Greens Preferences: Making Broccoli-Munching Gnomes Useful

ACRIMONY has greeted moves by Victorian Liberal president Michael Kroger to seek preference deals with the Greens; it is not credible to oppose the idea by saying Labor is the lesser evil: it is an economic vandal, addicted to fuelling recurrent spending with high debt and taxes, and obsessed with chasing the hard Left vote. Easily as bad as each other, anything Kroger can do to play the Greens off against Labor to advantage the Coalition is laudable.

For long-term readers of this column, I offer the assurance that I haven’t taken leave of my senses, and nor am I softening in my trenchant distaste for the party I routinely characterise either as Communists — which is what they are — or as socialist filth, in a reflection of my contempt for them.

And for the benefit of those who are newer to this forum, in the runup to the 2013 federal election this column exhorted voters to preference the Greens out of existence in the national interest; this closely followed a piece recommending that people should vote Liberal or Labor per their preference, but to avoid the Greens at all costs; more recently, the possibilities of tactical preferencing have grown more appealing, and with Victorian Liberal Party president Michael Kroger copping undeserved flak over his plan to recommend preferencing the Greens above Labor in some of their target seats in return for open tickets in a selection of Liberal targets, I wanted to publish on this subject once again.

The trigger for my remarks today has been an article appearing in the Weekend Australian, which details the apparent move by Liberal Party advisers to circumvent the members’ elected president in Victoria and overturn his preference plan, to which I can only stress that Kroger is the servant of the members — and that the advisers are largely unaccountable employees with no right to do anything of the kind.

But before we progress further, let’s spend some time assessing exactly how the ALP and the Greens are constituted these days.

The stereotype of average Greens voters — broccoli-munching vegan gnomes singing kum-ba-ya, cycling barefoot through their compost-powered homes and proudly boasting their hearts bleed for asylum seekers arriving by boat who are trying to illegitimately jump the queue — sits at odds with the platform of the party itself, which (and this is an old story) is anti-family, anti-industry, anti-agriculture, anti-mining, anti-business, anti-enterprise, anti-car, high tax, open border, anti-democracy, anti-Australia, anti-America, anti-Israel, pro-CND, militarily pacifist, illiberal, statist, doctrinally socialist, and resolutely committed to the de-industrialisation of Western society and to the destruction of the values that built and sustained it in the first place.

In other words, the Greens have developed into the public menace they represent through the exploitation of compassion-babbling Chardonnay drunks who are stupid enough to believe they are working to build some kind of socialist utopia on Earth through their support: and in my view, a useful idiot is a more valuable commodity than one who is simply an idiot and no more, and this underpins the change in my assessment of the Greens’ fitness for purpose — but not of the party, or the insidious agenda it represents.

These bleeding-hearted, compassion-babbling bullshit artists and so-called SJWs — now steeled by what they think is a ticket to Nirvana on a vessel with more in common with the USSR than the land of Oz — used to be called something else: the left wing of the Labor Party.

Over the past quarter of a century (and especially in the past 15 years), Labor has haemorrhaged more and more of what was once the support on its left flank to the point it is no longer capable of winning elections on its own without torrential flows of Greens preferences or even — as has now happened once federally and twice in Tasmania — formal power-sharing and Coalition agreements with the so-called environmentalist party of the certifiably lunatic hard Left.

Yet in response, the ALP has — like a spurned adolescent youth chasing haplessly and hopelessly after the first girl he ever went to bed with — given chase after the former constituency spirited away by the Greens by repositioning itself further and further to the Left, as if by eschewing its mainstream base and masquerading as hardened pinkos, the lunatic Left might re-embrace its sometime flame and live together happily ever after once more.

Carbon taxes: not one now, but two, as if such a ridiculous act of economy-killing overreach might impress the socialist maiden who spurned it.

Unreasoning and unreasonable renewable energy targets of 50% — certain to cripple Australia’s economy — that put even the nutty aspirations of the Greens themselves into the shade.

An aspiration to abolish the private health insurance rebate: long hidden from view, of course, but an early initiative of the present ALP “leadership” designed to tip the balance away from the private sector and toward the state.

Everyone knows the ALP doesn’t really believe in the Coalition’s tough border policies — irrespective of Labor’s “commitment” to them — and everyone knows that that “commitment” is bitterly opposed by more than a handful of Labor MPs, and by perhaps an overwhelming majority of the ALP rank and file.

The outbreak of defiance and dissent over the issue that hit Labor’s campaign this week is proof of it.

On asylum seekers and border protection, the Labor head knows that an untrammelled influx of asylum seekers, replete with hundreds of deaths at sea, is electoral cyanide; the Labor heart, however, beats very closely with that of the Greens, which is ruled by the conviction that Australian taxpayers should fund whatever expense is incurred by throwing open the country’s borders.

These are but a few of the crossovers between the Greens and the ALP; there are plenty of others.

But as time has passed in recent years, the Labor copybook has grown increasingly blotted with other stains that mark the party out as equally unfit to ever hold office as the Greens.

These stains also round out the process of qualifying the ALP to jointly share equal billing in terms of just who the Coalition’s ultimate political adversary is: it’s no longer an automatic case of just putting Labor last.

It was Labor which was responsible for the moral and social abomination that is the so-called Safe Schools program, which those inside the tent freely admit has nothing to do with stopping bullying but everything to do with destroying traditional social values, with its emphasis on indoctrinating primary school children about alternative forms of sexual contact, “gender fluidity,” and the merits of leading deviant sexual lifestyles.

It was Labor that made a naked and unapologetic attempt at media regulation and censorship in its last period in office, seeking to legislate to enable the neutering of those organs of the press that opposed it: a measure cheered by the usual suspects at Fairfax and the ABC, but advocating only for the contraction of the diversity it champions whenever convenient to it, and happy to wipe out a large component of the traditional position of scrutiny the press sector performs.

It was Labor — in slashing military spending to divert money to foreign aid and other social schemes so beloved of the politically correct Left — which allowed Australia’s defences to run down to the point this country would be virtually defenceless in any medium-level conflict it found itself engaged in, the prospect of US assistance notwithstanding.

It was Labor which, in the last term of the Keating government, left $100bn in debt behind as it shovelled out largesse to the arts community, to ATSIC, to a plethora of social minorities to purchase and seal their allegiance, and to any other rent seeker offering votes in return; it followed this up with a record of economic vandalism that would make Jim Cairns blush, leaving behind $300bn in debt and the legislated but unfunded recurrent expenditure of hundreds of billions more; and it now seeks office with a slate of big-spending social programs, backed by a regime of tax rises totalling a purported $102bn, which leading economists have already indicated will fall far short of its expected yield.

And it was Labor — in cahoots with the Greens and the odious Clive Palmer — which spent three years marshalling the numbers in the Senate to attempt to destroy an elected government by making the Parliament unworkable to the Coalition.

Fellow conservatives, in all seriousness — can you really say Labor is the lesser of the two evils? The ALP and the Greens are now every bit as bad as each other.

When Kroger first outlined his plan last year to deal with the Greens on preferences — exchanging preference recommendations on Liberal how-to-vote cards in selected seats in return for the Greens issuing open tickets in others — I was ambivalent; the Greens really are evil, with their hardened socialism masquerading sickeningly as tree-hugging harmlessness. But possessed of a strategic bent and having considered the notion at length, I think it’s high time the Liberals started playing the preference game just as its opponents have always done.

The ABC’s election analyst Antony Green — publishing on his blog yesterday on this subject — makes the point that allocating preferences to the Greens on a seat-by-seat basis requires the Liberal Party to make preference recommendations based on strategy rather than ideology: something he points out (and which I acknowledge) some in the party are extremely resistant to doing.

Yet the ALP has always preferenced based on self-interest: one of the reasons for the lengthy analysis of the Greens and the ALP in this article is to illustrate that even on ideological grounds, Labor today is no better — and should be regarded as such in Liberal eyes — than the Greens.

Labor has spent years fuelling friction at three-cornered contests for vacant Coalition seats by generally allocating preferences to whichever of the Liberal and National Parties is not incumbent: hardly the basis for kind treatment of the ALP in return, as the growing siege it faces in some of its seats from the Greens gathers pace.

It was complicit in Tony Windsor’s election to the seat of New England in 2001, complicit in keeping him there for 12 years, and is now readying to help him reclaim it at the expense of deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce with a solid bloc of preference votes.

It was not only complicit in the election of Clive Palmer — at tremendous cost to both his own community and to the national interest — to the safe Liberal seat of Fairfax, but delivered the decisive bloc of preferences to take the seat from the Coalition.

There are other examples I could cite, of course, but the point is that in all of these cases the only principle involved was to weaken the Coalition as far as possible: and in drawing preference strategies at this election, the equivalent Coalition principle must be to weaken the Left commensurately.

If we take five electorates — Melbourne, Batman, Wills, Grayndler and Sydney — at present, all five are held by the Left in a 4-1 split in Labor’s favour.

If the Liberal Party recommends the Greens be preferenced ahead of the ALP in all five, it would guarantee the re-election of Adam Bandt in Melbourne, but potentially transfer at least some of those Labor seats across to the Greens.

Has the Left been strengthened in this process? Absolutely not.

Can the Greens be satisfied with such an outcome? Absolutely.

And were the Greens to issue open tickets in five marginal seats either currently held by the Liberals or targeted by them — we’ll call them Corangamite, Deakin, Chisholm, Melbourne Ports and Bruce — the likely reduction in preference flows to Labor from their usual 80-20 split to a level in the order of 60-40 could well make the difference in the Liberals holding Corangamite and Deakin, and picking up some or all of the other three.

Has the Liberal Party gained something? Absolutely.

And where this plays out is when down the track — perhaps even on 2 July — the ALP and the Greens collectively win 76 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives.

From a strategic perspective, what would be better for the Coalition — a 75-1 split in Labor’s favour, giving it the whip hand, or something in the order of 72-4 and shackling it to the insanity and ambit demands of lunar fringe socialists?

Remember, ideologically, Labor is no better than the Greens nowadays: it wasn’t always so, of course, but today it’s a fact.

And as Kroger himself noted recently at a meeting I attended with him, anything that might trigger a fight among the Liberal Party’s enemies is no bad thing.

The Liberal advisers — who continue to do things the way they have always done them, and who as a group have consequently engineered the relative decline of the party across Australia from its Howard-era heyday — would do well to heed the insight and strategic bent of the Victorian chief.

Those in the party’s branches who genuinely continue to believe the ALP is the lesser of two evils should reacquaint themselves with the modern Left and take note of its contemporary methods and “principles:” and this means accepting that Labor is no better now than the Greens ever were.

Those members who say they can’t support preference deals with the Greens on “principle” must reflect that if the principle that moderate conservative governance is infinitely better than anything dished up by the hard Left is valid, then there’s no conflict of principle for them to even reconcile themselves to.

If the Liberal Party is to progress as a truly professional and effective political outfit, the evolution of it personnel, its methods and its strategic bent (such as it is these days) must evolve to recognise that when it comes to the raw politics of elections, the party has been comprehensively outclassed now, on balance, for many years.

And this brings me back to the broccoli-munching gnomes who probably mean well, but who are mostly the unwitting instruments of the slow march of the Left into illiberalism, hard socialism, and the eventual dismantling of the liberal democratic institutions we are so lucky to enjoy in free Australia: freedom that can easily be undone in even short bursts of governance by the Left, as the Gillard government neatly proved.

A seat-by-seat appraisal of all 150 lower house seats by the Liberal Party — identifying which of the Greens and Labor is likelier to unsettle the cohesion of the Left if victorious, and directing Liberal preferences to that party — is now a no-brainer, when even a few years ago it would and should have been avoided like the plague.

If there are to be idiots voting for the Greens at all, they may as well be useful idiots: and if the recommendation that broccoli munchers and Chardonnay drunks put the Coalition ahead of Labor weakens the balance of the Left and/or gains the Liberal Party even a single seat, the exercise will have been well worth it.

All power to your arm, Mr Kroger.


The Sanity In The Inanity Of Liberals Preferencing Greens

DESPITE THE REPUGNANCE of the Greens — their ultra-socialist platform, the presence of actual Communists and other lunatics in their parliamentary ranks, and their opposition to most civilised aspects of decent Australian society — there is a case, a sound case, for the Liberal Party to swap preferences with them at this year’s election. The seemingly insane option is a tactical masterstroke invited by principle and evolving political reality.

In an ideal world, all lower house elections in Australia for single-member electorates would be conducted using Optional Preferential Voting (or even better, First Past the Post) but with current realities dictating that they won’t be for the foreseeable future (aside from state elections in Queensland and NSW), the compulsory allocation of preferences is an evil that must be exercised, strategised, and navigated.

The Australian is carrying a story today concerning an issue that has been widely discussed — both openly and behind the scenes — ever since Michael Kroger returned to the state presidency of the Victorian Division of the Liberal Party a year ago; Kroger, a renowned strategist credited with maximising the electoral massacre of federal Labor MPs in Victoria in 1990 and the thunderous election of the Kennett government two years later, has been canvassing the prospect of directing Liberal preferences to Greens candidates in selected seats in return for Green preferences in a swathe of marginal electorates held by Liberal and Labor MPs alike.

Readers know I harbour a deep loathing of the Greens — routinely (and accurately) decried as Communists and left-wing lunatics whenever they are mentioned in this column — but today I’m not going to exercise my usual strikethrough policy.

Even idiots can be useful idiots, and if the Greens are prepared to go along with what appears in prospect — seduced by the lure of more seats in the House of Representatives — then far be it for me to criticise, abuse, or pillory them for once.

Before we get too far into this, I should note that irrespective of whatever is recommended on a how-to-vote card by any political party, the end decision of where to allocate preferences rests with the voter; in the case of the Senate — the mechanism for electing which is about to be overhauled and simplified — such considerations are unfathomable to most voters, who simply vote above the line for the party of their choice and tacitly accept the allocation worked out by that party.

But lower house seats generally do not feature tablecloth-sized ballot papers printed with (in some cases) more than 100 names, and the voter who does not wish to follow the card is easily able to make his or her own decision, so let’s not hear about “Machiavellian deals” that distort outcomes in the lower house: such deals are readily thwarted if an elector sees fit.

In the end — in single-member constituencies elected by exhaustive preferential balloting — someone has to be placed last.

Here in Australia, it has been an article of faith for decades on the non-Labor side of politics that the ultimate enemy is the ALP, and that in all cases, the Liberal and National Parties recommend putting Labor last.

This formula has been flirted with over the years; the decision by state-based Coalition parties to recommend placing Pauline Hanson’s One Nation behind Labor arguably amplified smashing state election defeats in NSW in 1999, WA, the NT and Queensland in 2001, and perhaps the loss in South Australia in 2002; conversely, in the case of Queensland, an exchange of preferences with Hanson’s party that was poorly articulated and badly sold to the public in the face of a colossal propaganda barrage from the ALP contributed to the loss of seats at another state election in 1998 and helped propel the minority Borbidge government onto the pavement.

Yet whichever way you cut it, ever since the ALP won a federal election in 1990 with less than 40% of the primary vote using a strategy that explicitly pitched for the preferences of minor party voters — in short, acknowledging disgruntled Labor voters could have their cake by parking a protest vote elsewhere, but could eat it too by ensuring those protest votes were harvested — the ALP has run rings around the conservative parties where preference strategies are concerned.

At any given election these days (and in isolation from any deals that might be done now) eight out of every ten votes cast for a Greens candidate who is eliminated from a preference count will go to the Labor candidate; this whopping 80% conversion ratio has only grown stronger for the ALP over recent years, and makes the 60% they used to get on average from the Australian Democrats look positively pedestrian by comparison.

Labor has also more proven adept than the Coalition at striking deals with other minor parties over preferences, and appears well versed in the practice of fielding dummy “Independent” candidates whose sole function is to collect a point or two of the vote in any given seat and channel it back to the ALP.

We’re not going to look at the practice of running dummy candidates here today — insidious as it is — but where preference allocation and gathering are concerned, the ALP has long had things down to a fine art, and when anyone talks about Labor’s superiority at raw politics over the Liberals, this is one of the things they are alluding to.

At the risk of being simplistic, any preference strategy (and again, we’re talking about lower house elections) has four basic objectives and these, in no particular order, are

  • To facilitate a candidate’s ability to assemble at least 50.1%, after preferences, of the valid votes cast in a given electorate;
  • To relegate the primary opposing candidate to a total of 49.9% of the vote, after preferences, in a given electorate;
  • To secure an absolute majority of the seats in the chamber for which an election is conducted; and
  • To consign the primary opposing party (and any possible coalescence of opposing parties collectively) to a minority of the total seats in that chamber.

For today at least — and to stick to the point — we’re not going to examine by-elections or hung Parliaments to any extensive degree, although I would observe that even in those situations, efficacious preferencing strategies are still paramount to the overall endeavours and results of each competing party.

Obviously, all elections are different — and the particular tactical and strategic decisions made at each will vary, including where preference recommendations on how-to-vote cards are concerned.

But broadly, you have to wonder if the Coalition parties have been so focused on the mantra of putting Labor last (if there is no One Nation, or specific Greens bogeyman, or maybe a bellicose Clive Palmer that requires a particular touch-up just for the look of it) that they have lost sight of the seat-by-seat approach as a tool with which to effect their broader objectives.

Readers might recall that prior to the last federal election, I called in this column for the Greens to be preferenced out of existence: at that time Labor was the intended beneficiary of its usual 80% cut of Greens preferences, and this — combined with an understandable disinclination on the ALP’s part to preference against the Greens — meant that the minor party was as much a primary Coalition opponent as Labor was.

And of course, former Liberal leader Ted Baillieu is widely credited with maximising the statewide Coalition vote at a state election in Victoria in 2010 with a strategy of placing the Greens last in every electorate, even if the 51.6% of the two-party vote it resulted in garnered a majority of just a single seat (which he, and the Coalition, would soon rue bitterly).

But I suggest that even in the half a dozen years since then, things have changed.

It is now clear that broadly, the Greens have permanently dislodged about one-fifth (and perhaps as much as one- quarter) of what used to be regarded as Labor’s base vote; this movement more or less took place after the demise of the Australian Democrats early in the 2000s — at least some of whose support, it seems reasonable to suggest, found its way to the ALP — and whilst Labor has contorted and shuffled ever leftward in its attempts to court that lost vote and to appease the Greens, it does rather look as if that support is not only gone permanently, but that having oxygenated a socialist party of the hard Left, the Greens are determined to entrench, and grow, their position.

As Labor has faced broadly united opposition to its Right (in the form of the Coalition) and has sought to fend off the attack to its Left from the Greens, it has vacated the centre ground in which the overwhelming majority of swinging voters dwell, and on which elections are usually won or lost; occasionally — as was the case in 2007 — it will harvest enough votes to win a federal election on preferences, but the ALP’s structural position is a fundamentally weak, and weakening, one.

Even when Labor under Bill Shorten led the Abbott government by 10 or 15 points on the two-party measure over an 18-month period, for example, it did so despite hardly ever registering a primary vote of 40% or higher.

And its last election “win” (for want of a better term) in 2010 was achieved with just 37.2% of the primary vote.

Labor has, for decades, been far better than the Coalition at augmenting its defective primary vote with preferential support; hence its outright election win in 1990 despite scoring 39% of the primary vote and being outpolled by the Peacock-led Coalition by more than four percentage points, or its technical loss in 2010 that was nonetheless sufficient to form minority government even after the Coalition outgunned it in primary vote terms by more than six percentage points.

But if you accept the tectonic plates of broad political support for the Left are shifting — and that the Greens are on the march, which I believe they are, gradually winning new seats in lower houses across the country and positioning themselves for a run at others — then the pattern of Labor winning well over 90% of the lower house seats taken by the Left will continue to break down, and this opens an opportunity for the Coalition that can and should be exploited.

There are those who say, “How could they? How could those Liberals preference the Greens above Labor?” But as I said at the outset, someone has to be placed last: and when the Greens and the ALP are examined, side by side, the degree of lunacy one might accuse the Greens of is less marked than it used to be when considered against Labor in relative terms.

For as the ALP has shuffled to the Left to compensate for losing almost its entire Left flank, it has morphed into a very unpleasant beast indeed.

No longer just the party of trade unions, Labor is now the party through which tens of millions of dollars are channelled during each and every term of Parliament; this money — gleefully accepted by the ALP — is given for the express purpose of destroying elected conservative governments by (literally) any and all means possible, and to prevent conservative governments ever being elected in the first place.

The rabid socialism of the Greens is now, essentially, also the rabid socialism of the ALP: wielding a big-tax stick, the business community, families, self-funded retirees and the wealthy have been singled out and targeted in an explicit and vicious tax-them-till-they-drop onslaught that underpins the mentality of both parties.

The cult-like obsession with “settled” climate change science and the determination to tax carbon to the point it inflicts economic misery and hardship on ordinary Australians — replete with abuse and vilification of anyone who disagrees with it — is common ground to both parties.

Both Labor and the Greens not only favour legislating gay marriage — euphemistically described as “marriage equality” (there is no such thing) and “equal love” (a fatuous marketing slogan beyond ridiculous) — but seek to force the issue with binding votes in Parliament on their MPs: hardly the actions of liberal-minded entities participating in a system of liberal democracy.

Speaking of liberalism, liberty and freedom (or the utter lack of it) both Labor and the Greens are committed to policies and laws that dictate what people are permitted to say, think, and do: to whisper a syllable in defiance of the latest prescriptive edicts from the socialist, politically correct Left is to invite a torrent of public abuse to obliterate the individuals and/or organisations who dared to challenge whatever bullshit it is the Left is determined to impose.

And where quaint, old-fashioned ideas like economic responsibility and balanced budgets are concerned, neither Labor nor the Greens will have a bar of such trifles beyond the requisite lip-service deemed necessary to maintain a masquerade of responsibility: Labor, because to actually take such notions seriously would necessitate the candid acknowledgement it wilfully brutalised and vandalised the nation’s finances under Wayne Swan, Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd; the Greens — prosaically — because they think they will never be held responsible for anything, so they can promise whatever they like with gay abandon.

Yes, the Greens want the country’s borders thrown open and probably salivate over the social dislocation and unrest now unfolding in parts of Europe as too many migrants, culturally incompatible with Western democratic values, flood into Europe and threaten the stability and cohesion of the countries affected, whereas Labor — so far — does not.

But the only reason Labor doesn’t is because it lost elections over border policy in 2001 and 2013 and to a lesser extent in 2004, was run close in 2010 largely on account of the same issue, and finally got the message a few years ago that the silent majority of the Australian electorate simply won’t tolerate the kind of self-immolation now being experienced in Germany, Sweden, and elsewhere on the European continent.

As it lurches around toward the Left, there is no guarantee Labor won’t junk even that point of difference — especially if a more left-wing leader, such as Tanya Plibersek, follows Shorten at the helm of the ALP — and so it is difficult to separate Labor from the Greens over even that.

I know I am covering the ground fairly generally to make the point but when you look at the parties through the prism I have just outlined, why is Labor especially preferable to the Greens in any sense whatsoever? I contend they are as bad — and as nasty — as each other.

With that in mind, therefore, some astute preferential politics is a good idea. Certainly, it is no less than Labor itself has been up to for many years. And if Labor types want to bleat about “hypocrisy” (over what?) or a lack of principles, then let them do their worst.

The article from The Australian I have linked today shows a list of 12 seats won by the ALP at the last federal election solely on account of Greens preferences, all by two-party margins of 3.5% or less, and all only after the receipt of 75% or more of the Greens’ preference flow.

By the same token, there is a growing number of Labor-held seats around the country — Batman and Wills in Melbourne; Grayndler and Sydney in NSW; Griffith in Brisbane, to name a handful — where Labor members have either relied on Liberal preferences to beat Greens candidates or, based on trends emanating from the gradual drift of Left-inclined voters from Labor to the Greens, will very soon need to do so.

And to date and to the best of my knowledge, the Coalition has not had any MPs elected in any seat on Labor Party preferences: on the contrary, the ALP has helped elect Clive Palmer in a usually safe Liberal seat in Fairfax, Cathy McGowan in a usually safe Liberal seat in Indi, and previously helped the likes of Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott win normally safe National Party seats in New England and Lyne respectively. That’s just for starters, and before we even mention its handiwork in state seats across Australia.

The Coalition, in other words, doesn’t owe the ALP a zack where preference allocations are concerned. If it doesn’t like a dose of its own medicine being administered in deals with the Greens to preference against it, then it can stew in its own juices. And I make the point that Labor has no compunction about “doing deals” with the Greens to secure preference flows, and has done so to date ruthlessly and mercilessly and without compunction. If the prospect of someone else doing the same thing now offends it, then that’s just too bad.

By swapping preferences in half a dozen marginal Labor seats the Liberal Party wants to win in exchange for Liberal preferences in half a dozen Greens’ target seats, the Coalition may add to its haul of seats at the coming election, whilst the Greens may well dislodge several Labor MPs in the process: a win-win, one might say.

But another consideration that seems to have been overlooked — and which has a whole new dynamic entrenched in it — is the fact that for every seat Greens candidates win at the expense of the ALP (not increasing the overall share of seats won by the Left), the harder it becomes for Labor to win majority government at all.

In other words, the medium to longer-term effect of such a shift in electoral strategy could well be to force Labor into formal Coalitions with the Greens if it ever wants to hold office again.

Were that scenario to materialise, the ALP would finally understand what “Coalition relations” entail: and after decades of derision aimed at the National Party for “selling out” to the Liberal Party, or aimed at the Liberals for being “held captive” by the Nationals, Labor would be forced to confront the same dynamic, albeit without the decades of fine-tuning and practice the Coalition parties are able to reap the fruits of in the form of (usually) harmonious, united relations.

Elections are about many things, but when the votes are cast, they are about winning: Labor has been utterly ruthless about its approach to this for decades. If Kroger’s initiative sharpens up the Coalition’s ability to benefit from preference allocations, it would help negate the insidious reality that 80% of all Greens votes flow to the ALP as things stand.

What goes around, comes around: and I see no reason why Kroger shouldn’t trial a preference swap with the Greens in key seats in at least Victoria this year if some national strategy can’t be formalised for whatever reason.

And at some undefined point over the horizon, the idea of 65 Labor MPs trying to govern in “coalition” with 13 or 14 Greens would be amusing if it weren’t so serious, but when such a government was riven asunder by competing egos, agendas, and the truly hardcore socialism of the Greens — as it certainly would be — then that would be to the Liberals’ benefit too.

I say bring it on. And if anyone accuses me of expediency in saying so, just remember everyone else is doing it, right now: Labor, the Greens, red herrings like Clive Palmer, past abominations like One Nation, and all those other “principled” microparties designed to hive off enough primary votes to secure public election funding all recommend preference allocations in the way that best suits their own needs.

On this basis, if the Liberal Party does not do so, it is very foolish indeed: and if the Greens are idiots by nature, they may as well be made useful.


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.


The Advance Of Jacqui Lambie: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

THE PROSPECT of idiot Senator Jacqui Lambie’s party winning up to seven Senate seats at a double dissolution — almost certainly more than the National Party, and possibly gaining the balance of power — is a horrendous prospect that would cause untold damage to Australia; with Lambie’s ignorant, childish politics based on little more than settling imaginary scores, government would grind to a halt. Undoing her impact would take years.

In the small hours of Monday morning and still with things to do in advance of the week ahead there are better things I can think of to discuss, but anything to do with Jacqui Lambie — especially when it concerns the prospect of her spreading her influence — warrants attention.

I’ve seen an article from the regional Tasmanian newspaper The Advocate today, which cites Liberal Party polling quoted from Victorian Liberal state president Michael Kroger, suggesting that Tasmanian Palmer Senator-cum-Independent Jacqui Lambie currently commands 22-24% of the vote on the Apple Isle, and is said to be polling strongly in Queensland, Western Australia, and perhaps even in Victoria and New South Wales.

Whilst no tabulation of the numbers was presented (and remembering, of course, that three parts of evidence is often accompanied by three parts of gamesmanship where internal political polling is concerned), the looming spectre of a double dissolution election more or less doubles the ability of small parties to win Senate seats on account of the much lower electoral quotas required.

And whilst the findings Kroger was quoted discussing are unknown, the notion of Jacqui Lambie with two or three seats in Tasmania and up to one more in each of four of the five mainland states — possibly as many as seven in total — is, frankly, bloody terrifying.

I’ve been accused (usually by Coalition turncoats and ALP types who just want to stoke the fire when it comes to breakaway right wing outfits) of being everything from a sexist and misogynistic pig to an elitist and patrician snob (Moi? seriously?) for my determination to do anything I can to build public sentiment against Jacqui Lambie and help obliterate her political prospects.

But in declaring as regularly as she is discussed in this column that I believe her to be the stupidest individual ever elected to an Australian House of Parliament, I don’t do so lightly: and I don’t do so without a passing nod to the pantheon of no-hopers who, in some cases frantically, burst forth from the musty arras of history with comprehensive claims on the dubious status I accord to Lambie.

It’s not because she is so challenged as a communicator as to be virtually incoherent: everyone has something worthwhile to say, or at least that’s the theory, even if Lambie is incapable of conveying meaning in any other sense but the banal, or the xenophobic, or with the vitriol that invariably accompanies a complete victim mentality.

And it’s not because there is no evidence that anything about Lambie is in any way couth, civilised, or that she comprehends what her current role as a Senator demands of her: there are plenty of bogans around, after all, and almost all of them are great people.

Rather, it traces to eccentricities — to be generous — such as a former army truck driver and military policewoman purporting to be an expert on high matters of defence policy, when ample evidence exists that most service personnel find her cringeworthy at best and, in short, a joke.

It traces to peculiarities such as the barely articulate distinction she attempted to draw between “Chinese” and “Communist Chinese” and the suggestion that somehow the first group of people were just great in her eyes, whilst the other necessitated Australia taking up nuclear arms and blasting the dreaded Yellow Peril off the face of the planet.

It traces to the fact — conceded in her own words — that she hung around both the Liberal and Labor parties to play them off against each other to see what she could get; since those dizzying glory days she has been in and out of the Palmer United Party (and say what you will about Clive Palmer, but it’s a reflection on Lambie that she professes to be perturbed that following instructions might have been a requirement after she was elected on the back of a truckload of the mining baron’s money) and is now onto at least her fourth political party in fairly rapid succession: this time, her own.

For someone who professes expertise in military strategy — where mates have each other’s back, and nobody runs out and hides when the company is under attack — Lambie does not appear to be the kind of soldier you’d want to follow into battle, and this is a salient point for those flirting with voting for her to consider.

For the benefit of readers who missed it, I republish here the article I posted in March, when Lambie announced she would do what most disgruntled basket cases seem to do these days, having been elected on someone else’s coat tails and subsequently deciding their excrement doesn’t stink, and start a party named after themselves: and that article also contains links to several previous pieces that have formed discussion of Senator Lambie whenever her unfortunate ideas and objectives have come to public notice.

Aside from disability funding (a cause she came to champion after she got pissed and walked in front of a car) and defence force remuneration (because she’s such an expert on the military) the only thing Jacqui Lambie really stands for — as far as can be reasonably distilled from her idiotic utterances — is herself.

And just about the only thing that apparently drives her is revenge: revenge against the Liberal Party and Tony Abbott, for reasons unknown. Revenge against Clive Palmer, for reasons that speak to her own decisions and her inability to judge Palmer and his likely demands on her if she was elected on his ticket. Revenge against anything, or anyone, who dares to campaign for a position on something that isn’t explicitly what Lambie herself deems desirable.

Then — when you add in the racist, xenophobic diatribes, the fact she is supremely and naively out of her depth, and the fact she regularly threatens to bring Parliament grinding to a halt unless she gets what she wants, and to hell with anyone else (and God forbid, the national interest) — it really does become clear that not only is Lambie a simpleton masquerading as the big kid in the sandpit, but that the last thing she should ever be entrusted with is the balance of power in the Australian Senate.

It’s not hard to see how this could happen; after 20 years in which the ALP has seen its left flank slowly eroded and annexed by first the Australian Democrats and now the Communist Party Greens, a similar phenomenon seems to have commenced on the political Right, with Clive Palmer and Bob Katter (and earlier, Pauline Hanson) all hiving off large chunks of Coalition support.

Since we are talking about Kroger, one of the meetings I’ve been to this year where he was speaking saw him talking about what the Liberals need to do to retrieve their standing in Victoria — which, as he put it, was to once again advocate policies (and when elected, to govern) that reflect the values we as Liberals say we believe in.

It isn’t rocket science, but Kroger is absolutely right.

I have been critical of the Abbott government at various times; one of the key criticisms readers will have heard from me many times is that there is nothing conservative about it: there isn’t anything liberal, in the classic sense, about it either.

There are issues with the Senate and the way it is elected (and especially since the ALP fiddled it in 1984) that have lately been gamed and strategised to elect people with virtually no popular support, and whilst it’s something I believe needs to be fixed, and urgently, I don’t propose to divert down that particular tangent now.

But given it’s the Right — the Liberal Party especially — that stands to lose the most from any populist onslaught by Lambie, I obviously have a vested interest in trying to see that something is done to counter it.

People vote for fringe entities like the Palmer United Party, or for fruit cakes like Jacqui Lambie, because they are disillusioned with politics and feel government simply doesn’t do anything to make their lot in life better; in the absence of anything meaningful, they connect instead with “rough diamonds,” or people they think are “authentic,” or bullies who might “keep the bastards honest,” or some other permutation of the fact they feel established political parties deliver only for the people who run them and work in them.

If the Liberal Party, for example, developed policies that truly reflected its small government, pro-family, pro-business, strong national defence ideals that emphasised the virtues of opportunity for all, personal freedom and personal responsibility — and actually sold these properly in a way that voters could reconcile the intended outcomes with their own individual circumstances — then I believe the last thing it would need to worry about is losing a swag of Senators to someone like Jacqui Lambie at a double dissolution election.

Delusional stories of Lambie’s desire to bed rich men with huge dicks might be most amusing, but they aren’t a reason to vote for her.

The threat can be circumvented by the advocacy of policies that embody traditional liberal and conservative values: after all, it’s reasonable to assert those are what people thought they would get when they elected the Abbott government in a landslide but, to date, they haven’t got them at all.

We already know about Lambie’s mad, bad agenda. We already know she’s quite open about threats to strangle the process of government until or unless she gets what she wants.

Were she to ever control the balance of power in the Senate and thus the capacity to make good on those threats, God knows what she might be capable of. The damage — and the potential carnage — she could inflict on this country, its governance and its economic welfare, is incalculable. It is a horrific thought to contemplate.

If Kroger’s numbers are right, the only way to stop her is to ensure the next election reaps her no increase in her parliamentary numbers: and to achieve that, it’s obviously high time that the strategists and tacticians in the Coalition bunker set to work on cutting the niche constituency of disgruntled conservative voters out from beneath her feet.


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.


Victorian Liberals: We Back Michael Kroger As State President

THE NEWS that the former President of the Victorian division of the Liberal Party, Michael Kroger, will contest the role when it falls vacant in March is to be welcomed, applauded, and heartily endorsed; at a time the Liberals’ stocks have rarely been lower in the state once hailed as the “jewel” in its crown, we believe Mr Kroger is the likeliest candidate to enact reforms that will refocus the party on its primary purpose: to win elections.

50 days ago, the Liberal Party in Victoria lost government — after a single term — and with it, notched up its seventh defeat from the ten state elections held from 1982 until now.

That dubious achievement was recorded barely a year after the Victorian Liberal candidates — for the ninth time in 12 federal elections over the same period — failed to carry a majority of seats in Victoria despite the Liberal Party forming government nationally after five of those elections; one of the three majorities it scored in Victoria (in 1990) occurred largely as a result of state factors: one of the few genuine instances of an election result at one level of government being unquestionably influenced by goings-on at another.

Regular readers will have seen the blistering critique I published in this column one day after the embarrassing state election defeat last year, and with the benefit of the hindsight provided by even the seven weeks that have since elapsed, there is nothing in that assessment that I believe to be at all in error.

If anything — and with Liberal-led administrations in other jurisdictions and federally experiencing almost identical problems to varying degrees — the urgency to tackle those issues in the Party’s home state have grown even more pressing during that time.

With these observations in mind, I read with interest yesterday that the current President of the party’s Victorian division, Tony Snell, will not recontest the post at the meeting of State Council on 28 March; the declared candidates for the position are recently-retired upper house MP Andrea Coote (backed by state leader Matthew Guy) and former President Michael Kroger.

This column enthusiastically endorses Michael Kroger to return as state President.

Speaking as a rank-and-file branch member of the Liberal Party in Melbourne (and where factional considerations are concerned, completely unaligned) I have unswervingly, over a 25-year period, been prepared to work with anyone with the best interests of the Liberal Party at heart: and on this occasion, there appears to be two very good candidates who fully satisfy that brief.

Coote — a sporadic attendee at branch meetings in my area as an MP, whom I know (albeit not well) and who I hold in high regard — is an impressive and highly capable individual, and with many years’ recent first-hand experience in state politics would in ordinary circumstances seem an excellent choice to become the party’s state President.

But at a time when the Liberal Party’s standing in its own birthplace — the state Liberals boasted for decades was the “jewel” in their party’s crown — is nothing short of abysmal, its Victorian division needs a restructure, not a representative: and having performed in this role once before, delivering reforms that arguably led to the party’s only time in the sun in this state for more than 30 years, it is Kroger who stands out as the obvious, and only, candidate for the job.

I have no doubt Coote is more than able to discharge the role of state President of the party.

But so urgent is the remedial work to be effected upon it that it is critical the job is done properly the first time; and however cruelly, unfairly or otherwise in respect to Ms Coote, it is Mr Kroger’s past record that offers the best guarantee that this malfunctioning branch of a great political institution is whacked back into shape.

Kroger — President in the late 1980s and early 1990s — remains a controversial and polarising figure, and it is a monument to him of sorts that even now, the Liberal Party in Victoria is still often characterised as being split between Kennett and Kroger/Costello camps, although these demarcations have understandably blurred and broken down with time.

But the changes he was instrumental in seeing made in his earlier iteration in the post — tearing down antiquated organisational structures, overhauling and modernising preselection processes, orchestrating the removal of a great deal of deadwood from the ranks of the party’s elected representatives, and providing the party with mechanisms to better manage is political and organisational affairs — arguably underwrote what might have been a second golden era for the Victorian Liberals that has been progressively squandered in his absence.

Some have argued that the gain of nine Labor-held seats at the federal election of 1990 was merely attributable to the rancid, decaying government of John Cain that then held office in Spring Street; the fact remains that the organisational structures introduced by Kroger enabled the Liberal Party to fully capitalise and maximise their political advantage, and the Liberals’ haul of 24 of the (then) 38 federal seats in Victoria has not been bettered, or even equalled, since then: even at elections the party won in landslides in 1996, 2004, and 2013.

Similarly, the election of a Liberal government in 1992 was always likely to be a given, so decrepit and incompetent was the ALP incumbent the party faced, led by Joan Kirner after Cain’s departure from office.

Yet again, it is uncertain (or even unlikely) that the stellar win recorded by Jeff Kennett at the 1992 election could have been achieved with equivalent magnitude had Kroger’s reformation of the Liberals as a political fighting unit and professional electoral outfit not first taken place.

As a Brisbane boy still living in Queensland at the time, many of my contemporaries in the Liberal Party there were wont to regard what Kroger had achieved with great admiration and, indeed, awe: our own division of the party had never really fired a bullet — at the state level, at least — and to say we were impressed would be to understate the matter.

Many of us were regular visitors in Melbourne and some of us moved here permanently; some of those earlier contemporaries were and are in business with Kroger; others have worked with or for him, either in the companies he runs, inside the Liberal Party, or both.

For my part, I have only ever met him once, and then only as a fleeting pleasantry at the state funeral for former Premier Lindsay Thompson; unlike Coote I am unable to provide opinion on Kroger personally and I do not seek to do so.

But the bottom line is that political parties exist to win elections; stripped of fanfare and exposed as what they are in brutally blunt terms, they serve no other purpose whatsoever. The fellowships and friendships and coteries and committees that spring from them can be a great thing, but in the absence of the primary driving mission they would not exist at all.

And from elections wins — irrespective of your political stripe or ideological disposition — the delivery and implementation of policy and its consequent impacts are made possible.

It is on this basis alone that this column welcomes, applauds and heartily endorses Michael Kroger to resume the Presidency of Victoria’s Liberals.

Should he succeed, he will have his work cut out.

A moribund secretariat at 104 Exhibition Street needs and deserves to be gutted and rebuilt from scratch; as in his first stint in the post, a swathe must be cut through the deadwood among the ranks of the party’s elected MPs; and an end — in this state at least — must come to the insidious practice of recycling individuals through executive organisational roles within the Liberal Party (or the augmentation of their ranks with similarly odious persons) who add little or no benefit to the party’s electoral interests, and whose chief activities centre on butt-covering and the prosecution of personal and factional vendettas instead of focusing on the main task: fighting and defeating the ALP at the polls.

There is much more I could say, but in the interests of concision I will try to be circumspect.

I wish to place on record, publicly, an offer to provide whatever assistance may be required and/or sought by Mr Kroger in prosecuting his campaign to resume as President of the Victorian Liberal Party, and note in doing so that I do not have any parliamentary ambitions to pursue.

I do, however, remain in contemplation of whether to continue my membership of the party when fees fall due in March, and should Kroger win the role as President, any inclination to leave it will be immediately abandoned: the kind of fundamental change I believe the party requires is precisely what Kroger as President would deliver.

I would urge all readers with membership of the Liberal Party (or networks that intersect with its membership) to actively help to facilitate Kroger’s election as President; after all, the Liberal Party remains a party for its members, and it is only through mobilisation that this opportunity for basic, structural and desperately needed change can be grasped.

It is the position of this column that in the face of the indisputable problems the Liberal Party faces in Victoria that Michael Kroger represents the very best option on offer to address them, and to begin the hard and at times unpalatable work of internal reform that will yield the electoral success we seek as Liberals in the longer run.

Now Kroger has declared — and especially if he wins — the cacophony of public outrage from all corners of the Left will become deafening: evidence, however perverse, that his resumption of the role at the apex of the Liberal Party in this state is a development they fear.

This alone, in isolation from any other consideration, is reason enough for a Kroger victory to be engineered as decisively and as resoundingly as possible.


Liberal Party Bunfight: Kroger, Costello, It’s Time To Let It Go

Two days ago, this column outlined why Peter Costello would never return to Parliament; today I am going to outline why he and his buddy, Michael Kroger, need to knock it off. The public fracas they are engaging in is unedifying to both and, simply put, is an embarrassment.

I would like to predicate my remarks by pointing out that I don’t know either of these gentlemen well; Michael Kroger I briefly met for the first and only time outside St Paul’s Cathedral at former Liberal Premier Lindsay Thompson’s state funeral in 2008.

Peter Costello I have had more to do with, crossing paths with him at several Liberal Party functions since moving to Melbourne in 1998; but I doubt he’d even be aware that the brash and arrogant 21-year-old who applied for the role as his Chief of Staff on his ascension to the deputy leadership of the Liberal Party — all the way back in 1994 — and myself are one and the same person.

So I would entreat readers to take my comments at face value; they are not born of loyalty to one side o’er the other or from any intrigue; I simply intend to say what I think.

And that, in short, is that Michael Kroger and Peter Costello should pull their heads in.

It is a shame that it could come to this; that two of the Liberal Party’s most influential figures of yesteryear, friends and allies since adolescence, and who shared in so many triumphs together, should find an acrimonious and highly public spat signals the seemingly irretrievable end of a friendship.

The story initially circulated — that Costello’s planned comeback to politics was thwarted by Kroger, in retaliation by the latter over Costello’s purported refusal to intervene in a Senate preselection to advantage Kroger’s ex-wife, Helen — was messy enough, although the “case” for a return to Parliament was fairly easily shot down — and we did precisely that in this column on Wednesday.

Today, the country was treated to the singularly despicable spectacle of Michael Kroger doing a series of interviews on Melbourne morning radio. Tipping the bucket on Costello, he didn’t hold back — saying that he no longer went to lunch with Costello because he “can’t stand it any more;” he described lunches with Costello as two hours of sitting listening to Costello slinging off at real and/or perceived enemies, listing — for clarity — John Howard, Alexander Downer, Alan Stockdale, Shane Stone, the Kemp Brothers, Robert Doyle, Andrew Peacock, John Hewson, with the special qualifier for good measure that Costello “despised” Malcolm Turnbull.

Kroger stated that Costello was on the record as labelling Tony Abbott an “economic illiterate with DLP tendencies,” or in other words, not capable or suitable of filling any role of significance within the Liberal Party.

According to Kroger, “nobody” wanted to talk about Costello’s alleged misdemeanours publicly, so he — Kroger — had decided to do so.

Kroger also accused Costello of childishness and pettiness on account of his refusal to appear “anywhere” with John Howard since the Coalition lost government in late 2007.

There have been accusations and counter-accusations about who has what influence within the Liberal Party in Victoria at the grassroots and organisational level, and who has and hasn’t exercised that influence. The unspoken imputation has been that whichever of the two had exercised such influence had done so to somehow thwart and frustrate the other.

To their credit, both men have paid some kind of tribute to each other; Kroger was emphatic that Costello had been a great Treasurer of Australia; Costello, in turn, was similarly emphatic that Kroger was an excellent president of the Victorian division of the Liberal Party.

But this whole thing stinks of childish and pettiness on both sides — the very attributes Kroger accused Costello of in a clear manifestation of the proverbial pot and the kettle.

Costello, for his part, released a press statement today; lofty in rhetoric and filled with moral righteousness, he refuted Kroger’s charges whilst seeking to position himself above the fray, saying his reply “will go to the factual matters. I will not reply to the attacks on my character, other than to say they are false.”

The statement goes on to give his own account of the Senate preselection in question, as well as to cover off on a number of related and ancillary issues that — frankly — don’t matter a can of beans.

That’s right — what both Kroger and Costello have been up to in the last 48 hours doesn’t matter two-tenths of diddlysquat.

These are yesterday’s men; Costello elected to pack up his bat and ball and walk away from active politics; Kroger may have reinvigorated the Victorian division of the Liberal Party, but that was 20, 25 years ago, and he too is no longer the relevant daily face of the party in the way he once was.

Both men have been invaluable and brilliant servants of the party; and in looking back at the contributions of each over the years it’s difficult for me to find much to criticise.

It’s true Jeff Kennett — another Liberal I hold in extremely high regard — was not exactly the favourite colleague of these gentlemen, but wherever there are groupings and gatherings of human beings, such things are inevitable from time to time.

Maybe Kroger is right — maybe Costello really is the graceless individual he describes; maybe Costello is right — perhaps Kroger really is mounting an unwarranted and unjustified attack on him.

Either way, this is essentially a personal feud that has become public in the most vituperative of ways; and frankly, it needs to be swept back under the curtains whence it came in short order.

The irony is that whilst this stoush, the combatants involved and the “issues” they appear to be fighting over has nothing to do with current politics and does not involve the present leadership of the parliamentary or organisational Liberal Party, it risks causing problems nonetheless.

I’d ask which of these two gentlemen thought it such a brilliant idea to air this particular basket of dirty linen in public view.

At a time when the federal Labor government is on the ropes and dying; when state Labor governments around Australia are falling like dominos; when Australian electors are turning off the ALP with such venom as to suggest we are witnessing a generational political change; and at a time in which conservatives seem destined to enjoy long years in government, the timing of these events is abominable.

More to the point, both Kroger and Costello are seasoned political operators who should know better; in making their bitter vendetta public, they have afforded the Labor Party a distraction from its own woes, and clear air from which to catch its breath.

And the last thing either Costello or Kroger would want is to see the Labor Party back up off the canvass.

Whatever the deep truths behind this spat, and irrespective of how Kroger and Costello really feel about each other, the general public does not need to be party to these things, and the finer dramatics of the dispute do not need to be aired on a public stage.

Costello and Kroger should grow up, shut up, and keep their disintegrating friendship behind closed doors somewhere that does not adjoin the contemporary politics of the day.