Victoria: In Any Other Job, ALP MPs Would Be Prosecuted

TWO ALP MPs caught misusing an allowance for rural members to maintain second residences in Melbourne are lucky they don’t work in the private sector; a blatant collective rort of $140,000 would, in other circumstances, expose them to prosecution for theft, fraud, conspiracy, and God knows what else. The episode is further proof of a rotten Labor regime presided over by a pusillanimous Premier, operated solely to benefit militant union thugs.

Lest any smarty utter the words “Bronwyn Bishop” in a comment, I note at the outset that not only was this column scathing about her flagrant waste of some $5,500 on a helicopter trip at the time — an amount repaid in full, however grudgingly — but that the episode (rightly) cost Mrs Bishop her position as Speaker of the House of Representatives, her Liberal Party endorsement for her electorate on Sydney’s North Shore, and her political career.

And I say this because once again, members from the ALP — this time, specimens from the contemptible, union-controlled junta that infests the Treasury benches in Spring Street — have shown that when it comes to the blatant rip-off of public monies for personal benefit, any outrage perpetrated by a Liberal MP invariably pales in comparison to the kind of rorting the self-entitled minions of the Labor Party seem to engage in until or unless they are caught.

Most readers will have by now heard that Andrews government Speaker Telmo Languiller has been forced to resign, and make restitution, over $40,000 he improperly claimed for maintaining a second residence outside his electorate, which wasn’t in Melbourne at all; this development yesterday was swiftly followed by the deputy Speaker, Don Nardella, also falling on his sword over a $100,000 claim against exactly the same allowance — when neither his primary residence, nor the secondary address he made the claims for, were anywhere near his electorate at all.

For those out of the loop, and particularly interstate readers, some coverage may be accessed here and here.

I’m not going to comment at great length today — I will be back later this afternoon to belatedly discuss some of what has happened this past week in the federal political arena — but whichever way you cut it, these developments are (or at least, should be) disastrous for Daniel Andrews and the government we also said, at the time it was elected, was likely to turn out to be a fiasco.

How right we were: and how lucky for Andrews, for now at least, that the state Liberals seem unable to land a telling blow against his government.

Perhaps — after the terrible loss of life on Bourke Street last month, and now this — that might finally start to change.

To fully appreciate the scope of this latest outrage (and again, for the benefit of readers interstate), a little geographical orientation is indicated.

Languiller — the member for Tarneit, about 25km west of the Melbourne CBD — has been claiming for a second residence so he could live in Queenscliff, on the surf coast about 80km from Melbourne on the Bellarine Peninsula, despite maintaining a “primary residence” in Footscray about 6km from the CBD: it goes without saying that any second residence Mr Languiller wished to maintain at Queenscliff should have been of the “holiday house” variety funded solely from his own pocket.

Nardella, by contrast, represents the electorate of Melton, a dreadful and thoroughly awful speck of Melbourne’s outer western suburbs about a third of the way to Ballarat; even so, Nardella doesn’t even pretend to deign to dwell among those whose votes he takes for granted every four years — his primary residence is in the Bayside suburb of Mordialloc, about 25km south of the CBD (and about 10-15 minutes further out from the city than where I live), and the “secondary residence” he has saddled taxpayers with a six-figure bill for is in Ocean Grove, almost literally a stone’s throw from Languiller’s joint at Queenscliff.

In other words, the “secondary residences” these gentlemen have pocketed money from the taxpayer to fund — under an allowance always intended to help rural and regional MPs maintain accommodation in Melbourne for use during parliamentary sitting weeks — were a total violation of the intention of the allowance. Apparently, the defence was initially offered that as guidelines did not stipulate a “second residence” had to be in Melbourne, no wrongdoing had occurred.

Closing that loophole should be the first item on the notice paper when Parliament next sits.

In Nardella’s case, it is hard to see how any sane or rational individual could have conjured up even the most remotely plausible justification for his actions — even if solely for the benefit of the voices in his head — for his case is arguably the worse of the two misdemeanours, and impossible to validate on any realistic basis.

But to suggest the amounts of $40,000 and $100,000 respectively were at best fraudulently procured, and worst a blatant case of theft from the public purse, is no overstatement at all.

Had Languiller and Nardella been employed in the private sector and stolen those amounts from their bosses, they could and probably would be facing a string of charges including theft, fraud, conspiracy, embezzlement, and hefty jail terms to boot.

As it is, they will likely face no consequences at all, save for the loss of the ministerial component of their salaries; nobody should feel sympathy or compunction over the fact both will repay the monies illicitly taken, and nobody should think they have been unfairly dealt with or that their feeble justifications are in any way adequate. If repaying the money they should never have taken causes either or both hardship, nobody should care less; if they find the ridicule and embarrassment they now deservedly suffer to be too hard to handle, they should thank their lucky stars nobody is likely to institute criminal proceedings against them.

Frankly, they ought to be thrown out of Parliament for their trouble: and for a Premier who made so much of the Liberals’ predicament prior to the 2014 election, when the vote of miscreant Liberal-turned-Independent Geoff Shaw was the difference between a functional Victorian Parliament and a gridlocked quagmire, Daniel Andrews owes it to the people of Victoria — based on his own purported standards and “principles” — to lead the charge against two of his own, and move the expulsion motions himself.

He won’t, for one thing Andrews truly lacks is a spine. Another is a sense of decency, wherever actions rather than words are called for.

Coming so soon after another disgraced Andrews government minister “resigned” after it emerged he had been using a taxpayer-funded chauffeured car to transport his dogs between his two houses, this is a terrible look for Victorian Labor, and one compounded by the fact that Police minister Lisa Neville was allowed to survive in her post by Andrews after the grotesque tragedy on Bourke Street just weeks ago when she should have been sacked on the spot.

When you add in the bullying of another minister out of her post for refusing to kowtow to the line dictated to Andrews by the militant, hard-Left United Firefighters Union, as it sought to take over the Country Fire Authority, this government is looking very grubby indeed; and when it is further recognised that the common thread through all of the arrivals, departures, lack of action and vacillating over getting rid of people is a constant of union webs and links, it makes Andrews look weak, pusillanimous, and pathetic.

The loss of two more ministers (if you count the Speaker and his deputy as such) for what boils down to common theft in anyone else’s language means the Andrews government has, in a little over two years, lost three Cabinet ministers, the Speaker and his deputy, for the total loss of five ministers from a starting line-up of 25: 20% of the Andrews government wiped out in less than two-thirds of its four-year term.

As I predicted it would the day after it was elected, this state Labor government has proven to be rotten to the core, and sometimes in ways nobody could have expected.

With more than 18 months to go, and with “interesting stories” circulating about the activities of some of Andrews’ other closest cohorts, it remains to be seen just how far the rot can spread — and how long before opposition leader Matthew Guy can turn what should be a political slam-dunk into any kind of lead in reputable opinion polling, let alone one that might win him the next state election.

 

Daniel Andrews Responsible For Bourke Street Slaughter

WE’LL SAY it plainly: culpability for yesterday’s tragedy in the Melbourne CBD — a recidivist criminal with a history of armed violence going on a rampage in a car, killing four people and injuring dozens — rests squarely with Daniel Andrews; after two years in office, presiding over ballooning rates of violent crime that are the logical consequence of a lax and cavalier attitude to punishing criminals, his government has blood on its hands.

By now, everyone in Australia knows about the sickening incident that occurred in the Melbourne CBD yesterday afternoon; it is a tragic outrage and — the resolve of decent people permitting — ought to represent a line in the sand when it comes to butt-covering and “smart answers” to bat responsibility away from Daniel Andrews and his loathsome, incompetent state government.

I want to begin by extending condolences to the families who have lost loved ones — and wishes for a full recovery to those who have been seriously injured — in a mass slaughter event that could have been avoided if platitudes like “jail is a last resort” and misplaced concerns about the rights of criminals were dispensed with.

In addition to two adults who lost their lives, as 26-year-old Dimitrious Gargasoulas allegedly drove at pedestrians in Bourke Street to murder and maim as many people as possible, a 10-year-old child has been killed. A fourth victim has also died, although at the time of writing details are unavailable.

The alleged offender is said to have a history of mental illness and a long history of violent behaviour, and it is very nice that social workers and other do-gooders saw to it that he wasn’t deprived of his liberty.

Who took the rights and welfare of the public — including an innocent child — into account?

There are certain obligations the state — irrespective of which theory of political ideology one subscribes to — must discharge on behalf of its citizens; paramount among these is to preserve order and to uphold the rule of law: for without order under the rule of law, the freedom of ordinary folk to safely go about their lives, with confidence they will not be attacked or robbed or murdered, is impossible to guarantee.

In this instance, the inability of Police to at first detain, and later shoot (or otherwise thwart) the alleged offender, is a failure of governance for which responsibility can and must be sheeted home to Premier Daniel Andrews, his government, and any public official who had direct oversight of a sequence of events that permitted Gargasoulas to be free to commit the atrocity that took place in Melbourne yesterday.

Police Media commented that Gargasoulas had “repeatedly become known to (them) in recent weeks,” and references to a shooting incident last month involving Gargasoulas were also made, in a segment aired by Melbourne radio station 3AW late yesterday afternoon; on that basis alone, the guy should have been in gaol where he could pose no further risk to public safety.

It has also emerged that at 2am yesterday morning, Gargasoulas allegedly stabbed his brother in the chest and head at a house in the inner city suburb of Windsor; homicide investigators were called to that incident.

Another detail that filtered out last night, thanks to the efforts of journalists, is that Gargasoulas has a long history of violent behaviour.

So just how is it that he was free, at 1.45pm yesterday, to commence doing burnouts at the intersection of Flinders Street and Swanston Street before driving down the Bourke Street Mall, mowing people down as they scrambled for cover, and proceeding across Elizabeth Street before finally being rammed by Police several blocks further up Bourke Street?

Seasoned former journalist Senator Derryn Hinch — as plugged in as ever to what goes on in Melbourne — tweeted last night that his sources had told him that Police had seven opportunities to ram the car before it embarked on its deadly rampage down Bourke Street, but were denied permission to do so. By whom?

And whilst this is a perennial question of any victim of crime — especially those who have had a friend or family member killed by a known violent offender on bail or parole — on precisely what grounds did psychologists, social workers or other “experts” who found that Gargasoulas was no risk to public safety arrive at that conclusion?

This horrific episode throws up hard questions. The Victorian public will be lucky if it ever receives straight answers to them.

As indelicate as it may be to say so, the government of Victoria has blood on its hands: the Premier, his ministers, and whoever was in operational command yesterday are very heavily culpable.

On Daniel Andrews’ watch in Victoria, we are witnessing in real time an attempt by an elected government to use the High Court — arguably in an abuse of process — to avoid an inquiry into allegations that boil down to a question of whether its actions in sequestering parliamentary resources for electoral gain amounts to official misconduct: it isn’t a good look, and whilst it isn’t directly relevant to yesterday’s events, it forms part of the backdrop I will sketch out.

The insidious slither of the PC agenda of the Left — this time into penalties, sentences, and what we might term “incarceration practices” — sees more humane and considerate treatment of criminals than their victims; the mantra of jail being last resort is applied ever more widely, and it seems there is no end to dangerous criminals being released into the community whilst awaiting trial or in short order after serving a token sentence.

There seems no end, too, to the odious practice of finding grounds for special consideration for these vermin to use to extract watered-down penalties: Gargasoulas has been widely reported to be mentally ill; the reaction of the bleeding heart do-gooder regime is to say “there, there…we can’t lock you up if you’re sick.”

Meanwhile, this special treatment is repaid all too often, on undeserved and unjustified bail or parole releases, with wanton violence and/or murder — in this case, both — and Andrews’ government, elected at about the time a wave of public anger over criminals on release committing fresh crimes was forcing change, has failed to deliver on the expectations and outcomes demanded of it.

Whether it is APEX thugs terrorising Melbourne, or gangs of Sudanese youth perpetrating a rising number of home invasions, carjackings, and assaults against the person, or the drug-fuelled violence that is the consequence of a methamphetamine epidemic and rampant availability of other illicit drugs, what was once the safest state in Australia now ranks among the most dangerous.

Speaking of the Sudanese, most of their number are decent people; but in Daniel Andrews’ Victoria, it is verboten to identify the scum in their midst terrorising old ladies in their homes and perpetrating violence against ordinary decent folk as Sudanese: to do so is fatuously said to be “racist.”

Liberal leader Matthew Guy is little better, and I’m told he has privately had screaming matches with Liberals who have called the Sudanese gangs out as “Sudanese” on the basis they are “off message.” This apparently bipartisan approach to failing to call law and order problems for what they are is delusional. Those who are in on the act, to use the vernacular, have their heads up their arses.

And then there’s the small matter of the even smaller sentences that are actually served by those dangerous criminals who end up in jail at all.

The point is that having governed Victoria for almost 14 of the last 18 years, the ALP is heavily and disproportionately responsible for the law and order regime in force in this state.

Having now served in office for almost two-thirds of the four-year term to which it was elected in November 2014, the Andrews government does not have the dubious luxury of blaming the opposition or attempting to deny there is a crime problem in Victoria that is spiralling out of control.

The only parties to what happened in Melbourne yesterday who are blameless are those frontline Police who were simply obeying orders; these tireless law enforcement officers deserve respect for what they do. Notwithstanding the very real issues at play here and the tragic manifestation of them we saw yesterday, the Victorian community owes these people a debt of gratitude.

If it is true, as Hinch reported, that Police were forbidden to capitalise on seven opportunities to ram Gargasoulas’ car off the road before he went on his slaughter spree, then whoever gave the orders not to intervene should be dismissed.

Andrews, for his part, has spent two years explaining away the rocketing crime rate with unconvincing rhetoric and creative interpretations of official statistics for no better reason than cynical politicking, but there is a deadly flaw in doing so. The position of the Andrews government is that crime is well under control, and that Victorians have never been safer. Yesterday’s events prove they are not. The fact that Gargasoulas’ background contains all the elements of foreseeable risk compounds the fault of the state government.

In other words, you can’t have it both ways. If the principle of responsible government means anything at all to Daniel Andrews, his first order of business on Monday must be to sack Police minister Lisa Neville. His second should be to tender his own resignation. If former NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell can be forced to resign over an undeclared gift of a bottle of wine, then four deaths and dozens of people hurt, in an incident that could have been avoided through rigorous policy and governance, makes O’Farrell’s misdemeanours pale by comparison.

I would be unsurprised if, in due course, the survivors and the families of the deceased launched a class action against the state of Victoria for compensation; the liability to the Victorian taxpayer could run into the tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. The realist in me says they would be entitled to the money. The cynic says they will never see it. So morally bankrupt is the Andrews government that even if a judicial inquiry led to an obligation to pay, the government would probably fight that all the way to the High Court too.

In practice, the senseless slaughter and the circumstances that led to it will take years to unpick. The trauma will similarly last for years.

But the buck stops with the government, where law enforcement is concerned.

Mentally ill or not, or premeditated in his actions or not, the alleged offender Gargasoulas’ history is a veritable road map to an individual who should never have been released into the community: but he was, and with tragic consequences.

Nothing is going to bring back the dead, and nothing is going to ever make it quite right for those who were hurt — or, come to think of it, for many of those who were bystanders and simply witnessed the dreadful actions that were committed in central Melbourne at lunchtime yesterday.

But Daniel Andrews must be held responsible for what happened in Melbourne yesterday; it is the failed policies and maladministration of his government that led directly to the tragic events that took place on Bourke Street, and responsibility demands that consequences follow.

A shred of decency would see Daniel Andrews dismiss his minister, and resign himself shortly thereafter. But Andrews, like the government he leads, has no sense of public decency whatsoever, which means all care will be taken to protect the rights of the alleged offender — and the victims, in all likelihood, will be given the shaft.

 

Keystone Copout: Labor Abuses High Court To Evade Rorts Probe

VICTORIAN LABOR’S ethically bankrupt 2014 campaign will drag on into yet another year, with the Andrews government to seek a High Court injunction to kibosh an Ombudsman’s inquiry into whether Labor rorted public resources by sending electorate staff to marginal seats to campaign for ALP candidates. The move is an abuse of process, further underlining the hypocrisy of a rotten regime elected on a premise that is tantamount to fraud.

There are those readers who object to my characterisation of the ALP — and the union thugs and henchmen who bankroll it — as “filth,” but when it comes to Labor’s Victorian division and the government it formed after the 2014 state election on a platform that has proven tantamount to a fraud, that loathsome party’s depravity appears to know few boundaries these days.

I am talking — this time — about the risible scheme cooked up and carried out by Labor from opposition, at the 2014 state election, to redeploy electorate staff in safely Labor-held seats to campaign for ALP candidates in marginal Coalition electorates, which on any reasonable interpretation cannot be said to pass the so-called “pub test” even if (as idiot savant and Premier Daniel Andrews claims) the grimy plot complied with Parliamentary guidelines.

First things first: for those unfamiliar with the background to this issue or with this latest development yesterday, some background reading may be accessed here and here; the obvious observation to make is that having been referred to the Ombudsman by Victoria’s Upper House for an investigation of the scheme to take place — an action upheld in the Supreme Court last year, and subsequently by Victoria’s Court of Appeal — the Andrews government’s mooted application to the High Court for an injunction has the distinct reek of corruption emanating from it.

(Having grown up in Queensland and watched the excesses of the Bjelke-Petersen regime play out in real time, it’s not an overreach to say so).

But the news that Victorian Labor is desperate to evade scrutiny over what any fair-minded individual could only describe as a rort ought to surprise nobody; after all, the present state government won power after waging one of the dirtiest and most ethically bankrupt campaigns in Australian political history, and having made it nearly two-thirds the way through a four-year term by governing with a similarly brazen outlook, any expectation it might conduct itself with a bit of decency now would be a forlorn hope indeed.

After all, this is a party that co-opted CFMEU brutes to masquerade as emergency services workers to harass and bully people into voting for it; had “nurses” telemarket the old, the frail and the sick to scare them shitless with jumped-up lies about the Liberal Party’s record and plans in the Health portfolio; and has to date saddled Victorian taxpayers with a compensation bill of more than a billion dollars for cancelling the contract to build Melbourne’s much-needed East-West Link, despite solemn promises the contract “wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on” and that “not one cent” of compensation would be payable for abandoning the road project.

And that’s just for starters.

But the running saga of another of the Victorian ALP’s power-crazed stunts — sending taxpayer-funded staff into marginal Coalition electorates as campaign workers — can only be viewed through the prism of the rest of its sordid, dishonest election campaign; Andrews has never explained how this was compliant with parliamentary guidelines despite his claims to that effect, and neither has a single member of his government.

Not even under parliamentary privilege, where they can evade prosecution for lying about it: the inescapable conclusion is therefore that no such compliance exists, and Andrews and his goons know it.

I’m not partisan enough or naive enough to insult readers’ intelligence by suggesting the Upper House’s decision to refer the government to the Ombudsman isn’t, viewed one way, a stunt of its own; after all, this is how opposition politicians play, and both the Coalition and the Communist Party Greens who between them control the Legislative Council stand to gain from any opprobrium that can be attached to Labor over this issue.

And it goes without saying that this entire episode — irrespective of who committed the offence, or who it is baying for blood over it — is merely the latest tawdry example in a seemingly endless recent sequence as to why politics, and politicians, are held in such contempt by the voting public.

But in a breathtaking hypocrisy, it was Labor — then in opposition under first the hapless John Brumby, and later the amiable boofhead Steve Bracks — which, in 1999, made the Kennett government’s emasculation of the Ombudsman an issue that rightly generated community outrage; yet today, Labor’s Attorney-General, Martin Pakula, is quoted in the Herald Sun article I’ve linked as saying that the Court of Appeal’s decision to allow the Ombudsman’s inquiry into allegations against the ALP to stand accords Parliament “too much power to require the Ombudsman to probe any matter.”

So let’s dispense with the mock outrage, and nudge the discussion back into the real world.

The simple truth seems to be that Victorian Labor — in its mad lust for power at any price imaginable, backed by the utter thuggery and bastardry of its Trades Hall chums — appears to have taken it upon itself to fortify its filthy campaign of lies and deceit by misusing the resources allocated to it for electorate purposes to provide an additional bulwark against Denis Napthine’s government in the seats it needed to win to secure office.

That’s the charge: and given Andrews and his mates have not only admitted the practice occurred, but insisted (without substantiation) that the practice was legal, those allegations must be tested.

To this end, Labor’s intended recourse to the High Court, in a desperate last stand to try to shut the Ombudsman’s investigation down, not only smacks of panic but can only be characterised as an abuse of process.

Like everything about the Andrews government, this episode serves to highlight the decaying and rotten foundations upon which it is built: and Victorians, and Australians in other states watching the goings-on in Spring Street, are justified in feeling disgusted by yet another elected government caught out playing fast and loose with resources paid for by an over-taxed public that has yet again been taken for granted.

As for the opposition Liberal Party, two points must be made.

One, if — as the Andrews government defence seems to imply — “they’re all at it too,” then miscreant Liberal MPs must also be subjected to rigorous scrutiny; if Labor has evidence of similar practices being employed by the Liberals or the Greens, as it claims, it must produce it. The fact it has failed to do so, however, is strongly indicative that “they’re all at it too” is just an attempt to deflect blame by smearing others, and Andrews has exhibited a contemptible lack of leadership by permitting such baseless accusations to be made.

But two, if — after everything Andrews Labor has gifted them to work with, the staff rorts probe we’re talking about today notwithstanding — they remain unable to puncture the ALP’s election-winning lead in reputable opinion polling, then the Liberals have a problem.

This column enthusiastically endorsed Matthew Guy as leader in the aftermath of the 2014 election, and we remain hopeful he can turn the Coalition’s fortunes. But if it continues to trail badly in another 12 months’ time, some hard decisions will need to be made.

After all, an honest assessment of the Andrews government already shows it unfit to hold office. To allow its re-election late next year through poor leadership and a misfiring political apparatus would be nothing short of unforgivable.

Labor has already reaped the fruits of the intellectual fraud it foisted on Victoria in 2014. It is the Liberals’ responsibility to ensure it doesn’t happen a second time.

 

Dog Act: Scandal A Metaphor For Daniel Andrews’ Government

THE UPROAR over a piddling minister in Victoria’s loathsome state government using taxpayer-funded transport for two dogs is not only justified, but speaks to everything wrong with “modern” Labor and its charade in office: Steve Herbert refuses to resign; Premier Daniel Andrews refuses to sack him. This fiasco is the latest in a long list that marks the ALP as unfit to govern. An election loss, two years hence, is beginning to look distinctly possible.

Before we get started, I should just like to reference the gnome who accosted me on Twitter on Wednesday night when this story broke, effectively accusing me of double standards — something about the Liberals (under Ted Baillieu and Denis Napthine) and Geoff Shaw — and to observe that such a blatantly partisan (and patently brainless) barb could only have originated from the foul brigade that leapt into action at the ALP to defend their maaate by going on the attack; regular readers know I am hellbent on finding ways to improve the pitiful standards of parliamentary behaviour, on all sides of politics.

I campaigned volubly for the expulsion of Geoff Shaw from Parliament; so, too, did the current Premier, when he was a “principled” leader of the opposition. Shaw left the parliamentary Liberal Party of his own volition and was subsequently expelled as a member once the proper constitutional processes of the party had rightly been followed. Yet Corrections minister Steve Herbert will suffer neither humiliation. He won’t even be sacked from Daniel Andrews’ ministry.

And this — for reasons of Andrews’ petulant, puerile and hypocritical insistence that Liberals had no “principles” and were a “circus” in office, as much as anything else — merely shows that the Victorian ALP is unfit to hold office.

It’s hardly as if more evidence was needed to show that, however.

But the scandal that erupted this week over Herbert using his taxpayer-funded chauffeur to transport his two pet dogs from his home in Melbourne’s Bayside to his “primary place of residence” in rural Trentham — 120km away — on multiple occasions eclipses the dubious record set by Bronwyn Bishop a little over a year ago as the most outrageous abuse of parliamentary allowances by any Australian politician in recent times; at least Bishop’s notorious charter helicopter was used to transport a real person (even if some in the ALP trench dispute the fact Bronwyn is actually human), and a person who has in fact been elected to Parliament.

(Regular readers also know I called for Bishop to be stripped of both the Speakership and her Liberal Party endorsement over that, too).

But two dogs?

Those who want to read up a bit on what’s been going on can do so here and here — I don’t intend to bog down on the specifics of this matter, although I do note Herbert appears to have been something of a recidivist miscreant, based on what Melbourne’s Herald Sun turned up yesterday — but to say Herbert should be permitted any option other than an immediate and involuntary departure from the ministry is an understatement.

But bleating about an “inadvertent” error cuts no ice; even a complete imbecile would comprehend that taxpayers do not fund the routine regular transportation of politician’s pets. Herbert clearly fails that test. In refusing to sack him yesterday, now-Premier Andrews — previously (and appropriately) lambasted in this column as “a complete imbecile,” among other fitting epithets — obviously possesses a level of understanding that doesn’t even extend that far.

Offers to make full repayment for “the cost of the petrol” simply rub salt in the eyes of betrayed Victorians who have, excuse the pun, been taken for a ride; Herbert simply doesn’t get it. This isn’t about the price of petrol. It is an abuse of privilege. It is a sacking offence. And Herbert, simply, must be sacked.

Given Herbert traded his ultra-marginal, Melbourne metropolitan lower house seat of Eltham at the 2014 state election for a guaranteed spot at the top of Labor’s upper house ticket in rural Northern Victoria — and with regard to the fact the ALP does not control the upper house, even with lemming-like Greens to prop it up — it remains to be seen whether the Legislative Council, which is already a seething viper pit of cross-party hostility, might see fit to take some form of censure action into its own hands. I would strongly support such action being taken. But regrettably, even if Herbert were to be suspended for a while, in the longer run nothing would change.

Andrews is content to allow filth like Herbert sully and besmirch his government. Unlike Baillieu and Napthine, he doesn’t have the wafer-thin margin in the lower house to imperil his government if Herbert were to go rogue. Quite simply, Andrews is a spineless, irresponsible moral vacuum. Voters are watching closely.

It could well be that either Herbert grows a brain and quits, or Andrews belatedly behaves like a responsible Premier instead of an adolescent oaf and simply sacks him; either outcome would be warranted, although in either case, the horse has bolted: the damage is already done.

But worryingly, this latest obscenity is not the first to be committed by the Andrews government, and nor is it likely to be the last.

This is a government that swore to voters that it could tear up the contract to build a sorely overdue piece of road infrastructure without paying a cent in compensation. The contract wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on, Andrews said. Almost $1bn in compensation and make good payments later, Victorian taxpayers are ten figures in the red — with nothing to show for it.

This is the government that decided, with an eye to the $57bn white elephant desalination plant the previous Labor outfit saw fit to saddle Victorians with, to order water from the plant for the first time since construction was completed almost a decade ago. Yet Victoria has had one of its wettest winters in decades, and Victorian households will pay $14 each next year for a relatively insignificant quantity of unnecessary water. But the Andrews mob won’t learn; last week, it flew a kite around the Melbourne press about the “need” for a second desalination plant.

This is a government that effectively ceded control of the Country Fire Authority to the ultra-left wing United Firefighters Union in repayment of an election debt, risking the loss of decades of firefighting experience from thousands of volunteer firefighters just to mollify a few undesirable union thugs.

It’s the same government that allowed the apparently principled minister responsible — genuinely principled, not all blather and hot air and bullshit — to be bullied out of her job for failing to force the takeover the unions wanted through.

This is the government that has all but ceded control of the building and construction industry in Victoria to the militant, lawless CFMEU (another election debt), whose minions are so cock-sure they run Melbourne that they now spill out into city streets in front of heavy traffic, without so much as looking, in the arrogant certainty everyone will get out of their way.

It’s the government that — despite well-founded community outrage over the so-called “safe schools” program leading to the federal government cancelling its funding — took it upon itself to not only restore the funding at cost to Victorian taxpayers, but which has thumbed its nose at the legitimate objections from parents who don’t want their kids taught left-wing social engineering bullshit in state-run primary schools (and if I sound pissed off about it, it’s because one of my kids goes to a state-run primary school too).

Now, ministers apparently escape scot-free for flagrant and outrageous abuses of parliamentary entitlements, and even the reprinting of sanctimonious rants Andrews directed at Shaw from opposition by the Herald Sun — which could be applied, verbatim, to Herbert — are still insufficient to motivate an appropriate response.

It says something about the loathsome junta running Victoria at present that this list, extensive as it is, barely scratches the surface of the anti-democratic, inappropriate and/or downright illegal machinations that are tolerated on its watch, and any of Labor’s filthy slugs who want to point fingers and engage in name calling are no better than the tsunami of scum they seek to defend.

One will say something nice about John Cain for a change; once the scale of his government’s economic incompetence was laid bare in 1990 — and once the carnage revealed he had presided over a regime that had all but bankrupted Victoria, to say nothing of the mums and dads who lost everything they owned in the calamitous collapse of the state’s financial institutions — he at least had the grace to resign, and to do it quickly, although it goes without saying that it didn’t absolve him of an iota of responsibility.

There seems to be no such weight of principle burdening Andrews, who appears content to literally allow Victoria to slide into lawlessness at the whim and behest of union thugs, ministerial miscreants, and anyone else whose antics attract the protection racket that is Victorian Labor simply because they’re a maaate.

To say Herbert’s pet transport rort — and Andrews’ response to it — is a dog act is a masterful understatement.

But this latest brouhaha simply underlines a reality that Victorians, in rapidly increasing numbers, are quickly becoming awake to: Labor is unfit to hold office, and unfit to govern.

This time last year, albeit three years from another election, the conventional wisdom (which I shared) was that barring too many indiscretions, the Andrews government was set to be easily re-elected in 2018, probably with a sharply increased majority, even if for no better reasons than the inertia of the electorate and the cheer squad Labor unfathomably attracts in swathes of the media (Fairfax, Crikey!, the ABC) that have more influence here than anywhere else in the country, and certainly more than is justified.

Now I’m not so sure, and I think the early signs that Victoria may yet have consecutive single-term governments are becoming clearly visible.

Just as I was adamant Shaw should have been expelled from Parliament (even if it triggered an election, given the razor-thin numbers the Coalition governed with between 2010 and 2014), I gave ample warning to readers before the 2014 election that the shenanigans we have witnessed during the first half of the Andrews government’s term were precisely what Victorians could expect if they were silly enough to elect him to office.

Today — if we’re talking about a scandal involving two dogs — their names might as well be Steve and Daniel. And if calling the dastardly duo “dogs” offends anyone — especially over at the ALP — I would simply observe that if the shoe fits, they must wear it.

Missing Millions A Symptom Of Liberal Party Problems

THE REVELATION this week that the former state director of the Victorian division of the Liberal Party, Damien Mantach, allegedly embezzled up to $2 million from party coffers is an outrage, and the impending prosecution warranted; even so, the episode raises serious questions about governance within the Liberal Party both in Victoria and nationally, highlighting a deeply entrenched insider culture that must be smashed and terminated.

Like thousands of other disgusted, betrayed, and increasingly angry Liberal Party members in Melbourne, I found out on Wednesday about the story that broke publicly on Thursday — that former state director Damien Mantach had allegedly helped himself to somewhere between $1.5 and $2 million of the party’s funds between 2010 and 2014 — and my first response (as some would have seen on Twitter) was, quite bluntly and unapologetically, “fuck him.”

After all, it’s not the sort of news one would reminisce over with a glass of Chardonnay.

First things first: for those who’ve missed the media coverage of this issue to date, a selection of articles may be accessed here, here, here and here, and I would point out that before the Fairfax press gets too complacent in its sanctimony over this issue, it might serve interests of balance for that moribund behemoth to apply the conveniently rigorous scrutiny it deems appropriate in this case to the ALP’s record of fiscal management in government — and to pull its head in if unprepared to do so.

And whilst I’m aware Mantach was also outed yesterday as being on the hacked list of members from infidelity website Ashley Madison, we’re not going to dwell on that either: his wife, I’m sure, will deal with that particular issue all by herself.

Mantach has apparently admitted to taking the money, which is why he can be freely named in media; there seems to be some doubt over the quantum of funds involved, but with $1.5 million sitting at the lower end of the numbers being bandied about, it’s certainly serious enough.

Allegedly, the money was spent on paying down a mortgage, acquiring a share portfolio, and “lifestyle factors” — not that any or all of these uses justifies or excuses the act.

There are a lot of very, very angry Liberals in Melbourne and Victoria this weekend: from Mantach’s colleagues at 104 to the party’s state and federal MPs, and from beaten candidates in under-resourced marginal seats to the loyal rank-and-file membership who campaigned fruitlessly on their behalf at last year’s state election debacle.

There might be some room for sentiment had Mantach amounted to any tangible kind of political asset, but setting aside the kind of sentiment personal knowledge among friends and colleagues invariably engenders he was, objectively, nothing of the sort.

The campaign for last year’s state election was a strategic and tactical abomination; its messages turgid and poorly communicated; its grasp of the campaign initiative repeatedly usurped by the ALP and — reprehensibly — the violent, militant unions who poured money and resources in on Labor’s behalf, and who weren’t actually standing at all.

As “campaign director,” blame for all of these failures must be sheeted home to Mantach.

Now it has emerged that a solid seven-figure amount has been drained off the Victorian Division over a four-year period, the realisation has dawned on many of those angry Victorian Liberals that last year’s state election (which this column resolutely maintained was winnable until the end — and I still believe it was) might have produced a different result despite Mantach’s ineffective stewardship had it been better resourced. It turns out the means with which to resource the campaign were at hand. The only problem is that the “hand” helped itself to a five-fingered discount.

I’m not going to dwell on the nature of Mantach’s alleged crime, for despite reports he is “contrite” and made a full admission when confronted by state President Michael Kroger on Wednesday, great care should be taken to ensure that the coming prosecution is not compromised, for any punishment meted out by a court seems well indicated and should not be jeopardised or pre-empted.

But where all of this becomes relevant for the Liberal Party in the wider sense starts with the circumstances of Mantach’s recruitment to the Victorian Liberals, and ends with the insiderish cabal that runs the Liberal Party around the country, whose members mostly do not comprise the best available people to steward the party’s interests or the aspirations of the millions of Liberal voters their roles charge them with advancing.

It does not matter, for example — as media late this week have excitedly trumpeted — that Mantach’s father was a long-serving director of the Tasmanian Liberals before Mantach himself filled the post, or that his uncle Rob was also a stalwart of the Tasmanian party: dynasties for their own sake are unjustifiable.

The hard, cold fact is that as state director of the Tasmanian Division of the Liberal Party, Damien Mantach presided over one of the worst state election defeats the party has ever suffered on the Apple Isle in 2006 — winning just seven of 25 lower house seats — and followed that up by overseeing a clean sweep of the five federal seats in Tasmania by the ALP the following year, including the loss of marginal seats in Bass and Braddon.

And the financial scandal he now finds himself enveloped in arguably had its genesis in Tasmania, where he was dismissed after helping himself to some $50,000 from the Tasmanian Liberals — an amount that all parties concur was repaid in full.

Even so, questions must be answered by current Liberal federal director Brian Loughnane — his predecessor in the Victorian role, and who played a key role in recruiting the disgraced Mantach following his departure from the party in Hobart — over what he knew, and when, of Mantach’s misdemeanours in the Tasmanian post.

To date — aside from making it known he was aware of “a minor overclaim involving credit cards” — Loughnane has stoutly refused to comment. That, simply, is not good enough.

Nobody is suggesting impropriety on Loughnane’s part or, indeed, on the part of any other Liberal Party employee. Even so, were it to emerge that Loughnane was fully aware of the circumstances surrounding Mantach’s departure from the Tasmanian Liberals, his present position at the head of the party federally would become untenable.

And this brings me to the problem that bedevils the Liberal Party nationally — and of which the Mantach revelations are a mere symptom.

The Liberal Party, for too long, has made an artform of recycling the same handful of people through a procession of executive employment roles around the country; a failed state director in one state suddenly reappears in another, or people who have underperformed disastrously in one of the states suddenly pop up at the Party’s federal secretariat in Canberra.

Many of the people who work in Liberal secretariats across Australia are related to MPs, longstanding senior employees, powerful grassroots figures, or are ostensibly hired on account of internal connections they have; the practice is so widespread that arguments about merit are pointless: the senior echelons of the party are a clubhouse, when what is required is a powerhouse.

At the apex of the structure are the same people who have done the same things the same way for years: the Loughnanes, the Credlins, the Nutts, others like them, and the band of loyalists they have accrued over the years: all of whom owe something, and to which newcomers are not admitted unless they know someone, or owe something, or boast some kind of connection.

You can add Mantach’s name to the list, for any objective justification in keeping him on the payroll — a sorry use of hard-won donation monies and membership dues, even before any charge of embezzlement or fraud is considered — had already expired when he was given the boot in Tasmania in 2008.

Yet Mantach’s departure only came in March of this year — seven years later — and after more political damage was inflicted on a Victorian division that ranks among the most poorly run and least professional of all the Liberal state divisions.

Since I started writing this piece yesterday, veteran political journalist Laurie Oakes has weighed in, with an article in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph that notes, among other things, that Mantach was due to go to Perth next week to “help” on the by-election campaign for the vacant federal Liberal seat of Canning: the fact this manoeuvre was contemplated at all, let alone certain to occur but for the revelations that have been made public this week, shows that those in charge of the party just don’t get it: for once again, a political failure was being recycled into a sensitive strategic political battlefield despite little evidence to suggest he had anything meaningful at all contribute.

Who knew what about Mantach’s pilfering from Liberal Party coffers is a question that will be answered conclusively in the fullness of time; if it transpires Loughnane was fully aware of Mantach’s earlier transgressions in Tasmania then the party must summarily dispense with his services — for there is no justification in recruiting someone with that particular track record, and the consequences of taking such a risk have now been laid bare for all to see.

What is encouraging is that there is at least one razor-sharp, shrewd operator in the Liberal Party’s ranks — Kroger — whose correct instinct that funds had gone missing in Melbourne proved that years of complacent blindness or ineptitude on the part of those around Mantach (or, more worryingly, who were charged with providing rigorous financial checks) was an exacerbating factor to a forseeable crime that characteristic bad judgement on the part of Liberal office bearers had not only enabled, but perhaps invited.

But for the most part, those charged with the effective management of the party behind the scenes are not worth the money it pays them.

If there is any good that can come from this despicable episode, it should be a root and branch shake-up of all the Liberals’ state and federal offices; there is too much deadwood soaking up salaries their performance does not and cannot warrant, and this is an extravagance and an indulgence that the party — chartered to represent Australians from all walks of life, and expanding the horizons for opportunity and choice and reward for endeavour — can’t afford.

It is not inconceivable that the Liberal Party, this time next year, will be out of power everywhere except New South Wales and Tasmania, and on shaky ground approaching a re-election attempt in WA, but that terrible prospect should not be allowed to materialise before action is taken.

Perversely, Mantach may have done the party a favour. The torpid mismanagement is like a cancer, and needs to be cut out. The wrong people have discharged their obligations to the party poorly for too long and have been handsomely rewarded for their efforts. Yet even after a federal election defeat, some of them will survive, or even be promoted.

But nobody would argue the Liberals have “won” the politics of the past ten years nationally, and in the prevailing conditions the fault for that lies squarely with the people the party has entrusted with jobs they arguably did not and do not deserve. The markers of the malaise are everywhere.

In this sense, the Mantach debacle — whilst rightly destined to end in a prosecution — should also signal the point at which the Liberal Party’s back offices are overhauled, and parasitic time-servers rooted out.

There are those who believe Kroger is a divisive figure in the national organisation, but to date he is the only key player to have exhibited a shred of nous or sound judgement in identifying an alleged fraud that, unforgivably, was perpetrated over years and under the very noses of others who should have recognised something was seriously wrong.

If anyone is capable of instituting  root and branch reform of the party, it is Kroger. The party’s other jurisdictions across the country could do worse than to open their divisions to the Victorian President. The price for doing nothing is a potential decade in opposition. The Mantach disaster need not be for nothing. Now is the time to act, and to act broadly.

 

Victoria: Cain-Kirner Mentality Brings East-West To A Costly End

SCANT REGARD for taxpayers’ money — with a reckless embrace of state debt, and indifference to Victoria’s investment reputation — saw the Andrews government piss almost $1 billion up against a post yesterday, finally axing Melbourne’s East-West Link road project for $339 million plus associated costs. The episode is reminiscent of the ruinous Cain-Kirner regime of the 1980s and 1990s. Other reminders of that time will soon follow.

One of the ugliest episodes of governance in Victoria since — well, since the Labor government that held office between 1999 and 2010 blew billions and billions of dollars on over-budget debacles and white elephants such as myki, the North-South Pipeline, and a desalination plant at Wonthaggi — has come to a costly end, with Premier Daniel Andrews announcing yesterday that his government had “reached agreement” with the consortium contracted to build Melbourne’s East-West freeway project to terminate the arrangement for $339 million in compensation.

I use the word “compensation” very deliberately; prior to the state election in November, Andrews claimed the contract “was legally unenforceable” and “not worth the paper it was printed on;” an Andrews government, he said, would not pay compensation to the consortium under any circumstances.

Yet his government — elected, he says, on a statewide mandate not to build the road — has nonetheless handed over more than a third of a billion dollars in compensation money: Andrews tried to spin the payment by saying the consortium was merely refunded the monies it had spent to date.

But had the contract been invalid, unenforceable, not legally binding or any other formulation of “void,” its beneficiary would not have been paid hundreds of millions of dollars for its termination.

No government — even a recklessly irresponsible one in the classic Labor mould, as the Andrews government is fast proving itself to be — shells out those sorts of dollars just to be nice. The contract was binding, and some form of settlement to compensate the consortium was required.

So I have no truck with Andrews’ claim to have “delivered” on a promise not to pay compensation: such a suggestion is an insult to the intelligence of a reasonable person, and is complete bullshit in any case.

There has already been countless articles written on this subject in the last 18 hours or so (see here, here, here and here for a handful of them) and part of the problem is that there are so many ways to sift and dissect the issues at play — not least, who is culpable and who is not — that I don’t profess to resolve such a discussion any more than the extra reading I’m sharing from the mainstream press does.

To me, the issue boils down to an evaluation of two aspects of the entire East-West disaster.

On the one hand, the former Liberal government of Denis Napthine — which signed a contract to build the road eight weeks before a state election — augmented that contract with a side letter guaranteeing compensation of up to $1.2 billion if the contract was invalidated and/or if the project was otherwise not proceeded with.

And on the other, the incoming Labor government wantonly abandoned a legally binding document to pursue a major infrastructure project that is sorely needed in Melbourne, and at a cost to taxpayers of almost a billion dollars — for nothing in return — once so-called “sunk costs” and other ancillary expenses associated with the project over and above the $339 million compensation payment are factored in.

There is a strong, and almost compelling, moral argument to suggest that Napthine’s government should not have signed a side letter to the contract, knowing as it did that Labor had pledged to tear the contract up anyway if it won office in Victoria; I have been speaking to a few legal people around Melbourne over the past few months, and the consensus seems to be that even if the side letter did not exist, the consortium would still have eventually received compensation anyway: by the messy, protracted and potentially much more expensive route of litigation — possibly for years — as it pursued the state of Victoria through the Courts to obtain recompense.

In that sense, the fact there was a side letter at all may, ironically, have saved time, money, and further damage to Victoria’s reputation as a safe place to invest. But should that letter have been signed? On face value, probably not.

But I think it is necessary to consider the political imperatives faced by the Napthine government in any assessment of its decision to sign a side letter to the contract, rather than moral considerations, because whilst I readily admit the whole matter of the side letter bothers me greatly, it is the political aspects of its existence that are the key to understanding why things have played out as they have.

And yes, time to bash the ALP.

“Modern” Labor, whenever it finds itself in opposition these days, has adopted an explicit strategy of preventing conservative governments from governing where it can in any way possible, at any cost, and irrespective of the damage it causes in any way: be that to the Liberal Party, institutions of governance, the reputation of Parliament, or collateral damage to what ought to be respected pillars of the community.

One look at the present Senate — where the ALP under federal “leader” Bill Shorten heads up an effort to defeat any government bill that might undo profligate spending from Labor’s last period in office, or repair the damage to the budget that was caused in the process — illustrates the point: obstruction to the point of rendering the Abbott government powerless to govern is the obvious objective.

The use of health and emergency services workers (or union ticket-holding impersonators of them) in Victoria and Queensland to help destroy the legitimacy of conservative governments in those states is another pointer to the same strategy.

And far from simply opposing (as it claims) and working to advance its case for a return to government at the ballot box, Labor these days embodies the obscene mantra that if it isn’t elected to govern, it will nonetheless see to it that its opponents are prevented from doing so until its strategy of strangulation kills them off.

Where this ties into the East-West Link and the charade over compensation that was played out yesterday comes relates to the idea that governments in Victoria are elected to govern for four years: not three years and nine months, or some other arbitrary period deemed by the ALP to represent the end of an effective term in office where the Liberal Party is concerned.

Labor has complained that the Napthine government signed contracts to build the East-West Link without taking it to an election first, and that is right; but Victorians had elected the Coalition to govern for four years in late 2010, so the decision to commission the road was wholly appropriate.

In any case, Labor can ill-afford to be making such arguments when its own federal government, in 2010, introduced a carbon tax after an explicit election promise not to do so.

And Labor itself won state elections in Victoria in 1999 and 2002, in part, with a promise to build the Scoresby Freeway in Melbourne’s outer east without tolls…

…and then unilaterally proceeded to build the road as a tollway anyway, calling it “Eastlink” instead and trying to argue that it was a different road project altogether to justify the deception, so arguments from the ALP of this nature should be dismissed with the contempt they deserve.

And it’s not as if the Coalition exhibited undue haste in commissioning the East-West Link, or could be tarred as unduly partisan in doing so, for an infrastructure audit commissioned by the Labor state government in 2008 identified the need for (and recommended) a road link between the Eastern Freeway at Clifton Hill and the Western Ring Road at Laverton, interconnecting with CityLink along the route.

This link — the East-West Link — was adopted as a project by Labor before it lost office under John Brumby two years later, and remained ALP policy until Andrews announced in September last year that his party would not build the road if it won the state election in a desperate attempt to stop the Coalition signing the contract to do so.

In other words, Andrews’ tactic was to bully the Coalition out of governing, and to bully it out of being responsible for starting work on a desperately needed piece of road infrastructure: Melbourne is grinding to a halt, as population growth sees tens of thousands of additional cars pour onto a road network each year that has been largely unchanged for a decade.

But in truth — not that any Labor figure will ever say so publicly — this stunt (which is all it was) was aimed solely at sandbagging four inner-city Labor electorates at risk of falling to the Communist Party Greens; there is no credible research into voting at the November state election that suggests the East-West Link was even a contributor to Labor’s victory, which it owed more to the havoc created by miscreant MP Geoff Shaw in a finely balanced knife-edged Parliament and to the reprehensible emergency services campaigns.

So there you are: for the eventual cost of some $900 million in sum, Labor held onto the seats of Northcote, Brunswick and (only just) Richmond, whilst losing Melbourne to the Greens anyway.

And that, if you live in Melbourne, is what your taxpayer money ultimately is going to pay for. There sure as hell won’t be a road. It’s a hell of a price to pay just for that.

In this sense, the perfectly legal side letter to the contract to build the road becomes understandable, if not entirely desirable or even defensible; when it is remembered that the East-West Link was only ever abandoned as a priority by the ALP to save a few seats, to the ongoing and compounding detriment of hundreds of thousands of road users further afield (and domiciled mostly in Liberal-held electorates) the moral outrage of Andrews and his Labor Party over the contract, the side letter, and the concept of the road at all is reduced to nothing more than cynical and negligently misleading partisan blather.

And on balance, it points the finger of blame squarely at the ALP for the waste of hundreds of millions of dollars on a road that isn’t going to be built: taxpayers will get nothing in return for their hard-earned, and as much as Andrews has played a game of smoke and mirrors by arranging for other funds associated with the axed project to be diverted to other schemes, the hard reality is that Labor has pissed almost a billion dollars up against a post for nothing.

Fair-minded Victorians (and observers elsewhere) can and should be aghast at the eerie similarities of this episode to some of the worst excesses of financial mismanagement under the Labor government of John Cain and Joan Kirner more than a generation ago: then, state-backed enterprises such as Tricontinental and the VEDC played fast and loose with Victorians’ money under the auspices of picking winners in new industries.

There were none, of course, and the financial collapses presided over on Labor’s watch left the state tottering on the brink of bankruptcy, until Jeff Kennett’s Liberal government spent most of the 1990s fixing the damage.

The comparison gains additional currency when it is pointed out that as part of its settlement of the East-West issue, the Andrews government has taken on a loan of some $3 billion from the consortium for reallocation to “other projects:” and this lack of transparency, coupled with the transfer of billions of dollars in debt from the private sector to the state, should ring alarm bells in the minds of Victorian voters.

And the Andrews government is soon to shell out another half a billion dollars for no return, this time to fix the mess it made of a botched tender for the state’s lotteries when it was in power under Brumby, in a mess presided over (in a delicious irony) by Andrews himself when he was gaming minister.

There are other financial bombs already primed by this government waiting to explode, but even the half-billion dollars in compensation for the lotteries debacle and the $900 million wasted on East-West means Labor has already taken $1.5 billion and more or less flushed it down the toilet — in addition to increasing state debt by $3 billion at a stroke — in less than six months in office.

At the bottom line, the Liberal Party emerges from the East-West quagmire smelling less than fresh, and deserves some criticism for the manner in which it went about commissioning a much-needed infrastructure project that will now have to wait, at the very minimum, for a change of government before works can even commence.

But the real villain is the ALP, with its brutal and uncompromising refusal to accept the verdict of the electorate when it loses, and the vicious tactics it uses to seize power at literally any cost — and yesterday’s events neatly proved it.

It seems any lessons the ALP learned from the train wreck it presided over in the 1980s and early 1990s have been lost, for the methods and outcomes of that time are well and truly back in evidence in the state of Victoria.

To the detriment of anyone living in this fine state (and, regrettably, to others in Australia who are adversely affected by what happens south of the Murray River), the necrotic, pustulent political ghosts of John Cain and Joan Kirner are alive, thriving, and again walking the corridors of power in Spring Street and Treasury Place, reincarnated in the form of the Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews.

The events of the past 24 hours show that if Victoria is to avoid being once again bankrupted by a Labor government, Andrews’ defeat at the state election due in three-and-a-half years’ time is crucial.

The imperative for the Liberals to win next time got that bit more urgent yesterday. The red ink in Victoria is spreading fast.

Leak Against Kroger Showcases Issues Liberals Must Fix

LEAKING AN ILLICIT RECORDING to The Age — presumably in an effort to embarrass incoming state President Michael Kroger — has perversely legitimised the mammoth overhaul needed by the Liberal Party’s moribund Victorian division, if not nationally; it is a reflection of sorts on whoever leaked it that they chose to broadcast Kroger talking good sense. Even so, that this occurred at all is symbolic of the deep problems the party faces.

I must confess that I’m unsure just how annoyed to be at what can only be construed as a malicious leak against Michael Kroger from the confines of a Liberal Party membership event, when weighed against a sense of amusement over the fact that whoever did it had the stupidity to divulge material that depicted the new party state President serving up a dose of hard-nosed and long overdue common sense: probably not the image that was meant to be conveyed.

Whichever way you cut it, though, it isn’t a good look, and it neatly underlines just about everything wrong with the Liberal Party in Victoria, its get-square culture of factionalism, and the total ignorance that abounds in some quarters of it around exactly who it is the party ought to be fighting against: Labor and the Communist Party Greens, not ourselves.

To be honest, the same observations can be made, to varying degrees, of the rest of the state divisions of the party across the country.

I was at a Liberal Party membership function in Bentleigh on Saturday morning that was attended by Kroger and the new state Liberal leader, Matthew Guy, and for a moment when I saw the Fairfax press this morning I thought the recording had been made there; The Age notes, however, that the tape came from another function in Mordialloc, not that it really matters: the points Kroger made at both were virtually identical. And whether some in the party like it or not — or feel aggrieved enough to leak them to an unfriendly newspaper — Kroger is absolutely right.

In sharing this link I urge readers to not only peruse the article from The Age that covers Kroger’s remarks, but to listen to the (obviously) edited version of his comments the newspaper has seen fit to include with it; to me there is not one syllable in what Kroger has been telling membership meetings of the Liberal Party across Victoria for some time now that does not make perfect sense, and any member of the party who objects to the sentiments that he expresses should take a hard look at themselves, and leave.

There are a couple of obvious giveaways that this was an attempt to damage or embarrass Kroger: the fact it was given to the Fairfax press — no friend of the Liberal Party and/or the Right at the best of times — reflects a calculation on the part of whomever did it that their handiwork might explode in Kroger’s face; the phraseology used (the talk of learning from the Greens, being out-campaigned by Labor, being “killed and killed and killed again” by Labor) shows that whilst it did little more than quote Kroger, The Age has done so in such a way as to portray that message in a light that reflects upon the Liberal Party in the poorest way possible.

And it seems a logical conclusion to draw that whoever is responsible comes from that group in the party that is about to be cleaned out of the sinecures and centres of power and influence within it: and frankly, if this is the calibre of their expression of the best interests of the Liberal Party, the sooner they are pushed out and back to mere branch member status the better off the Liberal Party will be.

For the full duration this column has existed (and for many years prior to that, privately, as those who know me would attest) I have been saying that one of the crucial weaknesses the Liberal Party faces is that when it really comes to it, the Labor Party is far better at hard politics than we are: variations of that sentiment are sprinkled throughout the archives of this website.

I don’t see how anyone could take umbrage at Kroger’s assertion that the Liberals are “a party of old people:” one visit to your common-or-garden local Liberal branch meeting is evidence enough of a membership whose average age is pensionable.

His remarks about the recruitment practices of the Greens (aptly citing the methods of Mao Zedong) and being “killed” by Labor might be colourful, but they are exceptional only insofar as they are brutal in their candour: and honesty in self-appraisal and blunt realism in self-evaluation are attributes that have been sorely lacking in the Liberal Party for far too long.

All of this echoes sentiments I have published on Kroger’s return to the Liberal state Presidency, and on the mess generally in which the party finds itself after a state election loss in Victoria, and the prospect of additional pain at the fast-approaching federal election if nothing is done to try to avert it.

The party needs to improve in all areas if it is to generate for itself the sustained electoral success (and the dividends they can deliver to its core constituencies) that is increasingly enjoyed, by and large, by the ALP: in tactics, strategy and communications; in central and local campaigning, and campaign management; in doorknocking, membership recruitment and policy development; in fundraising and central party management; and — as Kroger has highlighted beautifully in the speech that has found its way into the willing arms of the Fairfax press — connecting emotionally with the voters we expect to deliver us into government, and to prosecute both the logical and emotional cases for people to vote for us.

None of this is rocket science, of course, and in the final analysis the worst crime that has been committed here — any malicious intent notwithstanding — is to telegraph to the party’s opponents an itemised list of the things that are now firmly on its agenda for redress.

Still, if the party’s internal discussions are to be made public, then the better it be that those conversations exhibit a healthy dose of good, common sense: the restructure that is soon to commence in Victoria can and should be a model for other states (and, indeed, the party’s federal wing) to follow.

Political parties exist — as I have written many times in this column — for one reason, and one reason only: to win elections, and as useful as the social aspects of party membership might be, they are actually meaningless if the party is not achieving success at the ballot box to deliver on the principles and beliefs its offering is based on (and yes, the party’s suite of policies is also in line for a rethink).

A good start is an end to internecine leaks and silly factional games that ultimately benefit nobody aside from the ALP.

In this regard — and given the vested interests inside the party clearly find such a course distasteful — Kroger is an ideal choice to oversee the demolition of amateurish and self-immolating practices and their replacement with a more professional approach to the business of electoral politics.