Rigged: ALP Fights Fair Electoral Boundaries In SA

SINCE 1982, SA Liberals have won the two-party vote at 8 of 10 state elections, but won two; many observers — me included — have long felt SA boundaries are rigged. SA is the Liberals’ biggest failure; now, the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission has produced a redraw notionally giving the Liberals office on 2014 votes. Like a toddler in meltdown, Labor is off to the SA Supreme Court. The rort offers national insight into the rotten ALP mentality.

In any discussion of “gerrymanders” in South Australia, what many casual observers (and even some seasoned ones) overlook is the fact that it was a Liberal state government which, in 1968, abolished electoral malapportionment in SA and in so doing, redistributed itself out of office; even so, what Labor has perpetuated in the Croweater State in the name of being “fair” over the past 40 years has been anything but, and now the rort is ending, the ALP is screaming blue murder.

I am including articles today from The Australian and Adelaide’s Advertiser newspaper — the latter including more links to other relevant coverage — that readers can access here and here; but first, a little history.

Step back 50 years, and most Australian states had electoral boundaries that incorporated some kind of malapportionment; the thinking at the time — before reliable air travel and fast, safe road transport was as prevalent as it is today — was that rural MPs should be accommodated with smaller electorates to service than their city cousins, and this guiding principle meant that state elections (by their nature) gave the man on the land a vote that was more heavily weighted than the man about town.

It is also one of the reasons why some of the long-term state Premiers of the past — Tom Playford, Frank Nicklin, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Henry Bolte — were conservatives representing country electorates; but the impact of this philosophy was not universal and was not consistent, as 24 years of ALP rule in more urban NSW between 1941 and 1965 shows by way of example.

As the state “gerrymanders” (which they were commonly called, despite more correctly being termed malapportionments) went, the SA boundaries were the heaviest in Australia, believed to weight country votes against city votes by a 6:1 margin; the example most commonly railed against by Labor (and which the ALP itself introduced, its latter-day declamations notwithstanding) and the one fine-tuned by Bjelke-Petersen in Queensland was also the least distorting, giving weight to rural votes at about 3:1.

The Queensland “zonal” boundaries also meant any party winning 50% of the vote after preferences would win power, which is exactly what Labor did when it won a majority of the two-party vote in 1989 for the first time since 1956.

It goes without saying that fair elections, conducted on the principle of “one vote, one value,” are absolutely imperative; I am no apologist for boundaries that are rigged in favour of conservatives, and have railed in this column against attempts to gain electoral advantage through fiddling with electoral apparatus by either side ever since I started it.

But after Steele Hall committed electoral suicide by redistributing himself out of office in South Australia in 1968, Labor — under the guise of “fairness” — legislated a special commission that would review that state’s boundaries after every election, and “adjust” them based on the most recent results to ensure that as closely as practicable, the party which won a majority of two-party votes at the next poll would win office.

In practice, this has meant that the Liberal Party — despite itself, and we’ll get back to that — has been almost completely locked out of office in SA since David Tonkin was beaten by John Bannon (with Labor scoring a minority of the vote) in 1982, save for the 1993 boilover in the wake of Labor’s State Bank disaster and a narrowly acquired second term four years later.

The effect of this has become more pronounced in recent years, with SA Liberals losing elections in 2010 and 2014 with well over 50% of the statewide vote: in 2014, the Liberal Party under Steven Marshall won more than 53%, and didn’t just lose, but lost convincingly.

Now — in a breath of fresh air — the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission has finalised its redraw of boundaries ahead of the 2018 state election, which moves five seats on paper into the Liberals’ column and with them, makes an end to the most recent long-term Labor government in SA look likelier in 18 months’ time.

And Labor, having benefited from rigged boundaries for decades, is trying to raise merry hell about it.

In its “appraisal” of the latest redistribution, the ALP makes much of the fact that almost 400,000 voters (or almost one in three) are shifted into different electorates: hardly much of a surprise, given the distortions that have existed to this point, and which most recently gave Labor a majority win with a tick over 46% of the statewide vote.

It somehow seeks to claim that because the usually safe Liberal seat of Waite — held by turncoat and general piece of shit Martin Hamilton-Smith — returns to the Liberal column on paper, this is more evidence of a “biased” redraw. But Waite voters were sold down the river by Hamilton-Smith, who tossed principle overboard to jump into bed with the ALP and pocket a fat ministerial salary, and there is no obligation on the Commission’s part to somehow sanction this piece of bastardry just because it suits the Labor Party.

And the outrage Labor types seem to profess at the fact that some seats have been “flipped” on paper to the Liberals is fatuous, given the whole point of redistributions is to more equably apportion electorates based on the most recent electoral results, and if Labor now suggests that “notional” electorates should never emerge from a redistribution process it’s an indictment on its power-crazed entitlement mentality and an insight into the anti-democratic instincts that now underpin Australia’s oldest party.

The ALP has also made a lot of noise about the variable enrolments in the new seats, as good as declaring the new boundaries are rigged. But the Commission’s report clearly shows no electorate is above the 10% tolerance that is standard in Australia these days at all state and federal redistributions, and Labor’s bleating is no more than an attempt to smear and defame those who refuse to do its bidding: in this case a statutory government authority, which for once appears to have produced a fair outcome.

It should be emphasised that the SA Liberals — despite their lack of success at elections, which is in turn at least a partial consequence of past outcomes of the Commission — have in other respects been their own worst enemies, with bitter faction fighting and other divisive, self-destructive behaviour more entrenched and rampant in that division than anywhere else in the country; there is no guarantee at all the party will win the state election that is now less than 18 months away.

The Liberals retain a leader in Steven Marshall whose electoral appeal and ability to govern remain unclear, and they retain inside Parliament and out powerful factional players (such as Bragg MP Vicky Chapman, a perpetual target of this column) without whom they would well and truly be better off.

And the rising presence of Nick Xenophon’s NXT team, on its home turf, might well derail any prospect of a Liberal win altogether, as this left-leaning influence has at the federal level siphoned votes off the Liberal pile and disproportionately sent them on preferences to Labor.

But for all that, the changes in SA should be welcome: and are at least a decade overdue.

I don’t propose to discuss any issues that particularly apply to SA politics today, for the focus is the electoral system: it would, however, be remiss not to note the statewide blackouts that occurred there recently, and to note that for a party in office for 14 years (and for 25 of the past 34) Labor has nobody to blame but itself for anything SA voters are motivated to take up baseball bats over.

But the disturbing thing about these changes, and Labor’s reaction to them, is the pattern of anti-democratic thuggery it continues where the ALP’s approach to elections and government is concerned.

Federally, it is unable to accept it is in opposition, and uses the Senate not as an instrument of review, but as a battering ram to try to destroy the government.

In Queensland, it stealthily fiddled the electoral system, abolishing optional preferential voting (supported by at least the 60-70% of voters who no longer allocate preferences there) to give itself the best chance of harvesting Greens’ votes. In so doing, it abolished its own electoral fix, introduced when it ended the gerrymander in 1992.

In Victoria and Queensland, Labor sends out union officials at state elections masquerading as essential services workers, and in Victoria in 2014 even had “nurses” ring old and sick people to lie to them about what a Liberal state government would do if re-elected.

And where outright lying is concerned, the so-called “Mediscare” fracas during the recent federal election continues the theme of an ALP prepared to literally say anything to barge its way into the corridors of power, where patronage and influence can be handed out to union thugs and other filth that resides in the Labor tent.

In this sense, the ALP’s recourse to the South Australian Supreme Court should surprise nobody; it is the action of a sore loser, and one whose profit from a shabby rort has been allowed to go on for too long as it is.

My bet is that the Court will dismiss any challenge the ALP brings, although I don’t wish to pre-empt such a finding: it just seems so cut and dry as to be a frivolous and vexatious attempt to maintain advantage by legal intimidation and brutality.

And in this sense, there is a message for voters in every other state, and federally.

Next time you hear Bill Shorten, or any of the other parrot puppets the ALP sends out to address the media, talking about “fairness” and “equity,” what they are really talking about is their own self-interest and unfair advantage.

Labor is so concerned with fairness that it seeks to rig and rort the mechanics of elections to either keep itself in power forever, or destroy any government by someone else that voters have the nerve to install in its place.

Once again, what is going on in SA merely shows Labor is rotten to the core, and frankly, if SA voters needed an extra reason to throw the ALP out in 2018, Labor itself is handing it to them.

But even this is no guarantee, for the SA Liberals have repeatedly demonstrated the capacity to make themselves unelectable. For its trouble and its lack of real principle, SA Labor may yet prevail if the Liberals, once again, prove unable to get their shit together ahead of a state election at which they should be a lay-down misere.

 

SA Libs Show Why They Languish In Opposition

THE ISSUE — daylight saving — is innocuous, but the approach is fatuous, bloody-minded and downright childish: spearheaded by Vickie Chapman (a waste of a safe seat if ever there was), South Australia’s Liberals have scuttled a proposal to bring the state into line with Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales. At great cost to business, an opportunity to partly untangle the annual daylight saving mess across Australia has been needlessly squandered.

For those who were wondering, I haven’t forgotten Her Majesty’s milestone; effective from yesterday, Queen Elizabeth II is now the longest-serving monarch in British history: and whilst I am delighted of course — God Save The Queen! — it isn’t an anniversary as such, and so on this occasion I opted to let it pass.

Heading into the weekend, we will have much to discuss, but for now I want to speak about what at first blush might seem a triviality, but which instead perfectly embodies the reasons South Australia’s Liberal Party thoroughly deserves the favouritism it already “enjoys” in betting markets to be consigned to a fifth consecutive term in opposition in that state.

There has been a “debate” (for want of a more suitable term) going on in South Australia for some time now over whether to keep its time zone settings as they are, move 30 minutes closer to the Western Standard Time that applies in Perth, or — most sensibly — abandon their time zone and align official time in South Australia with New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania by permanently moving SA clocks forward by 30 minutes.

The last of the three options (which would still feature daylight saving adjustments in summer) would go a little way toward unpicking the ungodly mess that Australia’s time zones constitute, particularly in the warmer months: whilst Western Australia will never share a time zone with the east coast on account of distance, the practical effect of a 30-minute movement in South Australia would be minimal, and would mean that during daylight saving four of the five easternmost states at least would operate on common time.

Those effects would be easily outweighed by benefits in productivity and efficiency in trade and communications between states and economic gains.

But as seems characteristic when discussing the South Australian Liberals, common time — just like common sense — does not appear to be a commodity in abundant supply, at all.

The final article in this column for 2014 examined the lot of the South Australian Liberals in great depth and with brutal honesty, and rigged the state’s electoral boundaries may be — which really is no excuse for failing to win last year’s state election with an abysmal campaign that nonetheless secured 53% of the two-party vote — nothing that has transpired since then is remotely suggestive that the SA Libs have gone anywhere but backwards.

And quickly.

Yesterday’s issue of The Australian carried an article detailing how a Weatherill government initiative to align South Australia with the south-eastern states was effectively scuttled by a Liberal Party threat to block the requisite legislation in the upper house; in and of itself, this mightn’t be such a crime.

But to go through some of the crap (there is no other way to put it) that the Liberals have offered up as their pretext is to recognise a party in need of a top-to-bottom cleanout that is a disgrace to conservative politics, and in what seems to be becoming an all too familiar refrain, one which is appallingly run, stands for virtually nothing, and is a clubhouse for a little junta of cronies when it should be advancing liberal and conservative values to the betterment of the hundreds of thousands of South Australians whose hopes and aspirations depend on it.

The party’s deputy leader, Vickie Chapman, produced what must rank among the most cringeworthy and contemptible political soundbites in Australian political history, claiming “there’s no demonstrable evidence to support (South Australia) becoming a western suburb of Sydney,” which to be entirely candid shows that there is, in fact, no demonstrable evidence to support the contention that Chapman isn’t completely brain dead.

What makes Chapman’s idiotic pronouncement worse is her follow-up claim that “there’s good reason to stay in sync with the Northern Territory and our northern trading partners.”

What reason?

Half the distance from Adelaide lies more than a hundred times as many people as there are in Darwin. Our northern trading partners? What pap. The flow of goods and services in and out of South Australia — to say nothing of tourists, actual trade, and at the risk of sounding old-fashioned, money — has far more to do with Melbourne and Sydney than it does with the north. Any South Australian government which implemented a literal interpretation of Chapman’s remarks would bankrupt the place (not that they’d have to try hard, admittedly).

The business community could see the economic benefits in the move, but this supposed party of the business community has characteristically chosen to kick sand in its face; much better to rattle on with stupid and wholly defective rationales for a stupid decision cooked up in some ghastly backroom hollow by useless spivs unworthy of the stipend they are paid.

And to say something nice about him, remarks from treacherous dog — now SA Trade minister — Martin Hamilton-Smith are not very far wide of the mark, noting the loss of job opportunities and trade benefits, and accusing the Liberals of living in the past and looking backwards.

(Just in case anyone thinks I’ve relented in my criticism of Hamilton-Smith, I still maintain the that shrewdest assessment of that individual ever published appeared in this column in May last year, and I stand by every syllable of it. Those who missed it at the time may peruse it here: Hamilton-Smith might be making a reasonable fist of his job as a minister, but where integrity is concerned, he is sorely wanting).

But for all that — just like a Demtel commercial — there’s more.

The Advertiser today is running a story that details a position agreed by the Liberals’ party room on local government reform: rather than arrive at a position on the issue and stick to it, the party decided to wait and see what Labor’s position was: if Labor was in favour, the Liberals would oppose; if Labor opposed, the Liberals would support.

Liberal plan to “swing both ways,” The Advertiser aptly put it.

It actually doesn’t matter, in a sense, what the issue in fact is — which is why I’m not going to bother discussing it. The formulation the SA Liberals wanted to pursue is one that makes the likes of Bill Shorten and Daniel Andrews look principled and responsible. And that — not to put too fine a point on it — is a bar set low enough as it is.

You really have to wonder how the Liberal Party in South Australia can ever break out of the confines of opposition, given its apparent determination to render itself completely unelectable.

Yes, electoral boundaries that supposedly engineer “fair” boundaries prior to every election at fixed four-year intervals can only be dismissed as patently biased, delivering victory to the ALP at seven of the past nine state elections despite Labor only once winning a majority of the two-party vote in 2006.

But as I said earlier, that’s really not an excuse: and it certainly cuts no ice when this is the kind of thing the SA Liberals are serving up.

Many of its safest seats are occupied by long-standing no-hopers; in football terms they would be described as list cloggers. Nobody would make the mistake of ascribing all that much talent to the SA Liberal party room, for the brutal fact is that it boasts none.

For decades the SA party has been more interested in factional chicanery and the settling of long-dead scores than in any serious attempt to behave as a rational political party.

And yet again, Chapman, who has caused no end of trouble over the years with leadership mischief and factional machinations, despite being an insipid performer in Parliament and on the campaign trail — ensconced in her 70-30 safe Liberal seat — is at the epicentre of another object demonstration of why the Liberals really don’t deserve to win in South Australia.

Leader Steven Marshall is as good as useless. Terribly for the party — and in an utter indictment on it — there is simply nobody else fit to replace him.

Especially not Chapman, whatever plotting and scheming she might care to indulge herself with.

I really don’t like having to critically analyse the various Liberal Party divisions around the place; it’s depressing and, when the subject arises, I’ve got to be honest about it — there’s no credibility in glossing over trouble when the only people to whom it isn’t glaringly obvious are the members of the insiderish junta that runs things in Liberal land.

But with the expectation the recently-restored President of the Victorian division, Michael Kroger, will knock the party in my own state back into some semblance of competence and professionalism, South Australia’s Liberal Party is easily the worst-run and least electable of all the Liberal divisions across the country — the farce of its federal effort, run by yet more washed-up has-beens who are of no value to the party whatsoever, notwithstanding.

There’s another election due in South Australia in March 2018 — two and a half years away — and if a week is a long time in politics, obviously anything could happen to the conservatives in the Festival State over such a long lead time.

But right now, you’d have to say losing that election is very much on the cards: and if the party in SA doesn’t pull its collective finger out, and quickly, it won’t have the fig leaf of a majority of the two-party vote to hide behind when defeat rolls around again, either.

GST: Labor Should Grow Up And Join Reform Debate

THE SURPRISE of the GST on the reform agenda, partly due to an idea of NSW Premier Mike Baird that admittedly falls short, is encouraging: with rising public spending and an income tax base set to shrink for decades as the population ages, a rebuilt GST is key in fixing structural revenue issues. Labor must abandon its obstruction and empty rhetoric about “cruelty” and “fairness,” grow up, and help find the best outcome in the national interest.

First things first: until or unless his willingness to engage in meaningful discussion turns out to be a stunt or worse still, a subterranean strategy to scuttle meaningful change, South Australian Labor Premier Jay Weatherill deserves acknowledgement for apparently breaking ranks with the other Labor Premiers in being prepared to countenance changes to the GST; the push from some state Premiers to overhaul and bolster the GST may come to naught in the end, but it is refreshing — and surprising — to see a prominent identity from the “modern” ALP perhaps being prepared to actually set partisan politics aside in the interests of constructive policy rather than merely spruik an objective to do so as a way to harvest votes without ever delivering on it.

In fact, the fact a seemingly serious push for GST reform has emerged at all is surprising, for the combination of flat denials of willingness from almost every section of the ALP to even consider overhauling the tax and the reluctance of some Liberals to be the ones to raise the prospect of reform has to date killed any chance to even have a serious discussion around doing so.

The unprincipled charlatan that is ALP of the 21st century has seen to it that an increasing number of policy areas in urgent need of reform — taxation, welfare, labour market regulation and structural electoral reform, to name a few — are politically untouchable, and the GST fits within that subset; so concerned with winning elections at any cost is the Labor Party that it would rather see serious damage inflicted on this country than to permit its growing list of “sacred cows” to even be discussed, let alone reformed in any way.

But as ever, the ALP cares about power, not people.

The unlikely inclusion of the GST on the agenda for state Premiers to consider has come, in part, from an idea proposed by NSW’s Mike Baird that — to be blunt — fails to cut much ice when examined in even cursory detail, but Baird nonetheless deserves credit for getting the matter onto the table at all.

His idea for a straight lift in the GST rate from 10% to 15% without broadening the base (currently just 48% of all goods and services), with half the proceeds going to tax relief for low-income earners and welfare recipients to offset the impact and the remainder being carved up between the states, is at least a start.

But it fails to address the fact that the unhealthy reliance on PAYE tax is unsustainable, with an ageing population that sees that revenue base shrinking, which it will continue to do for decades; and as well intentioned as the Baird proposal undoubtedly is, it apparently places no emphasis on the need to match taxation reform with a program for winding back profligate, wasteful, recurrent government expenditure by past Labor governments — state and federal — that might have been well enough intentioned, but mostly is and was unaffordable.

It’s an unpleasant reality few in the ALP care to publicly admit, but every dollar of electoral bribery spent by a government is paid by a taxpayer — whether in business or a wage or salary earner — and for all the aversion to”cruelty” and infatuation with “fairness” Labor professes, there is little evidence it gives a stuff about the people who actually generate the tax dollars it so lovingly, and carelessly, doles out.

To say this largesse is out of control is an understatement; the line propounded by Liberal politicians (as well as a number of Treasury bureaucrats and economists) that the country has a spending problem rather than a revenue problem is true, and I saw at the weekend an article (a link to which I forgot to save — sorry!) that whilst headline revenues account for 27.3% of GDP, once the Medicare levy, superannuation contribution costs and other ancillary imposts are taken into account, the actual tax take is 33.2% of GDP — and bang on the OECD average, neatly exposing the myth that taxation in Australia is low by international standards.

Yet unless a switch in the focus of taxation is made from taxes on income to taxes on expenditure, that spending problem — if unaddressed, as Labor has gone to inordinate lengths to ensure it is — will soon enough be matched by a revenue problem as well, and it is only an irresponsible politician who can suggest there is no need to cut recurrent outlays or to take steps now to urgently fix the tax base.

I don’t propose to talk about cutting spending today, and in fact, this morning’s article is really only a curtain raiser to an enterprise in GST reform that I’m sure we will be talking about a lot more over coming weeks and months.

Aside from Baird putting the issue on the table — and Weatherill saying he is open to raising the GST and prepared to engage in rational and constructive conversation — Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein has said that whilst his state is disinclined to support changing the GST rate, he is prepared to listen to the arguments for change and reserve his government’s position on any reform proposals, whilst Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett (also nominally opposed to raising the GST rate) wants to examine the prospect of broadening the tax’s scope to apply to a far wider range of goods and services, including fresh food, the impact such changes would have, and the need for compensation for low-income earners and those on welfare and pensions.

I emphasise that any change to raise and/or broaden the GST comes with an obligation to do just that: it is the better-off who will contribute the bulk of the extra consumption tax dollars through higher spending, and those at the lower end of the social ecosystem would need to be compensated — just as they were when the tax was first introduced 15 years ago.

But broadly, there is considerable willingness among heads of government to contemplate tax reform. It is to be hoped some kind of consensus emerges.

Personally, I would like to see the GST doubled to 20% — in line with similar taxes in most comparable countries — with the income tax threshold lifted to, say, $25,000 per annum, marginal tax rates above that level flattened and reduced, and the GST base expanded to cover everything except healthcare, residential rents, education expenses and some financial transactions, with other government imposts like stamp duty and fuel excise abolished.

After increasing pensions and benefits to ensure welfare recipients are unaffected, some of the extra revenue could be ploughed into the states, with the remainder used to help fill the black hole left in the commonwealth budget by the Rudd-Gillard government that has been further exacerbated by the slowdown in Australia’s mining sector.

As a GST is a growth tax, these changes would set the country on a far more sustainable financial footing.

But as ever, the recalcitrant economic flat-earth types at the ALP refuse to have a bar of it.

So-called federal “leader” Bill Shorten refuses to discuss the GST at all, whilst he and others in the party claim their “policies” of cracking down on tax “evasion” by multinationals (read: punishing tax imposts on non-union businesses) and superannuation “reform” (read: punishing those who fund their own retirement without recourse to government benefits) would do the job instead.

But hitting big, offshore-based businesses is more of a pie chart concept than a practical, quantifiable, workable measure that could well do more harm than good if the usual hamfisted Labor way were to drive these companies — and Australian jobs — offshore.

And whilst Labor is obsessed with and racked by class envy and greed where self-funded retirees are concerned, I make the point that whilst Labor complains they don’t pay enough tax (not that there is an amount it would ever be satisfied with) but that these people save the government many billions of dollars annually by not claiming pensions.

You can’t have it both ways.

And as for Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ characteristically dumb-arsed call to lift the Medicare levy, all I will say is that this is an income tax rise that would have to be so large to make a meaningful difference to government budgets as to destroy the incentive to work. But Andrews — like so many of his Labor counterparts — is more interested in catchy sound bites than he is in serious, workable policy ideas.

It’s about time the GST occupied centre stage in any serious discussion about revenue and spending in this country, for it is the one measure that can be adapted to provide a fix to what, if left unaddressed, will become a permanent sea of red ink on state and federal budgets — and not all that far into the future.

Australia is not economically unassailable. Its prosperity cannot be taken for granted. Those leaders on both sides who have shown the courage and the stomach to start this debate deserve to be praised.

But as for the rest of the ALP which — as usual — would prefer to sit on the sidelines throwing populist stones in the hope it can be elected with as small a mandate for tough decisions as possible, it should grow up and take its responsibilities as a party to governance in Australia seriously, and stop trying to maintain a policy firewall contrived in its own petty electoral interests rather than focusing on the long-term good of the country.

 

National View: Cocky, Spiteful Labor Unfit To Govern

AS PRIME MINISTER Tony Abbott has languished, variously, under unpopularity and threats to his leadership, the Labor Party has made hay whilst the sun shone; content merely to spoil, standing for nothing, the ALP has already won office in two states, and a third beckons this month. Devoted only to beating Liberals and getting its union mates into the gravy — and in control — smug, cocky Labor isn’t fit to shovel shit, let alone form government.

I thought Tony Abbott was finished — and he may yet prove to be so; there were and are good reasons for the low opinion poll ratings the Coalition has endured for the past year, and issues theoretically distant from the public gaze (which have nonetheless recently been aired) are responsible in no small measure for driving them down.

I have been delighted at the performance of the Prime Minister and the government over the past week, although it is “early days,” to use the vernacular; but I do not yet believe the polls — storming back toward the government so quickly it should be in front by next week — yet whether they are rogue or representative, it is heartening for now at least to see the Liberal Party competitive, even if that moment proves fleeting in time.

(And I stand by my call for the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Peta Credlin* to be removed, involuntarily if need be; objectively analysed and with more than a few interesting stories forthcoming from a multitude of unfortunate people who have had cause to associate with Ms Credlin directly or indirectly, I remain unconvinced that her new low-profile incarnation is either genuine or durable: best to get rid of her now, before she reverts to type and causes more trouble — and before more of “her way” costs the PM his job).

But it has been a month — exactly a month — since rebel backbench Liberal MPs, alarmed at the direction the Abbott government was taking and driven by what may yet prove to be inevitable electoral defeat, orchestrated a spill attempt against Tony Abbott that the Prime Minister survived by a modest but not decisive margin; this column was more than fair and even-handed about those events (to the chagrin of some in the Liberal Party) but as the smoke clears, a more deserving target is drifting into clearer view.

What a difference a month makes.

Just after the votes from that abortive spill attempt were counted, I published an article in this column suggesting that with the government resetting its compass to move forward (apologies!), the time had arrived to tear to shreds Labor’s so-called “leader,” Bill Shorten, who has been permitted to get away with the political equivalent of blue murder ever since Labor’s rigged leadership selection mechanism saw him ascend to the post in defiance of the overwhelming mood of the ALP membership, which had been duped into believing it had been “enfranchised.”

A quick look around the country suggests that federal Labor isn’t the only iteration of the ALP that leaves a fair bit to be desired, but more on the others shortly.

Shorten Labor — like its state-based cousins — has spent all of the time since the 2013 election waiting: waiting for difficult issues to land in the Abbott government’s lap; waiting for the hostile Senate to savage its legislative program; waiting for it to make mistakes; and waiting for its unpopularity (which exists in no small part due to Labor’s fabricated rantings and vicious abuse of the Prime Minister personally) to rub off in the states, allowing directionless and unprincipled Labor governments to take office, and to wait patiently for what it thinks will be the ultimate result, which as the storyline goes is a Labor win federally next year.

It’s an approach that works well — if your opponent is in complete disarray.

But as the Liberals now regain some momentum, it’s also an approach that can and should lead only to electoral disaster, for a Labor Party that offers no ideas, only moves when the fingers of its union masters wedged up its collective backside twitch, and which can’t even offer basic honesty about the political circumstances Australia finds itself in (or the responsibility Labor bears for mistakes it made between 2007 and 2013) is not fit to govern.

Someone highly familiar with the inner workings of the Abbott government and the strategies that have been pursued to date — if you could call them that — confirmed to me a little while ago that it has been a deliberate approach on the government’s part to ignore Shorten and Labor as much as it could; the idea was to paint the ALP (and the insidious Shorten in particular) as irrelevant, peripheral, and marginalised.

It has been a mistake of some magnitude, and with the Coalition now apparently serious about resetting its operations, this is one target that needs urgent — and incessant — attention.

It may well be that Greens, Palmer people, minor party identities and Independents offer between them a route to having legislation passed that theoretically allows for the bypass of Labor altogether; in practice, this ignores the fact that if Labor were to be co-opted to support at least some bills some of the time, the government would probably have more legislation on the statute books than it already does.

Dealing more directly, and interactively, with the ALP affords that party additional scope to publicly obstruct the government, rather than doing it on the sly away from the view of the voting public: part of Abbott’s perception problems arise from the fact that voters see the chaos going on in Canberra and the only identifiably “responsible” party for it, to them, is the Coalition, when in fact the real issue with deadlock and inertia in the federal Parliament emanates from Labor as much as from the crossbench.

Labor has had a great many fairy stories to sustain itself over the past 18 months; chief among them is the delusion that only itself is the arbiter of what is “fair,” underpinned by an obscenely misplaced conviction that the ALP is the only entity in this country that is entitled to govern it — and a determination, marooned in opposition, to destroy the elected government at any cost.

To some extent, this is purely the nature of opposition: a party to the left of the Speaker can only assume office by getting rid of the other mob.

But there is a balance, and federal Labor’s version — which, despite its insistence that it is only doing “what Abbott did,” is nothing of the sort — involves a complete contempt for the electorate and its wishes, and the willingness to lie and deceive to cover for its own defects and iffy record, which in truth is no more appealing than a bit of used toilet paper.

As opposition leader, it is true that Abbott opposed a great deal of Labor’s measures.

But he also provided bipartisan support and political cover on certain issues (the NDIS is a case in point, albeit one I disagree with vehemently) and he arrived in the Prime Minister’s office with a program of sorts, promising — as everyone knows — to stop the boats, axe the tax, fix the budget, end the waste, and build the roads of the future.

By contrast, Shorten proposes only to abolish the private health insurance rebate — a disastrous idea that would almost certainly cause the quickfire collapse of the healthcare sector in Australia — and, hidden among vague suggestions of “hitting the rich” (a standard ALP dogma nowadays”), a pledge to crack down on “tax avoidance by multinationals,” a notion no government in the Western world has ever worked out how to enact and which, if given form, would almost certainly cause the exit of any companies affected from this country: doing more damage than good, in other words.

So much for Labor’s policies.

Despite the alleged democratisation of the ALP — instituted by decree by Kevin Rudd to save his own bacon in the event he won the 2013 election — all power in the Labor Party continues to reside in the union movement; elections and voters are a mere inconvenience to be tolerated and navigated to secure parliamentary power for the unions and to hold onto it.

If anyone doubts this, they need look no further than the basis for every Labor preselection in the country: all seats, winnable or otherwise, are divided up according to membership of various unions, and determined through a complex web of personal loyalties and fiefdoms that dole out seats in Parliament as rewards. No real talent is required. No clue about the world is needed. The only prerequisite is the ability to do what you’re told. The rest takes care of itself.

It’s how Labor can be “led” by such a frightful specimen as Bill Shorten, a questionable individual with absolutely nothing to offer Australia in any useful capacity.

It’s true he was a very diligent union leader; this is the primary reason he found his way into Parliament at all.

But you wouldn’t trust Shorten as far as you could throw him, as many of his past and present colleagues — to say nothing of two ex-Prime Ministers — nursing knife wounds in the backs of their shoulders would attest to.

It is salient to note that insofar as historic rape allegations against Shorten are concerned, he was not cleared; Police declined to proceed with charges against him due to a lack of evidence, and whilst these two concepts might result in the same outcome — Shorten free to go about his business — they are not necessarily the same thing.

In fact, there are a lot of interesting stories floating around about “Bull Shittin,'” some of which have been aired at the Heydon Commission into the trade union movement.

It may very well be the case that in the end, no charges against Shorten are recommended, and if that is the case, the distinction between “no case to answer” and a “lack of evidence” will be one most observers will quarrel over on which side of Heydon’s conclusions they fall.

But either way, it is indisputable that Labor under Shorten was instrumental during the week in defeating a bill in Parliament that would have subjected unions to the same standards of governance and accountability as the business sector.

Why? What do the unions have to hide? To listen to Shorten (or, in fact, any Labor operative, no matter how menial and/or insignificant), the union movement is the greatest social institution Australia has ever produced. What does it have to hide? Why does it think itself above the law? These are questions Labor, and Shorten, must answer.

But they won’t, for they are simply too busy: too busy obstructing the government of the day, an enterprise that has to date met with virtually no retaliation, and that must change.

Too busy lying to Australians about the criminally negligent manner in which the ALP mismanaged the federal budget when it was last in office; the Global Financial Crisis be buggered.

GFC or no’, Labor still found its way clear to legislate — between Gonski and the NDIS — some $30 billion in annual additional recurrent spending despite the “revenue crisis” Wayne Swan used to bleat about; it has since come to pass that revenue as a proportion of government outgoings has indeed deteriorated, which is why the legislation of an extra $30 billion a year in spending should really be the impetus for prosecutions, not congratulations.

And Labor is too busy lying to people about the motives of the Liberal Party: the dreadful budget delivered last year by Joe Hockey was easily the worst ever delivered by a Liberal Treasurer — the extent of Labor mismanagement notwithstanding — and was, to be blunt, completely unsaleable politically, targeting as it did floating Liberal voters in marginal Coalition electorates.

The federal Coalition might have its problems, but with no policies from the ALP and no moral fibre, a government formed by the Liberal and National Parties is preferable to any proffered by Labor: at least with the Coalition, the offering isn’t founded upon a pathological lie.

And to be honest, the same ALP that railed for decades against the excesses of the likes of Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Bob Askin gives every indication that in its modern form, it aspires to nothing less than a one-party state with itself and its union masters at the helm. After all, election defeats are disregarded with cavalier abandon, and those Liberal governments that find their way into office are attacked in ways that could hardly be construed as reasonable, or even democratic.

The most recent example of this occurred last week, with the so-called “March4” protests an object lesson in Labor’s and the unions’ dedication to their members’ interests; a bystander could be forgiven for thinking it was just an attack on the Liberal Party, because that is all it was.

Bands of lawless thugs spilling onto the streets, disrupting cities for hours in the name of exercising “a right to protest,” this had nothing to do with advancing the lot of those poor bastards who pay their union dues every fortnight; the packs sporting shirts that read “FUCK TONY ABBOTT” and “FLICK THE PRICK” could scarcely have made themselves clearer that whilst they invoked the spectre of their paying members, the only thing that mattered was a political point those members had no direct input into.

I read Piers Akerman’s column in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph yesterday morning, which postulated on what form a Labor government might take if Luke Foley were to triumph over Mike Baird in a few weeks’ time; Labor thinks itself on a roll in the states, augmented and buttressed by the unpopularity of the Abbott government, and it looks north of the Tweed to see an LNP government wiped out on a 14% swing after a single term in the knowledge that less of a two-party movement would see a similar fate befall the Coalition in the Premier State.

Let’s just stop for a second. What does Labor offer any state in Australia as a government?

In Victoria, Daniel Andrews was a one-trick pony who campaigned on the analogy that the Coalition was “a circus;” in this enterprise he was aided by the do-nothing nature of the Baillieu years, and subsequently by the offensive presence of Liberal-cum-Independent Geoff Shaw, who held the Napthine government to ransom through no fault of its own on account of the fraught numbers in the lower house (for those who do not remember there were 44 Coalition MPs, 43 from the ALP, and Shaw).

The only thing Andrews had to work with was the numerical state of the Parliament. What did Napthine do wrong?

Certainly not the East-West road link, announced a year out from a state election (even if the contract was signed nine months later): governments are elected to govern, and the Coalition, after Baillieu’s departure, got on with it.

But Andrews beat Napthine; and despite solemn promises the contract to build this road was “not worth the paper it was printed on,” the Victorian government is now caught between either legislating its way out of the contract — throwing up the real issue of sovereign risk for future investment in infrastructure in Victoria — or paying out $1.2bn in compensation money Andrews swore unequivocally was not due and would not be payable if the road project was cancelled.

Labor tilled the ground by leaking the contents of a stolen dictaphone recording of former Premier Ted Baillieu speaking off the record to a journalist: a piece-of-shit act for which it was never brought to account.

And militant unions like the CFMEU have seen to it, in the few metaphoric minutes Labor has been back in power, that the state’s building code has been repealed — ending, as it were, any redress against thuggy miscreant unions on building sites that would wilfully damage the state’s business and construction interests lest their agenda of control of industry and government be threatened.

The same thing looks likely to happen in Queensland, where Labor — elected in a shock revolt against the excesses of Campbell Newman’s government — pledged to discontinue asset sales; “once they are gone, they are gone forever,” its campaign literature bleated of Newman’s privatisation agenda.

Yet even now — five weeks on — the Queensland government is wriggling around to make a privatisation program possible; Queensland, it must be remembered, remains in more or less the shitty soup Labor left it in three years ago, and whilst the LNP under Newman made great strides in beginning to redress the damage, it appears the Palaszczuk government has realised too late that without the money from privatisation, finishing the reconstruction job will be impossible.

NSW Labor, under Foley, is singing from the same cracked record as Palaszczuk did in opposition on the privatisation of electricity assets, which were central to Newman’s plan to retire a huge chunk of the debt Queensland had been saddled with under 14 years of incompetent Labor mismanagement.

But the common thread in all three states (and the others we haven’t talked about, to be sure) is the use of unions to do Labor’s bidding, and the abject lies not only about what Liberals may or may not be doing, but about the reprehensible damage Labor governments do whenever and wherever they are elected to office anywhere in the country.

Dangerously militant unions like the CFMEU and the ETU lie at the heart of every “successful” ALP campaign in all of these states: their money, their manpower and their agenda are central to the arguments prosecuted, and central to the priorities of whatever government prevails if their efforts are fruitful in electoral terms.

There will be real and adverse consequences for the good burghers in Queensland and Victoria from the ghastly Labor governments that have taken office in those states, and for NSW if Labor somehow manages to triumph there on 28 March.

But it is difficult to fault voters, many of whom still trust what they hear from political parties they remain favourably disposed toward, despite the low regard in which politics generally is held in Australian communities nowadays.

In the final analysis, it is this trust the Labor Party is guiltiest of abusing: bare-faced lying, defaming its opponents, and saying literally anything to win a vote, this incompetent and utterly useless political entity would stand for nothing at all were it not for the irrelevant but lethal union monoliths that prop it up.

Labor might be smug, confronted with a troubled Abbott government that has been more accident-prone than inept: it is difficult, in the federal Coalition’s case, to be convicted of any offence when its bills simply can’t pass the Senate.

And Labor might be cocky, too, watching its poll numbers climb through the roof.

But its spite is without limit, for as much as Labor has spent decades criticising the Liberal Party for a “born to rule” mentality, the odium and rancour it emits when denied the levers of power knows no bounds, and dwarfs anything it ever accused the Liberals of as it pursues a mad lust for power — with a smile on its face, no less, and empty promises of nothing bad.

It’s not much better than the stereotypical paedophile in a park, in a raincoat, with a bag of lollies: so low has modern Labor stooped.

All the Labor Party cares for these days is beating the Liberals and getting the arses of its chosen vessels into green leather chairs — and executing the instructions of its union masters to the letter — and any voter in Australia who thinks differently is either one of its ilk or is deluding themselves.

Make no mistake, whatever the election and to whatever jurisdiction it applies, the Australian Labor Party is not fit to call itself after that great institution it once constituted, and of which ordinary Labor voters should be ashamed.

It stands for nothing more than the path of least electoral resistance: no policies, no agenda (beyond the union movement, that is) and no principle other than the overriding instinct to control things, and to inflict misery on anything or anyone that disagrees with it.

In short, the ALP isn’t fit to shovel shit, let alone merit the privilege of government.

And the sooner Coalition forces around Australia attack it on those terms, the better the country will be for it.

 

LOTS of links, some to articles containing even more links, today: a big multi-faceted subject with a lot of ground to cover that makes retracing a few steps a good idea into the bargain. And plenty of holiday reading and associated “alleyways” to disappear into with the extra day off.

 

*If Peta Credlin would like at any stage to exercise a right of reply and/or to rebut the accusations made against her, this column will faithfully reprint up to 1,000 words submitted by her (subject to my personal verification of their origin): I am even prepared to do so as an image, should such a submission come scanned in a suitable format, to avoid any charge of tampering.

I won’t hold my breath, however, and neither should readers — even if this offer finds its way to Ms Credlin, one of the commonest charges my sources have levelled against her is a complete sense of immunity from criticism or reproach, or admissions of error in any way but the most patronising and insincere. If we hear from Credlin at all, readers will be the first to know.

 

Nuclear Abyss: SA Libs End 2014 At A Minute To Midnight

THE HAND OF FATE may well have been poised to strike South Australia’s Liberals from the moment 2014 began; whether destined or not, it’s been a horror year for the Liberal Party in the Festival State: knowing the electoral boundaries were fixed, it ran a poor state election campaign led by a lacklustre neophyte and paid the price. Now — after nine more months of abject humiliation — come signs the lot of the SA Liberals could yet grow far worse.

It’s difficult to know which is preferable or, I might say, less undesirable: losing an election in a catastrophic landslide resulting in a near-wipeout, or losing by the merest sliver in terms of votes and seats as part of the kind of year the Liberal Party in South Australia has endured this year.

Frankly, I’d choose the wipeout — at least from there, the only way is up.

Yet to be absolutely brutal, unless it finds some way to fix up its act in record time, the SA Liberals — having tasted the bitterest of political nectar in 2014, starting with a state election loss by a hair’s breadth — are likely to have experienced both of these unpalatable scenarios by the time the votes are counted on election night in March 2018.

In short, the SA Liberals teeter on the precipice of a nuclear abyss: the clock, rather euphemistically on this New Year’s Eve, reads one minute to midnight.

I’ve been reading the results of the final quarterly Newspoll of voter sentiment in South Australia for 2014, published in The Australian today, and to say they don’t exactly make for happy reading for the Liberals is an understatement.

Newspoll now shows the ALP leading the Liberals on primary votes and attracting a 6% swing after preferences based on the March state election result; Premier Jay Weatherill now leads Liberal leader Steven Marshall by almost 20 points on the “preferred Premier” measure, and Marshall himself is now attracting the sort of uninspiring personal approval numbers that in any other circumstances would invite a leadership challenge.

We’ll come back to that last point a little further in.

The only real surprise in the Newspoll numbers is that they aren’t worse for the Liberals. Then again, however, a uniform 6% swing to Labor at another state election would see it swept to a fifth term with 28 of the 47 lower house seats in South Australia — plus their by-election gain of Fisher if they could hold it, and plus “Independent” Geoff Brock (assuming he remained supportive).

God only knows what would happen at an election to Liberal turncoat Martin Hamilton-Smith (and on one level, who cares) but even without him 30 seats is a smashing election win, and that is where Labor in the Festival State is now tracking.

2014 has been a terrible year for the Liberal Party in South Australia.

Its tepid state election campaign (my scathing election-night analysis of which may be accessed here) already seems to have laid the foundations for another embarrassing defeat in 2018.

I know it has been fashionable to blame the Abbott government for the misadventures of the SA Liberals this year, and to some extent — with its botched federal budget and the incendiary remarks that the SA-based shipbuilding industry couldn’t be trusted “to build a canoe” by sacked Defence minister David Johnston — there may be a modicum of merit in such a view.

But the South Australian division of the Liberal Party boasts one outright state election win in 30 years; in nine elections it has won once (1993), limped into minority government after squandering a record parliamentary majority (1997), and lost the remaining seven in 1982, 1985, 1989, 2002, 2006, 2010, and this year.

With this sort of track record, looking in their own back yard might be a better idea than lashing out to sidestep responsibility: irrespective of how credible the selected scapegoat might appear, or how plausible the latest explanation as to why the SA Liberals are not responsible for their own misfortunes might sound.

Most observers of Australian politics know that South Australia’s Liberals are perhaps the most divided, faction-riven, internally conflicted political outfit in the country; its traditions of internecine blood feuding and personality-based tribal hatreds date back decades.

Every time the party makes a “fresh start” — the leadership of Isobel Redmond before the 2010 election, for example, or Marshall (for what it was worth) heading into the election in March — the old guard of its past warfare finds some way to cruel proceedings. Under Redmond, it was serial agitator Vickie Chapman failing to rule out a leadership challenge if Redmond won in 2010. This time, in a dreadful look, Chapman fought alongside Marshall as his deputy.

It’s an old story that has destroyed a plethora of Liberal leaders: for the bulk of those 30 years of mostly awful election losses, elements within the SA Liberals have been content to fight and bicker and undermine whomever happens to be at the helm. It’s hardly a recipe to inspire public confidence, let alone garner votes.

Make no mistake, when it comes to leadership prospects, the SA Liberals are bereft.

Marshall ought to be a dead man walking, and in any other circumstances, he would be; the loss of an unloseable state election in March — followed up by the loss to Labor three weeks ago of a safe Liberal seat vacant after the death of an Independent — should, in the ordinary course of events, see his papers stamped and his departure from his plush North Terrace offices all but formalised.

Marshall survives for the abhorrent reason that there is literally nobody left who is suitable to replace him; the SA Liberals’ best and most credible alternative, former leader Martin Hamilton-Smith — the bastard — defecated all over his party en route to defecting to a highly paid ministerial sinecure as a member of Weatherill’s Labor Cabinet.

Redmond, it was universally acknowledged, had reached her political use-by date after herself falling short at the 2010 state election; Chapman would love the role, of course, but the shenanigans that have characterised her time in Parliament are such that to make her leader would be to reward exactly the kind of behaviour this troubled division of the party needs to stamp out at all costs. Chapman is a waste of an ultra-safe state seat, and the sooner she relinquishes it in favour of someone with more to offer, the better.

Former leader Iain Evans — alone of the abundance of has-beens in the SA Liberals’ ranks — is doing what Redmond, Chapman, and perhaps a number of others ought to be doing, and leaving Parliament altogether: the date for the by-election in his safe-ish seat of Davenport is set down for 31 January, one month from today.

Yet even this — something that should have happened months ago, as we discussed in June — is a path fraught with political risk; to lose Fisher to Labor a few weeks ago was bad enough, but to lose a traditional Liberal stronghold like Davenport as well would be an unmitigated disaster.

And if a defeat in that seat should come to pass next month, it closes the door to any prospect of renewal during the present term of Parliament, meaning Redmond’s safe seat of Heysen and the veritable Liberal citadel of Bragg — occupied by Chapman — cannot be used to vault much-needed top-shelf talent into the party’s parliamentary ranks.

Whichever way you cut it, the SA Liberals are in a mess.

Yet a clue to just how badly they have failed to capitalise on opportunity lies in the fact that of the nine state elections I listed out earlier, including seven outright defeats, all but one of those elections saw the Liberal Party win more than 50% of the statewide vote on the two-party measure.

This year’s embarrassment, achieved with a tick more than 53% after preferences, was probably the worst result of all of them.

But it raises a pivotal question: in full and clear knowledge that the electoral boundaries are, to put it bluntly, rigged — and despite the fact a redistribution occurs every term to try to ensure “fair” boundaries exist — why are the Liberals’ election strategies in individual electorates so deficient?

Even with the 53% they scored in March, the SA Liberals needed a further uniform swing of 1.5% to snare the final two seats required to form a majority government, and any electoral system requiring in effect 55% of the two-party vote to seal victory is not “fair:” it is rigged, and no amount of explanation can hide the fact. It may be deliberate or it may be the product of defective methodology. Either way, it is flawed.

I put it thus because with so many years of electoral data to support the fact it faces barriers to winning office over and above a straight majority of the vote, the SA Liberal Party should have devised the strategies to overcome these hurdles by now.

It isn’t as if it has lacked support, given the only election won by Labor in 30 years with a majority of the two-party vote was the thumping win by Mike Rann in 2006.

But Labor in South Australia has every chance to consolidate its grip on government there; now armed with the parliamentary majority it initially relied on alleged Independents and traitors to secure, the prospect of Weatherill hitting hit straps and riding the beaten Marshall into the Adelaide dirt looms as a nightmare scenario for the Liberals that may very well materialise sooner than they think.

A loss in Davenport next month would do the trick. Were it to occur, the SA Liberals would be confronting a scenario akin to the political equivalent of nuclear Armageddon.

I haven’t even touched on the impact (if any) the Abbott government might or might not exert over the state Liberals’ fortunes over the next few years, or the further report from The Australian suggesting the Liberals could lose three of the six federal seats they hold in South Australia at the next federal election, including two — Boothby and Sturt — they have held for decades. I don’t have to. The state Liberals are in a disastrous state as it is. They don’t need any help from outside to notch up that dubious achievement.

There is the suggestion that the Liberals’ state director, Geoff Greene — one of several Liberal Party executives who has been circulated through a merry-go-round of different state divisions, a practice that has seen the orchestrators of some of the party’s worst defeats recycled and rebadged in new roles elsewhere in the country, and which must stop — is about to be given the boot.

I’m very much in favour of this, and I think too often those charged with the stewardship of the party’s fortunes have been allowed to survive or be sent somewhere to start “afresh” when the campaigns they have been responsible for have ended in ignominy; it’s a gravy train that sees few if any of them ever held to account for presiding over electoral beltings, and as good as these individuals may be as people, they should be held to account. Kicking Greene off the cart would at least signal the SA Liberals are serious when it comes to yet another fresh start.

But this is a state division in need of a root and branch overhaul — rebuilt from the ground up, not merely sacking a single staffer — and circumstance, electoral configuration and sheer incompetence have all conspired to ensure such a reconstruction job is next to impossible to complete in a timely and adequate fashion.

In the final analysis, the services of former Foreign minister Alexander Downer — championed in this column as the rightful claimant of the SA Liberal leadership prior to the March election — should have been pursued at all costs; with a decade of experience in government and another decade in Parliament beforehand, along with virtually unrivalled networks and a deep contact book, Downer would almost certainly be Premier of South Australia today had he stood, and his party would have had the opportunity to rebuild from a position of relative strength.

Instead, the heavyweight in Downer was substituted for the lightweight first-term MP Marshall, and the SA Liberals have paid one hell of a price for such an experimental indulgence.

For South Australia’s Liberals, it’s a minute to midnight. The portents for the new year are not good.

*Lots of links today. Just “because.” South Australia is home to some of my favourite places in Australia. I just wish its conservative forces could get their shit together.

SA: Another Week, Another Liberal Election Debacle

THE LIKELY DEFEAT of the Liberal candidate at yesterday’s by-election in the seat of Fisher means that for the second time in two weeks, Labor has claimed majority government in a mainland state; rigged boundaries may have saved Labor at an election early this year but a win in a safe Liberal seat, vacant after the death of a popular Independent, makes this detail redundant. It also confirms the start of a national swing back to the ALP.

It’s hard to imagine a more innocuous, yet pivotal, by-election.

Popular Liberal-turned-Independent Bob Such — re-elected for four years in March, only to be diagnosed with a brain tumour and pass away soon after — left behind what was universally regarded as an otherwise very safe Liberal electorate; the SA Liberals, in turn, were expected to cruise to victory in the ensuing by-election, held yesterday, putting enormous pressure on turncoat Martin Hamilton-Smith and the biased “Independent” Geoff Brock, whose sleight-of-hand deal while Such was on his sick bed propped Labor up in minority government despite garnering less than 47% of the two-party vote at the state election.

So much for the prepared text.

It appears that Labor has scored a stunning win in the Fisher by-election, aided by preferences from an Independent endorsed by Such’s widow; at the close of counting last night and with the provisional distribution of preferences completed, Labor’s Natalie Cook was leading the Liberals’ Heidi Harris by a 51-49 margin, and the only question mark around these numbers — which, if resolved, would favour Labor — centred on a reporting error by the Electoral Commission and the suggestion that with the purported anomaly corrected, Labor’s lead over the Liberals would almost treble.

Some 22% of voters in Fisher voted early, and these ballots will be counted over the course of the coming week. Even so, observers seem to concur that these will at best for the Liberals maintain the present Labor lead, or narrowly favour the ALP.

Two weeks ago, the ALP governed in minority only in the ACT and SA; now, it has acquired majorities in Victoria and South Australia, with an imminent state election in Queensland looking increasingly ominous for the LNP.

But unlike last weekend’s humiliating result for the Liberals in Victoria — which I maintain was decided on state issues — it is impossible to suggest that the result in Fisher was not influenced, in significant degree, by voter disaffection with the Abbott government.

Compounding the result in Fisher for the Liberals is that a 12-year-old Labor government secured a swing of close to 10% in what would ordinarily be regarded as a safe Liberal seat. I simply can’t think of a precedent for such a result. It is almost a political absurdity.

In my article yesterday, I gave a comprehensive critique of what is wrong with the Abbott government as it stands; and to the extent tangible evidence is required to support the case I presented, it appeared via the ballot box at the hands of voters in Fisher yesterday.

One thing that is beginning to become clear is that there is a national movement toward Labor now solidifying, at the very least in the states: and as much as state factors will influence this movement to varying degrees depending on the unique circumstances of each jurisdiction, the Coalition is failing to consolidate its position in any state or federally, with the only likely election win in the offing for the Liberals anywhere in the next few years set to occur in NSW in March — albeit with a swing of 7-10% to the ALP there too.

And in the case of South Australia, we have discussed the deficiencies in the Liberal operation and, specifically, what needs to be done to revitalise the ranks of its parliamentary wing: I do note that former leader Iain Evans has resigned his seat of Davenport, with a by-election due there on 31 January; it is not too late for others — especially Vickie Chapman in the ultra-safe seat of Bragg — to follow suit, the result yesterday notwithstanding.

My comments this morning are intended to be brief, not least because a final result in Fisher won’t be declared for some days, although it seems disingenuous to suggest it will be anything other than a Labor win.

But I wanted to include some reference to it on account of the discussion of federal issues we had here yesterday; it has been long thought that a government of one political persuasion in Canberra faced by state governments predominantly composed of the other was mutually advantageous to all of those administrations at the ballot box; it remains to be seen, however, whether this holds good over the next few years as at least one other state ALP government (Queensland) before the 2016 federal election is plausible, with another in WA to perhaps follow in early 2017 unless the Barnett government rights the state of its ship.

The point is that if ever there was an environment for a federal government travelling poorly to poison its state-based siblings, that time is now: and yesterday was a graphic illustration of this. After all, the usual “kick the bastards” protest vote that appears at by-elections, if it was aimed at Jay Weatherill’s state government at all, was overwhelmingly counteracted by other baseball bat-wielding voters determined to take aim at Canberra.

There are two points to make in closing.

One, the episode merely underlines the critical importance of the Abbott government getting…itself…together in short order; voters are more than willing to take aim at any available target to punish the kind of mistakes the federal government has been making, and whilst it is too early to speak of a “rising tide” of Labor support or similar, just how far that tide rises — and how much Coalition territory it inundates — will be determined by the Liberals in isolation from anything Labor might or might not do.

And two, no longer reliant on two Independents to prop his government up and despite announcing he will retain the pair as ministers, it would be fit and proper for Weatherill to now set Liberal Party traitor Martin Hamilton-Smith adrift: to cut the bastard loose, and leave him marooned as the isolated irrelevance he deserves to be.

I don’t like criticising my party, but will do it when indicated in the name of impartial comment; those who run off and jump in bed with Labor, however, deserve the belting they receive in review, and one of the more satisfying pieces published in this column, dealing with Hamilton-Smith, did precisely that.

It would be a small satisfaction, in view of yesterday’s result, for the karma truck to now pay Mr Hamilton-Smith a visit.

In the bigger scheme of things, however, the by-election is no laughing matter: the latest in a series of very potent warnings was delivered to the Liberal Party in stark terms by the voters in Fisher.

It is more food for thought for Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin over the summer as they mull which way to move when Parliament reconvenes after the silly season early next year.

 

SA Independent MP Bob Such Dead At 70

VETERAN SOUTH AUSTRALIAN MP Dr Bob Such has died, aged 70; his passing — confirmed this evening — will trigger a by-election for his seat of Fisher, and an overwhelmingly likely win for the Liberal Party would tighten, but not overturn, the result of the South Australian state election in March. This column wishes its condolences to Dr Such’s family. Even so, life goes on: and a re-energised swipe at another Liberal turncoat now falls due.

I wanted to comment e’er briefly tonight on the sad news that former Liberal turned SA Independent, Bob Such, has passed away, aged 70; re-elected just seven months ago for a further four years, Such was one of two Independents who held the balance of power after the state election in March, until erstwhile “Independent”and ALP stooge Geoff Brock took it upon himself to re-install the ALP in office despite the Liberal Party winning more than 53% of the statewide two-party vote.

At that time, and amid uncertainty as to who did what in ceding the election outcome to Labor, this column incorrectly apportioned blame to Dr Such in what was at the time the common view he had collaborated with Brock to return Labor to power. I apologised and issued a correction at the time, and it remains a point of regret now.

I certainly wish to minute my condolences and good will to Dr Such’s family at this difficult time; the terrible affliction of a brain tumour is one I have witnessed more than once within my social network in recent years — once involving a young boy — and it must rank as one of the most awful things to have to deal with. I do wish those who mourn Dr Such peace, as I do Dr Such himself in death.

But life goes on, and this development will quickly have consequences for South Australian politics; it seems almost certain that the Liberal Party will now reclaim the seat Dr Such took with him when he left the Liberals in 2000, winning re-election as an Independent on four subsequent occasions.

The news of Dr Such’s death is barely an hour old at time of writing, and already there is an overwhelming amount of social media chatter suggesting the Premier, Jay Weatherill, will find some cynical ploy to deny the voters of Fisher a by-election and/or to rig the outcome. Whilst I don’t subscribe to either of these ridiculous conspiracy theories for a moment, the fact they are being floated at all belies the real cynicism and disenchantment that exists in South Australia in the wake of an election conducted on rigged boundaries, whose outcome was determined by a stooge and a treacherous ex-dog of the Liberal Party.

Any by-election in Fisher will take place against a statewide backdrop of 24 Labor seats, 21 Liberals, and one other “Independent,” which is Brock; the starting point would have been 23-22 Labor’s way were it nor for former Liberal leader Martin Hamilton-Smith selling his party and the state out to accept a ministry earlier this year.

With no disrespect to the late Dr Such, it seems the 2014 state election simply won’t go away in South Australia; should the Liberals win his seat — and had Hamilton-Smith put responsibility before his back pocket and his ambitions — then a deadlocked Parliament, 23-all between the Liberals and Labor, would again place Brock in the hot seat, but I contend would make it far more difficult for him to justify backing his Labor Party mates.

Certainly, the justification he relied on most heavily — that Labor needed a single additional vote for a majority whilst the Liberals required two, and in Dr Such’s absence this could not be provided — would no longer exist.

Whilst the death of Dr Such is very sad, South Australians are once again going to be forced to confront the fact that their state election — without putting too fine a point on it — was rigged, and that they are saddled with the resulting illegitimate government for a further three and a half years before another opportunity to be rid of it presents itself.

I would remark, however drily, that it now seems impossible for the Liberal Party to win a majority in South Australia: with the exception of the Labor landslide in 2002, the party has now won a majority of the two-party vote in that state at every election for the past quarter of a century, winning an outright majority only in 1993.

Ultimately, the culpability of Liberal turncoat and former leader Martin Hamilton-Smith grows that little bit heavier with tonight’s news, for a win in Dr Such’s electorate — added to Hamilton-Smith’s vote — would have given the Liberals 23 of the 47 lower house seats and with them, an overwhelming moral case to form government.

This column enthusiastically and unapologetically tore into Hamilton-Smith when he defected earlier in the year to accept a ministry in Labor’s government. I stand by every word penned in that article, and it deserves to be read again now by anyone with an interest in South Australian politics and where it is headed in the aftermath of Dr Such’s passing. Readers can access the article here.

Vale, Bob Such.