ukraine, with whom it seems the most direct responsibility for the disaster lies.

In turn, that fuels worrying developments in the skirmishes and fighting that are ongoing in the region; Reuters is reporting this morning that NATO now fears a ground invasion of Ukraine, as Russia continues to mass more than 20,000 combat troops along its border with Ukraine: possibly to enable the ruse of humanitarian action as a pretext on which to ignite the direct Russia-Ukraine conflagration so many observers have feared is inevitable.

Should this eventuate, the response by the West — led by the uninspiring Barack Obama and his inflammatory Secretary of State, John Kerry — will arguably constitute the most delicate operation in diplomacy and hard power since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

Ukraine is not a NATO country, and NATO is not bound to protect it. Yet at some point military outrages committed by Russia (or by its proxies, this time in the form of “separatist” militias) that result in the callous loss of civilian lives is going to require a response using force, the only language Russia’s leadership truly comprehends. The inevitable failure of John McCain to beat the hip, black upstart Obama in 2008 is one thing, but the failure of Mitt Romney to do so four years later might prove the costliest election mistake in US history very quickly and in the worst manner imaginable.

Romney explicitly warned that America’s greatest enemy and threat was Russia, and was roundly derided for it. If things go badly in Ukraine now, he may be proven right. If he is, the consequences could be cataclysmic. The problem with American leadership under Barack Obama is that on questions of the strategic interests of the West and the free world, there isn’t any. A Russia-Ukraine conflict, with the USA, Britain and others drawn into the storm that appears to be gathering, could literally become an unmitigated disaster.

It’s hardly any cheerier in Gaza, where Hamas and Israeli forces continue to exchange rocket fire (albeit with a ceasefire holding at time of writing): the carnage and loss of life is appalling.

But the situation in Gaza is a cause for anger, and not for the reasons the brainwashed, left-wing media seem to have successfully transposed onto a public hungry for knowledge of the situation but unable to tell a despicable ruse from the truth.

Readers know that I am stoutly supportive of Israel and a friend to the Jewish people, but that disclosure is thoroughly irrelevant to the point I make here.

Here in Australia — as elsewhere — it is a modern obsession of the Left to demonise Israel and the Jewish people; their disgusting so-called BDS campaign is an execrable monument to this obsession, and the current conflict in Gaza would appear to an increasing cohort to offer an unrebuttable point on which to hang their case, and on which to crucify Israel for good measure.

It goes without saying that the Left-wing media has done its best to fuel this drivel, and will continue to do so; the problem is that the dishonest and reprehensible misinformation over Gaza is beginning to attract support in wider communities with little knowledge or comprehension of the situation too. The gullibility of the disinterested is no excuse for the malignant propaganda of the ideologically conceited.

In the UK, a senior Tory member of David Cameron’s cabinet — Conservative Party chairman Baroness Warsi — resigned from the government yesterday over what she perceived as the British government’s unreasonably pro-Israel stance. It is not indelicate, in both the context or the circumstances, to point out that Warsi herself is Muslim, or that her case is based on the same lie that is being propagated across the world.

And that lie, very simply, is this: that Israeli forces are indiscriminately and wantonly targeting women and children in Gaza in a brutal and unwarranted attack on Palestinian interests, and that Hamas forces have no alternative than to shoot back. The entire dispute is of Israel’s doing, the story goes. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is a fascist zealot and a war criminal.

Nothing simpler. It’s emotive, catchy, and hard to argue against off the cuff.

Until, that is, someone points out that Hamas — a blacklisted and proscribed terrorist organisation in much of the world, and with good reason — uses the civilian population as human shields; when it fires its rockets, the batteries are all located close to schools, hospitals, and other public places in which the innocent congregate. The women, children and civilians killed are hit when Israel retaliates as it is entitled to do; the alternative — for Israel to capitulate — would be, as it repeatedly points out, for Israel to cease to exist altogether in fairly rapid order. There are some who might find such a development attractive. I think it’s deplorable.

And who is a champion on the world stage of the dead kids and women and other innocents on the Israeli side?

If you want to be objective, both sides are responsible for the carnage and the slaughter; both sides are killing people; both sides have their entrenched positions and their cases to argue. This is why I said my traditional support for Israel is irrelevant. If you want to arbitrarily demonise one, you must demonise both. The fairy tale of “evil Israel” in all of this is a malicious slur indeed.

Yet some don’t get it; former US President Jimmy Carter — another in a long line of utterly useless specimens inflicted on the world by the Democratic Party — has made the grotesquely crass call for Hamas to be “recognised” as a legitimate “political actor;” Carter might be pushing 90 now, but this kind of idiocy can’t simply be attributed to his dotage, consistent as it is with the kind of anti-productive rubbish he has advocated for decades.

Hamas might, theoretically, have a point. But so, too, did Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo in Rhodesia, as they embarked on armed struggle against white minority government and British colonial rule; the prevailing view of them in Britain was that they were terrorists, whatever their cause was, and their subsequent conduct in government following independence showed that view to be murderously accurate. There is no reason to believe Hamas is any different. In fact, well armed and said to be backed by Russia as well as governments elsewhere in the Middle East, Hamas is a far deadlier beast than the regime Mugabe continues to maintain.

I want to finish up with a few thoughts on the fracas over Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act here in Australia, and the decision by Tony Abbott to abandon the government’s plans to modify these laws under the auspices of expanding the right to free speech; I think the baby has been thrown out with the bath water with this one.

Section 18c — as it stands — is, like so much of what the Left fights for these days, hardly a historic entity; it dates all the way back to the Gillard government. But it is a crucial element of the broad cultural shift the Left seeks to engineer, in that dissent from its views is not to be tolerated, and opposition to the social manifestations that cultural shift creates is to be outlawed.

In the red corner, the language has been aggressive, to say the least; every opponent of both conservative and libertarian inclination on this issue has been ruthless in painting the contest as a legitimisation of racial hatred and persecution on the part of the Right.

Their rhetoric found fertilisation in the response from the blue corner that it elicited, summed up most notably by Attorney-General George Brandis QC’s assertion that people should have the right to be bigots — but that their bigotry will be slapped down and neutralised when it reaches the “disinfectant of sunlight.”

I have known George for well over 20 years and whilst he can be pompous, priggish and unduly elitist at times, nobody who knew what they were talking about would ever describe him as a bigot.

But there you are: the Left wins, because there is too much rancour involved in continuing the fight for the other side; and far from abolishing a dangerous piece of social engineering from the Gillard years that may very well do more harm in this country than good, it survives in no small part because those who sought to abolish it approached the task with an exceedingly poor sales case for the change, and compounded even that with a belligerence of their own that more than matched the rhetoric of the Left.

The bit in the middle — a reasonable recalibration of the laws to a point somewhere between the two extremes — is lost as a consequence.

When the hardcore partisans of the Left crow smugly of their victory, seeking to rub it in the faces of Brandis and his colleagues by presenting their defeat as a victory for the united masses, it’s a sign of just how badly this particular issue has been handled by the Abbott government and by those who, for reasons far removed from the subterranean agendas of the Left, fought against it on a conviction of what was right and what was wrong.

Still, it could have been worse; as everyone in Australia knows, Gillard’s government also attempted to outlaw saying anything that merely offended people.

If we get to the point in this country where calling someone “a dickhead” is illegal because some thin-skinned clod feigns offence, I won’t be hanging around to see where the fallout lands.

But if dickheads are central to such matters, it’s no surprise Senator Conroy was so eager to stamp such “offensive” notions of expression out of existence in the first place.

 

And that’s it this morning. Back to our normal format — I hope! — from here onwards.

 

Weddings, Expenses, Anything: Bury The Bipartisan Hatchet

ONE OF the most reviled (and publicly misunderstood) aspects of political life is the thorny issue of government travel entitlements; perhaps at a time when incendiary allegations, smears and “revelations” are being thrown about like confetti, perspective and reason might better serve all involved.

I’ve deliberately avoided this subject to date — not because it’s Liberal Party identities in the firing line this time around, but because controversies over legitimately allowable and claimed expenses for MPs generally spawn unwinnable arguments — and I intend to keep my remarks as circumspect as possible.

Indeed, the reason I’ve decided to comment at all is because late yesterday the counterpunches were being thrown too, with a raft of accusations hitting Labor MPs over expenses claimed to attend Bob Hawke’s 80th birthday celebrations in 2009.

I certainly don’t advocate (and nor would I defend) an open-ended, limitless entitlement for politicians on expenses for travel, accommodation, hospitality and the like.

But I am — within reason — going to come down on the side of the politicians on this: be they Liberal, Labor, or otherwise.

Anyone who has read a newspaper or seen a TV news report in recent days will know an ugly fracas has erupted over accusations Coalition figures — from the Prime Minister down — have in recent years made claims for a swathe of “borderline” expense reimbursements, notably in relation to their attendances at a couple of high-profile weddings.

It is obvious that senior minister George Brandis SC has been singled out as a target, perhaps as a consequence of his prosecution of the Coalition attack against a number of Gillard government identities, some of whom have cases to answer before the Courts.

It is equally clear that deputy National Party leader Barnaby Joyce has been targeted; Joyce is the most promising recruit the Nationals have found in decades — even allowing for the eccentricities of his early days as a Senator — and his capacity to put a modern and mainstream voice to traditional National Party values is not lost on his Labor opponents.

And it goes without saying that Prime Minister Tony Abbott is the number one target: having almost singlehandedly destroyed the ALP in government and two Prime Ministers in the process, Abbott is (and will remain indefinitely) the target of as much trouble the Labor machine can cause him, and Labor’s capacity to cause “trouble” is limitless.

To be clear — and in the interests of balance — the ALP is subjected to similar treatment on its expenses claims when it finds itself in office, so let he who is without sin…

The first point I make is that there is absolutely no suggestion, whatsoever, that any of the claims that have found their way into public view in the past week are in any way unlawful, inappropriate, or have failed to comply with the guidelines that govern such claims.

It is true that all three of the gentlemen to whom I refer have reimbursed the taxpayer for some of the claims to remove any shadow of doubt in relation to their integrity and that of the system generally.

But this — far from undermining their standing — ought strengthen it.

A typical red herring has been thrown into the debate by disgraced former Speaker Peter Slipper, who is facing prosecution over the alleged misuse of Cabcharge vouchers to visit wineries within the wider Canberra region during the term of the last Parliament.

Whilst not wishing to comment on matters before the Court, it is generally understood that Slipper’s winery visits were not of a parliamentary nature and — in any case — he has a long history of incorrect expense claims that he has been able to remedy on numerous occasions by simply writing a cheque to repay them.

Slipper’s “outrage” over not being able to do so now should be considered in that context.

It does however bring me to the second point: MPs undertake so much official travel, sometimes combining official business with recreational activities, that inadvertent incorrect claims are inevitable, which is why instances of claimed monies being paid back make the headlines at all from time to time.

The likes of Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull, and Abbott himself, got it dead right yesterday when they said that if there was ever any doubt about the legitimacy of the expenses claim, pay it yourself: these are not the words of people seeking to rip the taxpayer off, but seeking to ensure they don’t claim any more than they are entitled to.

And the third point — to adopt the absurd and completely opposite end of the argument — is that if MPs had to fund all travel and accommodation to attend official engagements out of their own pockets (thereby eliminating the problem) nobody would ever see them.

How many readers fork out from their own funds to go to an interstate or overseas business event that their boss has deemed mandatory? How many have deliberately chosen not to file their monthly expenses claim with the company accountant from a sense of corporate altruism?

I’d wager none have, and as it is in private enterprise, so it is in politics.

The truth is that politics is a dour, grinding, 18 hours a day, seven day a week proposition — something many who sit outside the sphere carping and whining don’t know and/or don’t care about.

Anyone who has ever seen a parliamentarian’s diary knows that even the weekends, most weeks, are filled with engagements, and in the case of federal MPs that often involves travel between multiple states.

And to my mind, even the nature of some of the events claimed for that have attracted criticism are not as cut and dried as they have been presented.

For one thing, who is to say that — for example — there was someone on the guest list at Sophie Mirabella’s wedding, with whom the Coalition MPs attending needed a quiet, off the record meeting with, that was critical to their parliamentary work but could in no way be made public for reasons of secrecy, commercial confidence, or similar considerations?

For another, a lot of the stone throwing is being undertaken by individuals whose appreciation of the finer nuances of how this country operates is selective, to say the least.

A well-known left-wing Twitter identity (who I am not going down the tangent of naming here) published what almost looked to be the full list of Tony Abbott’s claims for the last Parliament last night, replete with confected howls of indignant (and profane) fury.

It included things like the weddings we’ve all heard about, and events like last year’s AFL Grand Final, for which Abbott travelled to Melbourne with his wife and family.

Anyone with a brain knows that to do business in Melbourne, it often involves football — this city runs on it, and irrespective of the approval or otherwise of some, the Tony Abbotts of this world have little choice but to attend such things to have any real currency or impact south of the Murray.

And anyone who has ever had to sit through boring, excruciating, mindless corporate hospitality functions — often with spouse and/or children dutifully enduring the fun too — will know that again, sometimes to achieve real outcomes in business or any other enterprise, it’s the sort of impost that simply has to be tolerated.

I could go on, but as I said at the outset, a subject like this will always find someone, diametrically opposed in their opinion, who will insist it’s all arse-about. You can’t win.

So, to return to the original point, here are a few simple thoughts on how to move on from the grenade-throwing field trip the latest round of travel expense “revelations” have descended into:

  • A 30-day amnesty for the repayment of all marginal and/or incorrectly claimed travel entitlements, with matters currently on foot before the Courts of course excepted;
  • The clarification — and, where appropriate, tightening — of guidelines applying to such claims to be undertaken to mitigate against future erroneous claims;
  • An audit system of checks on claims (perhaps biannually) to identify inadvertent claims and enable repayment by the MP in question within a set timeframe; and
  • Consideration be given to the establishment of a small ongoing tribunal to continually review historic claims and realise outstanding monies as a further check on the system.

Nether side of the political spectrum should be playing petty politics over this: wilful breaches should of course be punished, but where the grenades are filled with the grist of legitimate expense transactions, the public has better things to seek information on from their elected representatives.

Certainly, Messrs Brandis, Joyce and Abbott have been warned: like it or not, they’re the first priority targets of the Labor opposition, and once the brouhaha over expenses dies off, there will be something else again thrown at them as the ALP seeks prized scalps. They will be on their guard, methinks.

But beyond that, this entire storm should go back into the teacup in which it belongs; cut MPs off from travelling altogether by all means, but don’t complain when you only ever see them on TV or handing out cards on election day if it ever comes to pass.

All sides of politics should take a deep breath and back off, agree once and for all on how to deal with these matters and stick to it, and then get on with something a little bit more constructive.

“Sleaze And Smear?” Spare Us The Propaganda, Prime Minister

The parliamentary year is over, concluding with a noxious exchange in Question Time on Thursday; it’s hard to see Julia Gillard enjoying her Christmas break — under siege as she now is — and the New Year may yet see the swearing-in of Labor’s third Prime Minister in less than six years.

I’m starting tonight with something I have never featured in this column — something from Herald Sun journalist and commentator Andrew Bolt, who this morning posted on Twitter a partial transcript from Julia Gillard’s interview yesterday with Paul Bongiorno on Channel Ten’s Meet The Press.

It’s an instructive read, and it underscores the point made by Piers Akerman in the  comment piece he wrote in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph last week and which I also reposted: that the only real response Gillard has to any allegation or question or revelation regarding the AWU scandal and her involvement in it is evasion.

I think it’s fair to say that readers — like the rest of the country — are, in equal measure, fed up and fascinated by the AWU scandal; the now near-daily trickle of salacious revelations, discovered documentation and freshly released transcripts seems never-ending, yet the public appetite for more detail appears limitless.

Certainly, this is no longer the taboo subject it was even a month ago; that taboo — the result of intimidation, or by virtue of a judgement not to discuss the affair — has probably only served to heighten public interest and awareness in it.

Which, of course, is the last thing Gillard would ever have wished.

The obvious question is why Gillard went into politics at all, if she was so vehemently opposed to the AWU scandal and attendant matters of the 1990s ever being aired; Gillard is neither stupid nor as naive as she has repeatedly claimed to be, and anyone with a modicum of nous about the way the political world operates knows that the background of MPs is fair game to be raked over.

So here we are; the latest formulation (and thanks to the Herald Sun for posting the Meet The Press transcript on its Twitter feed) is simply to hit out at “sleaze and smear.”

(As an aside, “sleaze and smear” is a concept Gillard and her acolytes are only too familiar with, having engaged in a “sleaze and smear” exercise of their own, baselessly, without a scrap of evidence and with absolutely no justification, in attempting to portray Tony Abbott as a woman-hating misogynist. Worse, of course, was the fact the centrepiece speech in that despicable enterprise was made in the defence of filthy specimen Peter Slipper, in apparent dismissal of his own, odious, words on women).

Gillard used the phrase “sleaze and smear” in direct relation to Tony Abbott eight times in five answers to questions from Bongiorno in that short excerpt of the transcript alone; I didn’t see Meet The Press yesterday, but I shudder to think what the full interview must have been like for Bongiorno to have to sit through.

It’s a bit like the ubiquitous “Moving Forward” every time Gillard opened her mouth during the 2010 campaign — until the ALP’s internal polling began to show Abbott and the Coalition winning the election, at which point everyone in the red corner panicked and started talking about “the real Julia,” making promises of no carbon tax under her government, and all the other hot air on which Labor’s re-election pitch was based.

Given it didn’t work then, and hasn’t worked since, why would it work now?

It’s clear that the ill-effects of the endeavour to, er, smear Abbott as a misogynist are wearing off; his opinion poll ratings are beginning to recover for one thing, and for another the Labor hacks around Gillard who perpetrated it have largely fallen silent.

On that score at any rate.

Gillard fronted up at the last question time of the year brimming with feigned indignation and outrage; I say “feigned” because, simply, she yet again blustered and ranted, but still failed to give a satisfactory account of herself or for the actions in the early 1990s as a Slater and Gordon solicitor that are now the subject of so much scrutiny.

And remember, the last thing Gillard wants is scrutiny.

The interesting thing about the AWU scandal has been that Gillard has given every impression of fighting a classic rearguard action: at first, there was nothing to talk about, nothing to discuss, and nothing to account for.

Initially, every time the AWU scandal was raised, it disappeared; websites disappeared, journalists suddenly fell silent, and a lot of interesting stories abounded regarding the odd way in which “everyone” knew the allegations, but nobody would print them.

Progressively, each time a specific event was revealed, or a document uncovered, or an allegation made, Gillard has made plenty of noise about answering questions — and insisting the matter, thenceforth, was closed.

She’s done that three times so far in the last couple of months; yet the matter clearly is not closed, and Gillard has now failed to provide adequate explanations to specific allegations levelled at her by the federal Opposition in relation to at least one alleged breach of the law.

In short (as I’m sure everyone knows by now), the Opposition charge was that Gillard broke the law by supplying misleading information to the WA Corporate Affairs Commission about the true nature of the “AWU Workplace Reform Association” — the so-called slush fund central to the whole AWU scandal.

Tony Abbott aired the allegation on breakfast TV on Thursday, and the charge was pursued again in Question Time by Abbott and Julie Bishop, in the face of Gillard’s performance.

And the substance of the Opposition case has been outlined by shadow Attorney-General and eminent barrister, George Brandis SC. It makes for compelling reading.

We now know Gillard wrote to the WA Corporate Affairs Commission; we know that because she herself said so at her taped exit interview at Slater and Gordon, the relevant section from the transcript having now been released to the public by former S&G partner Nick Styant-Browne.

What we don’t know is what the letter said — to date, it has not been located.

Yet Gillard’s answer — to paraphrase, that she wrote many letters on the instructions of clients — is disingenuous.

And a statement from her office, quite literally, asked: “so what?”

What we also don’t know is what further revelations there are to come to light between now and the resumption of Parliament in February.

So we go into the parliamentary recess with the whole matter unresolved; the Opposition determined to pursue the matter further, and Gillard — caught like a deer in the headlights whenever she is put on the spot over the AWU scandal — digging determinedly in, and stubbornly refusing to utter a syllable more than the barest minimum required.

The whole thing has come to a head just as the ALP has begun sliding backwards in the polls again; a Galaxy poll at the weekend had Labor falling 46-54 behind the Coalition after preferences; Essential had it slipping a point to trail 47-53.

I am unsure as to whether a Newspoll is due later tonight, but I would think its last reading of 49 Labor, 51 Coalition is too high for Labor — and that read was taken at the height of the “Abbott’s a sexist pig” campaign and therefore likely to have been artificially inflated at any rate.

In closing, The Red And The Blue endorses the call by Tony Abbott for a judicial inquiry into the AWU scandal; at the very least, it would untangle the entire sordid web of the events of the early 1990s, and answer once and for all any and all pertinent questions that demand a response.

If Julia Gillard has nothing to hide, as she claims, she will enthusiastically convene the inquiry as soon as possible.

I suspect, however, that she won’t.

I suspect, too, Gillard’s colleagues will be discussing her leadership over their Christmas cheer, behind her back, and counting their numbers to boot.

And lest anyone think the only grub in the Labor Party lives in The Lodge, soon-to-retire member for Bendigo, Steve Gibbons, said on Twitter last week that “Libs are led by a gutless douchebag and a narcissistic bimbo who aren’t fit to be MPs let alone PM and Deputy. Both should be sacked.”

Of course, the aptly named Gibbons deleted his tweet and apologised, but not before the damage was done: his true colours were on display just long enough to ricochet across the country and into every media outlet in Australia.

Then again, in the ALP there are all sorts of ways to render service to the party.

It is to be hoped the Prime Minister — spending Christmas in her famous brick veneer in Altona — is seeing the renovations are progressing to schedule.