BREAKING: Mal Brough To Quit Federal Parliament

FORMER Special Minister of State Mal Brough has announced he will not contest the coming federal election, and is set to quit the Sunshine Coast seat of Fisher; the announcement comes as a Federal Police investigation into any role Brough played in bringing down his predecessor — disgraced ex-Speaker Peter Slipper — continues. Brough’s fall from grace is a tragedy, but his departure is a likely further pointer to an election sooner rather than later.

A quick post from me this afternoon, on the hop as I am; some readers may have already seen the news, but embattled former Special Minister of State (and hand-picked Turnbull appointee) Mal Brough has called time this afternoon on his political career, just three years after securing Liberal Party endorsement to return to Canberra via the seat previously held by disgraced former Speaker and general all-round grub Peter Slipper.

This is a subject we have followed quite closely, in part on account of an old personal connection I had with Brough 20 years ago; despite his position on the moderate wing of the Liberal Party, I thought at that time he was a credible future candidate for the Prime Ministership — so impressive is he in person — and the end his career has now reached, especially under a cloud of suspicion of unlawful conduct, gives me no satisfaction at all. Quite the contrary.

His return to the ministry late last year, as a key lieutenant in Malcolm Turnbull’s successful leadership coup against Tony Abbott, quickly proved an early pointer to the fact Turnbull’s famed lack of judgement remains all too real and present; rapidly outed as the subject of continuing Federal Police investigations into the ghastly business surrounding Slipper — inquiries that were announced to the country in the form of a raid on Brough’s home — his Cabinet position immediately became untenable.

Typically, Turnbull dithered, eventually parting with Brough at the same time another grub in the government’s ranks, Jamie Briggs, was forced out over allegations of inappropriate conduct; even though those ministerial departures signalled the first and second of five involuntary changes to the ministry, their timing was poignant.

And so too, it is, on this occasion.

I do feel quite some sympathy for Mal and his wife, Sue, but in noting that I also point out that if the allegations against him are substantiated, then prosecution must follow: there is only one law in this country, and it must apply to everyone equally and without fear or favour. Sometimes, people we know and like will do the wrong thing, and must be punished, but such is the price of being only human: people make mistakes.

It is to Brough’s enduring credit that he elected to step aside from his Cabinet post voluntarily, and also to subsequently relinquish it, when others before him (and particularly of the Gillard government variety) stubbornly chose instead to dig in when confronted with suggestions of misbehaviour, and in this sense Brough should at least receive acknowledgement that he spared the country the trauma and farce of delaying the inevitable.

Even so, his significant potential — despite his tenure as a senior minister in the Howard government — will remain unfulfilled.

Brough’s resignation will now spark a feeding frenzy over the usually safe Liberal Sunshine Coast electorate of Fisher; already there are suggestions that former Newman government minister Jarrod Bleijie will join the exodus of LNP state politicians seeking federal seats rather than an additional term in opposition in Queensland, and whilst I am yet to form a firm position on this, my general view is that Bleijie — along with Messrs McVeigh and Seeney — ought to remain exactly where they are, or quit politics altogether.

And the timing of this latest announcement involving Brough may again be significant in terms of its relationship to other events.

At this time, there is no suggestion his resignation relates to developments in the investigations of allegations against him; after all, the resignation of his seat takes effect from the next election: and even if it’s early, that event is probably four months away.

But with the eleventh-hour departures from the ministry of Brough and Briggs last year, Turnbull’s ready penchant for a little deck-clearing when nobody seems likely to notice appears alive and well too: and I would say that on balance, Brough’s timing now is likely directly related to buying as much clear air as possible between now and the election date, which I understand is already known to members of the government’s inner circle.

As ever, we will watch this to see if anything further comes of it: and in the meantime, I aim to be back with readers — and to catch up on the backlog of the week’s events — either tonight or tomorrow.

 

Brough, Grech, Slipper, Ashby: Malcolm’s In The Middle

THE PRESSURE on Malcolm Turnbull to fire Special Minister of State Mal Brough will mount over the silly season, even if Brough is cleared of allegations made against him; Brough’s inconclusive account of events that finished former Speaker Peter Slipper is set to haunt the government, evoking a name — Godwin Grech — Turnbull would rather forget. Instead, Malcolm is in the middle of a sordid business that should have concluded months ago.

If there was a single, discernible point at which Liberal Party conservatives switched off forever in terms of tolerating Malcolm Turnbull as leader, it came in mid-2009, as an email Turnbull was supplied by a Commonwealth public servant that appeared to show a corruption trail leading to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd — upon which Turnbull had relied heavily in his pursuit of the former government — was revealed to be an utter forgery; apparently Turnbull and/or his staff had declined to verify the contents of the leaked email. Had they done so, Turnbull’s voluble crusade against Rudd would never have happened, but he would appear less reckless and more astute in the eyes of colleagues and party members who were dubious about supporting him.

The author of that email, of course, was Godwin Grech; the affair it triggered — Utegate — is a short, sharp byword for almost everything Turnbull’s critics base their aversion to supporting him on. And now, Grech’s name has suddenly become all too relevant once more.

But first, a little history; in late 1995, I befriended a first-time Liberal candidate in the newly created seat of Longman, which then ran in a thin north-south band inland from Brisbane; that candidate was Mal Brough, and I thought, quite seriously, that the fresh-faced, urbane Brough could well end up leading the party. I was happy to do what I could to help him (which, admittedly, wasn’t much) and although I didn’t work for him after the 1996 election — I was too young, not that anyone could have told me that at the time — I watched his career with great interest and considerable goodwill toward both Mal and his wife Sue, whom I had also met during the 1996 campaign.

It didn’t bother me that Mal was a Liberal moderate: ferociously unaligned as a conservative where the party’s personality-based factions are concerned, I have often supported moderates over the years, and was happy to do so in Brough’s case.

But Mal was a surprise victim of the 2007 election defeat; and when the Liberals and Nationals merged in Queensland — something I opposed vehemently — it seemed Brough’s political career was at its end, declining as he initially did to take any part in the merged entity. Loudmouths like Clive Palmer can goad Brough all they like about his thwarted ambition to be state president of the LNP, but the simple fact is that passions (and tempers) were raw, inflamed, and often boiled over at that time, and Brough wasn’t the only prominent Liberal to depart the LNP.

In many respects, I’m sure he wonders now why he bothered returning to the party at all, let alone as a federal MP, and the two words that spring inevitably forth are the name of the turncoat who sold the LNP down the river to become Speaker of the House of Representatives under Julia Gillard: Peter Slipper.

Brough must rue the day he ever heard Slipper’s name, and he isn’t Robinson Crusoe there.

Yet the scandal involving former Slipper staffer James Ashby — and the question of whether Brough asked Ashby to procure Slipper’s diaries (as part of the political witch hunt against the LNP defector) — seems to know no bounds; and once again, in Question Time this week, it reared its ugly head: this time through a determined ALP assault on Brough’s credibility, highlighting discrepancies between an interview he gave 60 Minutes in 2014 (and seemingly admitted asking Ashby for precisely that) and now, when he emphatically denies ever asking for such a thing at all.

Initially, I was pleased when Brough announced he would stand against Slipper, first for his LNP preselection for the Sunshine Coast seat of Fisher, and ultimately as an endorsed candidate at the 2013 election, and as I had in 1995, I contacted Brough to convey that I was happy to do what I could to help him (which, admittedly, still wasn’t much with me long-since removed to Melbourne, although I did offer to remotely provide his campaign with help on the broad communications/media front for nothing, which he declined).

But it’s one of those face-palming realities that just as a ready-made senior Cabinet minister with leadership capabilities stood to return to Parliament, potentially bolstering an Abbott ministry that looked like being light-on for standouts, the fracas surrounding Slipper and Ashby, who had accused him of sexual harassment, exploded, casting serious questions over Brough’s judgement and raising the question (hitherto unresolved) of whether he had acted illegally in joining (and to some extent, leading) the charge against the disgraced former Speaker.

On one level, Brough deserves enduring credit for going after Peter Slipper, an insidious individual with whom I had the misfortune 20-odd years ago to have had some dealings in Queensland; however the legal cloud over Brough’s head resolves itself, and irrespective of Slipper having a charge of defrauding the commonwealth overturned on appeal, one thing that has irrefutably emerged from the Slipper fiasco is that he is a very, very unsavoury individual: his apparent predilection for sordid details of the sex lives of his staff, combined with some truly abhorrent reflections on the sexual physiology of women, are enough to convince any reasonably minded individual that Slipper is a monster even if he did ultimately manage to give his legal problems the slip.

Nobody could blame Brough (or anyone else in a position to pursue Slipper) for doing whatever they could to drive him out of Parliament.

Yet sometimes, highly likeable and otherwise good, decent people make mistakes that overstep the mark where the law is concerned; the question now is whether — in allegedly seeking the diaries and other documents of Slipper’s through Ashby prior to his re-entry to Parliament — Brough did precisely that.

The Australian Federal Police clearly believe the question remains open, having raided Brough’s house recently in search of evidence.

The storm that erupted during the week over apparent discrepancies between what Brough apparently said in that 60 Minutes interview — seemingly confirming that he had asked Ashby to get Slipper’s diary — and what he says now which, emphatically, is that he did not, is one that should easily have been foreseen by Turnbull on his return to the Liberal leadership and averted by leaving Brough on the backbench until it was resolved.

Procuring or attempting to procure the documents of a Commonwealth official (in other words, Slipper) is a criminal offence; and aside from its initial, class-hatred based attack on Turnbull’s personal fortune, it is telling that the Brough issue is one of the earliest crusades Labor has embarked upon since Turnbull resumed the Liberal leadership.

To say investigations into everything that happened concerning Peter Slipper during the last term of Parliament have dragged on far too long is an understatement; yes, such inquiries must run their course, and must be seen to have done so. But in the end, these are matters that occurred some years ago, and it is in nobody’s interests for them to go on ad infinitum.

Depending on preference, readers may access some additional coverage from the Fairfax press here, and from the Murdoch stable here and here.

Brough may well have survived the ALP onslaught this week, but anyone — including Brough, and especially Turnbull — who thinks the matter won’t resurface the instant Parliament reconvenes next year is delusional.

Labor is likely to continue to hammer Brough over the silly season at every opportunity in any case, just to ensure the whiff of impropriety it seeks to harvest from the ongoing investigation continues to swirl around voters at the very time they want to switch off politics for the year.

And for as long as the issue — and the cloud hanging over Brough’s integrity — remains unresolved, the government will remain plagued by questions over Turnbull’s judgement in having Brough in the ministry at all.

One will say something nice for once about the iron fist Peta Credlin exercised over the Abbott government: whether by Abbott’s design or Credlin’s insistence, Brough was excluded from the Coalition’s first ministry; further, the moment the suggestion of impropriety was levelled against former Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinis, he was stood aside pending exoneration.

The only proper course of action for Brough to follow is to resign: and if he won’t go voluntarily, Turnbull is going to have to sack him.

A chronic history of very poor political judgement is one of the reasons Turnbull was dumped in favour of Abbott in the first place; already, and involving issues that go beyond the fracas over Brough that continues to play out, those questions around Turnbull’s judgement were already beginning to resurface just ten weeks into his rebirth as Liberal leader and Prime Minister.

That tin ear — which led him to embrace the fictitious material provided by Grech back in 2009 — has now apparently rendered Turnbull insensible to the political damage retaining Brough as Special Minister of State is probably already doing to the government’s electoral standing.

More broadly, however, it isn’t a good look for the Liberal Party in opposition to (correctly) go after any number of dubious individuals among the ranks of its opponents — Craig Thomson, Peter Slipper, Julia Gillard et al — only to retain such an individual on its frontbench when in office itself.

It doesn’t matter that Turnbull may feel indebted to Brough for assisting with shoring up the numbers for the latter to return to the leadership: the rendering of political assistance does not, should not and must not provide a shield against the proper process of a criminal investigation, nor preclude one of its subjects from behaving appropriately: and the only appropriate course of action for Brough to pursue, until and/or unless he is found by Police to have no case to answer, is to quit.

If Brough is innocent of any wrongdoing (and I sincerely hope he is) then I can understand how frustrating (or even unfair) it must be to find himself under suspicion, but in the interests of propriety, sound governance, and for the good of the Liberal Party itself, he must relinquish his post.

If Turnbull has to sack a second supporter to make it so, then so it must be. At least Brough is unlikely to run off to the National Party seeking to abuse Coalition process to get his job back, which is more than you can say about the pathetic, failed ex-minister who did just that this week, but that’s another story.

The ball is in Turnbull’s court, it seems. If he has learned anything at all since Grech made a fool of him six and a half years ago and turned the Liberal leadership into a national joke, now is the time to prove it.

 

“Slippery” Peter Slipper To Face Criminal Charges

ONE issue we’ve kept an eye on over the past year or so at The Red And The Blue is set to explode, with news that LNP traitor, former speaker and overall grub Peter Slipper is to face criminal charges; whilst he is entitled to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, the news is welcome.

In news just broken by the Fairfax press in The Age, Slipper is set to answer three charges of “dishonestly causing a risk of a loss to the Commonwealth,” which — whilst their true nature was not specified by Police — sound an awful lot like charges over travel expense rorts.

Slipper will be formally charged with the offences on 15 February, in an appearance in the Canberra Magistrates’ Court, to which he has been summonsed to appear.

The summons has been issued by Police who investigated allegations of travel expense fraud against Slipper that arose from the sexual harassment proceedings initiated against him by former staffer James Ashby.

This column has ample reason to dislike the odious Slipper on both personal and political grounds, and in light of the apparent nature of the charges welcomes today’s developments.

Certainly, there have been an abundance of “interesting stories” about Slipper over the years, and the forthcoming proceedings against him at Court should at least clear some of these up once and for all — one way or the other.

Even so, we will refrain from further comment for now until Slippery has had his day in Court, and I emphasise to all readers that Slipper — like anyone else — is entitled to the presumption of innocence until or unless proven otherwise.

Accordingly, whilst comments are welcome in line with standard practice, they will be rigorously scrutinised, and editorial discretion will be used if anything prejudicial to Slipper’s case is submitted.

Even so, my final word — for now — is that if he is proven guilty, it will prove once and for all that staying one step ahead of trouble, ultimately, is sometimes one step too far.

We will keep an eye on the proceedings as they fall due next month.

 

Filthy Slug Peter Slipper Slithers Away From Speaker’s Chair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good riddance.