BREAKING: Oakeshott And Windsor To Quit Politics

IN NEWS that will shock nobody, so-called Independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott have announced they are quitting politics at the imminent election; it comes at the beginning of what is set to be a big day in federal politics, and all but guarantees the National Party will win their seats.

I am going to be otherwise occupied for much of today, and so I will post more comprehensively this evening.

Still, the resignations of Oakeshott and Windsor should come as no surprise.

I maintain that both essentially sold out staunch conservative electorates after the 2010 election to put a Labor-Greens government into office, and — irrespective of any justification served up today — it was always inevitable that both would either be defeated this year or quit in order to evade such an outcome.

To this end, Windsor’s contention that he “would probably have won (New England)” is debatable at best, if not delusional.

But we note he has also said he “has health problems,” and if this is the case then we certainly wish him every prospect of recovery even if his absence from Parliament will be satisfying on purely political grounds.

I will be back later in the day with more detailed comment. However, I would be stunned if this is the only substantial item on the news roll today; we will have much to discuss when I am back on line.

The Motion Of No Confidence Best Left Unmoved

INDICATIONS are that Liberal Party strategists are working with an eye to the election due, barring unforeseens, in 2016; in this context, the motion of no confidence in the government that Tony Abbott threatened to move this week — forcing it to the polls next month — might best be quietly abandoned.

I’ve been flicking through the Monday papers online, and an article by Sid Maher and Joe Kelly in The Australian caught my eye; this can be accessed here, and it gels with one aspect of the opposition’s current parliamentary tactics that I can’t agree with.

And as Peter van Onselen (also in The Australian today) neatly puts it, a Coalition government’s first term will be largely spent funding their own promises, funding Labor’s late-term commitments and finding ways to reduce spending; the real reforms will be presented to the electorate in 2016, and be enacted during Abbott’s second term.

Regular readers know I am very open about my membership of the Liberal Party, and my support for Tony Abbott’s leadership of it in particular; even so, there’s relentless pressure and there’s overkill, especially with twelve weeks until Parliament is dissolved anyway.

The article I have linked to today confirms what must be the greatest non-surprise of the past three years; namely, an assessment — attributed to Coalition frontbencher and key tactician Christopher Pyne — that almost three years after selling their ultra-conservative constituencies out by preserving the Labor Party in office, independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott would likely vote in Labor’s favour in any no-confidence vote.

The rationale for attempting to force the Gillard government from office is obvious: a successful no-confidence vote almost certainly secures an immediate election, and in doing so would send the ALP to the polls with the additional rancour of being thrown out of office by a parliamentary vote — just to cap its abysmal record as a government.

The climate in which Abbott’s threat to pursue this course of action was made entirely justifies it: the aborted leadership coup in March, followed by the steady disintegration of the government’s position on key issues — most notably, its management of the budget — is indicative of a government in disarray that should be removed from office by any legitimate means and at all costs.

But even if Windsor and Oakeshott were inclined to do the right thing by their electorates and by the country for once — which I don’t believe for a moment they would, or will — I see a no-confidence vote as pointless, counter-productive, and a potential Pandora’s box.

Let’s assume — for argument’s sake — that the Liberals move a no-confidence motion in Julia Gillard’s government during the budget session as threatened (now, in other words) and that by some miracle Windsor and Oakeshott are persuaded to vote in favour of it.

Does the government fall immediately? Not necessarily.

The accepted wisdom and convention in such circumstances would be that Gillard must either resign or call an election.

Were she to resign, the Governor-General may invite Tony Abbott — as leader of the opposition — to form a government; if thus commissioned, his first act as Prime Minister would almost certainly be to advise an election.

Here, however, is where the problems start; such an election would have to be for the House of Representatives only, as the earliest date constitutionally allowable for half the Senate to face election is Saturday 3 August.

The Senate poses an additional consideration in that a half-Senate election must take place prior to the end of June 2014.

Abbott would be unlikely to delay the House election until 3 August; to do so would mean a formal campaign of eleven weeks in duration, at a time when most ordinary Australians are already fed up with the machinations of Canberra and the goings-on of its politicians.

The only way to avoid this would be holding separate elections, which isn’t much better.

There seems little doubt that the Coalition would win the House election in a landslide, but what would it do about the Senate?

The best of a raft of messy options would be for Abbott (remembering he would be a caretaker Prime Minister only during the House campaign) to immediately issue writs for a half-Senate election to take place in September when those for the House election are returned.

It would keep the period the country remained in “campaign mode” to a minimum, and a single bloc; but it wouldn’t be any better than running a continuous campaign for the August option if the no-confidence motion removed Gillard from office.

Another “pro” would be that Abbott could use the deferred Senate election to strike as quickly as possible after the House win, and before any gloss wore off his newly-minted government; the “con” is that with a second five-week campaign so soon after handing the Liberals a massive majority in the lower house, voters might think twice about replicating the favour in the Senate.

It’s an important point; despite the solid overall 2010 result for the Coalition, in the Senate it went backwards; those Senators elected last time superseded those from 2004, when historic gains for the Right handed the Howard government a slim Senate majority.

Abbott would be loathe to risk diluting a Senate vote that may well neuter the Greens; a separate Senate election could very well do that.

In any case, the current Senate is exceedingly hostile to the Coalition, and the ability to maximise conservative numbers there as Senators elected in 2007 face re-election this year simply cannot be compromised if the Liberals are to lead an operational government.

Messy, isn’t it? But these considerations are precisely what a successful vote of no confidence may lead to.

Even so, there are other scenarios that wouldn’t do the Liberal Party any favours either.

One is that following such a no-confidence vote, a new Labor leader does the same deal with the independents that Gillard originally did, advises the Governor-General that they retain the numbers to form government in the House of Representatives, and the ALP continues on its present trajectory under either Kevin Rudd or Bill Shorten.

As inconceivable as a Labor win at this year’s election may seem now, such a development would provide the ALP with the badly needed circuit breaker it has been looking for, and to that end, federal politics could well prove to be a whole new ball game, so to speak.

The election result certainly couldn’t be guaranteed as it can now, for a start.

And were such an outcome to eventuate, the psychological damage to the Liberal Party would be colossal; it would be seen to have gambled recklessly and impatiently to get the election it needed only wait an additional few months for — only for its punt to have spectacularly backfired.

The third option, of course, is that Abbott is able to move his motion of no confidence in the Gillard government, and having done so, Windsor and Oakeshott remain unmoved and the government’s present numbers ensure the motion is lost.

And that — the best strategic result of all, in my view — doesn’t warrant the grief involved in undertaking the exercise in the first place.

There is an additional problem as well: were the Liberals to get an election before September, they would also have to either own Wayne Swan’s budget or introduce something of their own it is place.

It’s all the more reason, to my mind, to let the Parliament run its course, go to the election in September as scheduled, and ensure Swan and Gillard are held accountable for their actions rather than being seen to let them off the hook in any way whatsoever.

I appreciate this has been a rather convoluted article: it has to be, because a successful no-confidence vote now is more likely to hinder the Liberals’ political interests, not help them.

It’s why, looking ahead to 2016, the best results for Coalition strategists to work with will be secured at an election for the House of Representatives and half the Senate, held concurrently, and most probably on 14 September.

And it’s why, upon seeing the article in The Australian I opened my remarks with, it was impossible not to put my thoughts on the issue to print.

Tony Windsor’s Wishful Whining (With An Apology To Malcolm Turnbull)

KEY INDEPENDENT Tony Windsor claimed yesterday in the Murdoch press that the coming election would be “all over” if  Malcolm Turnbull were to again lead the Liberal Party; his claims are disingenuous, and reflect a concerted effort by anti-conservative forces to avert a Liberal triumph.

First things first: this column has had cause in the past to be critical of Malcolm Turnbull; the member for Wentworth — in the aftermath of both the loss of his leadership and the subsequent 2010 election — had at times a predilection for making public comments that could be construed as disloyal to his leader and damaging to the Liberal Party.

Indeed — and not one to operate behind people’s backs — I communicated my views directly to Turnbull, privately and forcefully, prior to starting this column in 2011.

By the same token, however, I have seen no reason whatsoever to be critical of Turnbull’s performance for a long time now, and have seen to it that credit has been given when due.

In spite of such considerations, I’ve always liked Malcolm Turnbull: he’s a great bloke, very smart and personable, not always someone I agree with, but certainly someone I respect.

And I think regular readers know well enough by now that I’m not interested in window-dressing or fabricating such a position; I couldn’t be bothered with such effete bullshit.

So I apologise fulsomely and in advance to Turnbull for the unfair rehashing of a political critique of his time as leader, but it needs to be restated.

In any case, my comments tonight reflect squarely on Tony Windsor, the ALP, certain sections of the press, and anyone else in the sphere of the Left prepared to say and do anything possible, with increasing urgency and desperation, to avert the looming and thunderous win the Coalition is set to record under Tony Abbott at this year’s poll.

There has, for three years now, been a subtle yet concerted enterprise undertaken by Abbott’s opponents to smear, tarnish, defame and destroy him.

This campaign has not been confined to the ALP or to the political Left generally, but has extended to virtually every interest group in the country which stands to lose out under a government in which passengers are kicked off the gravy train that the debt-addled, profligate, taxing and spending Rudd/Swan/Gillard government has proven to be.

At its epicentre is an incessant demand that Malcolm Turnbull be returned to the Liberal Party leadership.

Seeing Windsor has raised it, I’m going to kill two birds with one stone here; exploding the myth of Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister-in-waiting, and tearing the veil away from a campaign that purports to be waged in the name of the people’s wishes, but in fact is a subterranean political strategy of the basest kind.

Readers who have been with me for quite some time will remember that I covered off on much of this in an article in May 2011: at that time Turnbull was agitating, with little subtlety, to return as leader; and as I emphasise once more, my article tonight is in no way an intended stab at Turnbull.

Readers will also no doubt be well aware that Tony Windsor knows everything, and that whatever he says is true; after all, were it otherwise, it would have been impossible to back a left-wing government into power from the confines of one of the most conservative constituencies in the country.

So it is with some bemusement that I saw yesterday — in online editions of every Murdoch-published daily newspaper — an article in which Windsor made one of his shining and wondrous pronouncements; in the interests of expediency, I republish the most relevant passages here, from Brisbane’s Courier-Mail:

Mr Windsor says Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott are both unpopular and that “I think each of them have kept the other one in the game.

“If Malcolm Turnbull was leader of the opposition, for instance, I think it would be all over, red rover,” he told the ABC.

Julia Gillard is certainly unpopular; with the possible exception of Billy McMahon, she is probably the least suitable and most dishonest holder of the Prime Ministership in the country’s history. I say “possible exception” because lying, scheming, treacherous Sir William was nonetheless a very effective minister for many years before becoming Prime Minister — and Julia Gillard, objectively, wasn’t even that.

But I wonder how unpopular Abbott would be — in officially published polling — had he not been subjected to the dishonest, malicious slurs about his relationship with women that have been rained upon him by his opponents, from Julia Gillard herself down.

Or without the frantic activities of ALP apparatchiks — many of them on the public payroll in the electorate and ministerial offices of Labor members — who spend their days trawling the virtual corridors of the internet and lurking in the depths of Facebook and Twitter, publishing and republishing every syllable of anti-Abbott material they can write and/or source, and with nary a care about its accuracy, authenticity or veracity.

Or without the carefully targeted, innocuous-seeming campaigns such activities have spawned, like the Facebook campaign aimed at 18-24 year olds called “Friends Don’t Let Friends Vote For Tony Abbott” — a clear attempt to hoodwink anew the demographic that fell for “Kevin ’07” (and later — in a memorable episode of the ABC’s Q And A programme — systematically dismantled the former PM when they realised they had been duped).

Nobody denies Abbott’s personal numbers aren’t flash. But I wonder how much higher they might be if the incessant barrage of shit he has had to contend with hadn’t been quite so constantly forthcoming.

The reason I make these observations is because I don’t think Windsor knows what he’s talking about to say Gillard keeps Abbott in the game; Abbott still has his head above water because he is made of far stronger stuff than those who seek to tear him down.

It’s noteworthy that now the “gloss” has worn off Gillard’s “misogyny” stunt, Abbott is about to surpass her — again — as preferred Prime Minister in the reputable polls.

And it’s a measure of Abbott that he hasn’t resorted to the legal recourse at his disposal to redress what has been said about him; he’s taken it on the chin, and kept moving.

And this brings me back to Windsor’s latest, brilliant spot diagnosis of the Coalition’s electoral prospects, remembering — once again — that Windsor knows everything.

What was he thinking of when he said of the coming election that “if Malcolm Turnbull was leader of the opposition…I think it would be all over, red rover?”

Perhaps Windsor was referencing the Coalition’s poll numbers under Turnbull; these ranged from 41% to 48% of the vote after preferences, but averaged 43-44%: low enough to suffer a greater shellacking than what apparently awaits the present government.

Perhaps he was referencing Turnbull’s appeal as preferred Prime Minister, which — from a high of 26% in October 2008 — had descended to a low of 16% by the following July and more or less stayed there until he lost the leadership some months later.

Maybe Windsor was recollecting Turnbull’s leadership style, which offered “bipartisanship” on everything from an emissions trading scheme to a GFC stimulus package: the difference between Labor and the Coalition largely evaporated with Turnbull leading the Liberals, replaced instead with huge opinion poll leads for Kevin Rudd.

Or perhaps Windsor was thinking of Turnbull’s ongoing support in the Liberal party room, which leached away to Abbott as it became clear Abbott was capable of beating Gillard in 2010, and subsequently stayed there when Turnbull took a little too long to act as a disciplined team player under someone else’s leadership.

Make no mistake, the only way Turnbull would reclaim the Liberal leadership is if Abbott resigned and Turnbull was the sole candidate to replace him, and Abbott is going nowhere.

And in discussing the basis upon which Windsor might be so eminently qualified to stick his nose into matters that really don’t concern him, it needs to be remembered that he has a visceral and personal dislike of Tony Abbott, and has taken every available opportunity during the past three years to make absolutely sure that everybody knows it.

All the polling that says Turnbull is “the people’s choice” to lead the Liberals is unmistakable, but as I have opined before, it’s just as worthless in practical terms as the research findings in 1988-89 that carried exactly the same message about Andrew Peacock in relation to then Liberal leader John Howard.

We all know how that ended.

Yet these polls are fed by precisely the tactics I have been talking about tonight; when people are in polling booths in September, with their ballot papers and pencils, the choice will be a judgement on Gillard and the six abject and worthless years of the government she has lately led.

Remember, oppositions don’t win elections: governments lose them.

So I would say of Tony Windsor’s statement to the Murdoch press that he’s probably just as excited about the prospect of a renewed Turnbull leadership — with the very real prospect of a re-elected Labor government that would accompany it — as the rest of the Labor stooges and Leftist loonies attempting to achieve the exact same outcome.

Maybe it really would be “all over, red rover” — and with Gillard re-elected.

And I would counsel Windsor that soon — very soon — the only person interested in the sound of his voice may very well be himself.

Tony Windsor might know everything, but there’s one thing he overlooked, and it’s about to come back and bite him.

The good burghers of New England are a decent lot, and are no doubt forgiving folk, too; but in that part of the country, the man responsible for electing the enemy to government has in all probability gone a step too far, and it’s likely to prove a fatal miscalculation.

Crossroads: Many Careers On The Line As Craig Thomson Charged With Fraud

NEWS that Dobell MP Craig Thomson has been charged with fraud — over the alleged misuse of credit cards whilst the head of the Health Services Union — brings to a head a saga that has dragged on for years; it raises questions, and imperils the careers of many others beside the disgraced former Labor MP.

As these matters are now before the Court, I am not going to offer any comment on the charges, their merits or veracity, or an opinion on Thomson’s innocence or guilt.

I do, however, propose to look at the potential fallout from a conviction — should one eventuate — and its likely impact and risks on other key figures in this tawdry labyrinth of accusation and alleged immorality.

Thomson is the subject of 150 fraud charges brought against him by Victoria Police, following their investigation into allegations of improper financial transactions during periods Thomson spent in Victoria; these will be heard in Melbourne at a date to be fixed.

Thomson is also faced with a litany of civil charges brought against him by Fair Work Australia, relating to that agency’s investigation into the HSU, and he also remains a “person of interest” in a current NSW Police investigation which mirrors and complements that undertaken by their southern counterparts.

The first thing I considered on learning that Thomson had been arrested this afternoon was whether Prime Minister Julia Gillard knew that the arrest was imminent when she announced a 14 September election yesterday.

(The issue of Gillard’s election announcement will be covered by this column, although due to my other commitments this may not occur until the weekend. We will definitely look at it: that ill-advised event really does need to be picked apart).

Certainly, there has been a whisper around the traps today to that effect; Gillard herself has denied knowledge, although Thomson has intimated that he knew in advance that he would be arrested.

Indeed, there is some dispute over whether he was “invited” to surrender himself to Victoria Police prior to Christmas in relation to these matters; Thomson’s lawyer claims it was simply an invitation to an interview, whilst VicPol maintains it was to face charges.

Either way, it’s clear that advance knowledge of something is, at the very least, acknowledged to varying degrees by the parties directly involved.

Did Gillard also know? I would be staggered if she didn’t, despite her denial. If she did, then the election announcement was even more of a cynical stunt than I thought yesterday.

Whether she did or not, the charging of Thomson has the potential to ruin many careers aside from his own — even if he is acquitted on all charges.

For starters, Gillard will be sweating on the timing of the eventual hearing of charges; whilst it’s possible these matters will not reach Court until after the federal election, the greater probability is that they will.

And if they do, there is no “ideal” time — for the ALP politically — for it to occur; but a nightmare scenario for the government would be a steady stream of sensational headlines emanating from Thomson’s criminal trial in the final weeks of what was always going to be an extremely difficult election campaign.

I think it is fair to assert that readers are, by now, well aware that if Thomson is convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of one year or more, he will be automatically disqualified from Parliament, meaning his seat of Dobell will require a by-election to be held.

However, this would also be the case if Thomson were to become bankrupt — either by declaring himself so, or involuntarily — and to my mind this is the greater immediate risk to the government’s numbers.

It is also a risk to the careers of many other people in the present Parliament.

It is common knowledge that the ALP covered expenses for Thomson to the tune of some $350,000 prior to suspending his membership; this was in large part to offset legal expenses and a settlement over a defamation action involving Fairfax Media.

Much was made at the time of the fact that it kept Thomson from going bankrupt in 2011 and disqualifying him from Parliament then; it is unknown whether the Labor Party would bail him out again now, in light of the political risks involved in doing so and with an eye on the fact it has already distanced itself from him by suspending him.

Clearly, Thomson faces massive costs in defending both the civil and criminal charges brought against him.

I want to outline a scenario — hypothetical for now, but deadly serious in its potential to eventuate — to explain my point tonight to readers.

Let us suppose that in, say, three months’ time — in late April — Thomson is forced into bankruptcy under the weight of his legal bills.

At that time, his eligibility to sit in the House of Representatives would automatically be terminated.

There has been some discussion today, in the lightning analysis of the Thomson charges, of what would happen in such a scenario; indeed, the consensus in the mainstream media seems to be that the (Labor) Speaker, Anna Burke, would decline to issue the writs for a by-election in Dobell on the basis a federal election date has already been set.

At the risk of stealing my own thunder from my pending article on the 14 September date, I must emphasise to readers that what Gillard did yesterday has no legal standing, or binding validity, whatsoever: she has simply, literally, named a date.

The actual “calling” of an election is a complex process involving a dissolution of Parliament and the issue of writs — and these things and other necessary legal steps cannot be taken in relation to a 14 September election until much, much closer to the date.

As half the Senate must also be voted upon, they can’t be taken until July at the earliest, owing to constitutional considerations.

So back to our scenario: Thomson, April, bankrupt. What happens?

In the proper performance of her duties, the Speaker would be required to issue a writ for a by-election in Dobell; indeed, I believe that is exactly what should occur.

To refuse to call a by-election so far out from an intended federal election date would be a flagrant abuse of power and an endeavour to rig the House of Representatives to improperly maintain the Gillard government’s numbers in the House.

There is a precedent; in late 1989, a vacant National Party electorate in Queensland was left vacant for a couple of months ahead of that state’s election. Even so — despite the Nationals hurtling toward their first election loss since 1956 — the seat made no difference to the Nationals’ majority in state Parliament, even if it were lost in a by-election.

So I don’t see that either the 14 September consideration, nor a modern precedent in Queensland, could excuse such an outrageous disregard for democratic process.

Were Burke to take that path, her prospects in her own electorate of Chisholm — held by a reasonable but not invulnerable 6.1% margin — would become that little bit more tenuous.

And if such a course were pursued by the Gillard government, the certain outcome would be to render it unelectable at a general election, and seal the fate of dozens of its MPs.

It would also guarantee that Labor would suffer a bloodbath when the general election finally occurred.

Replacing Burke with another candidate seems implausible; none of the Independents is likely to touch the Speakership, and it would be unlikely that a rebel Liberal or National would do so to prop up a dying government committing undemocratic acts.

So that would seem to close off the option of adding another Labor vote to the mix of 149 in total on the floor of the House by selecting a new Speaker.

Yet even without losing Dobell outright at a by-election, a disqualified Thomson and a vacated seat would still take the minority Gillard government a step closer to the precipice if the Opposition refused to grant a pair for Dobell; in such circumstances, it seems an unbelievable proposition that Abbott and his colleagues would grant a pair.

This would make the mix on the floor of the House 70 ALP to 72 Coalition, and it would bring the Independents into play for the inevitable vote of no-confidence the Opposition would move in the government in an attempt to force it to an election, with the refusal to conduct a by-election in Dobell the pretext — and a resonant pretext at that.

Communist Greens MP Adam Bandt would side with Labor, and Bob Katter with the Coalition; the numbers become 71 to 73.

Andrew Wilkie and Peter Slipper are the unknowns; having been comprehensively shafted by the Gillard government, it is difficult to see Wilkie supporting it in a no-confidence vote.

Slipper, despite having enjoyed the favour of the government, is a conservative Liberal turncoat who would seem disinclined to preserve a Labor government in office in such circumstances.

And then there’s Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott.

Windsor has signalled his intention to stand again in his ultra-conservative seat of New England; Oakeshott has equivocated, but I suspect he, too, will renominate. Like Windsor’s, his electorate of Lyne is one of the most conservative in the country.

Both are likely to struggle to win anyway, given their support of a Labor government, but a failure to act — in this scenario — to terminate that government, when it is refusing to allow a by-election that could result in its downfall anyway, would guarantee their own demise as well.

In such a situation, their votes would get the opposition the 75 votes on the floor of the House required, and a no-confidence vote to succeed.

And that’s before the votes of Wilkie and Slipper — and who carried them — are resolved.

But which way would they all jump?

It may well be that on that question, the careers of dozens of our politicians could rest.

And thus, there is a great deal at stake as a result of Thomson being charged this afternoon; the potential ramifications are vast, but not necessarily due to the scenario most people — the imprisonment of Thomson if convicted — are primarily focused on.

Filthy Slug Peter Slipper Slithers Away From Speaker’s Chair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good riddance.

Stalemate: Thomson Saga Rolls On…But To Where?

It’s like being in the eye of a storm; Craig Thomson fired his bullets in Parliament on Monday, and despite a lot of rough, tough talk — and the requisite Question Time ruckus — there doesn’t seem to be a great deal happening. Or is there?

Whilst political commentators are at one that the Craig Thomson scandal will now drag in indefinitely, and most — including me — agree that the government will suffer ongoing damage as a result, some have opined that the process of dealing with Thomson has reached a stalemate.

In fact, whilst there has been a lot of noise and chatter in the past couple of days, a number of small, seemingly unrelated events tend to suggest there are more turns in the road ahead in the context of this story.

I want to look at just a few of these; in and of themselves they offer nothing conclusive, but in them is sown the seeds of determining where the federal polity tracks for the next 12-15 months.

Since the melodramatic, accusatory and insult-laden twaddle that passed for the member for Dobell’s grand statement of explanation was delivered to the House of Representatives on Monday, a subtle yet significant split has opened in the ranks of the so-called Independents.

On the one hand, Tony Windsor and Andrew Wilkie reaffirmed their support for the Gillard government in Parliament, ruling out supporting a suspension motion against Craig Thomson and guaranteeing the government’s survival in the immediate term.

Both have made a lot of noise about not being judges, juries and executioners, and both have insisted the allegations against Thomson be tested in Court. Neither has proposed any meaningful way for that objective to be advanced; in fact, neither of them have proposed or done anything meaningful whatsoever.

Indeed, whilst they have opted to prop Labor up in government, they have as a result revealed themselves to be interested in no more than the retention of their seats in parliament for as long as possible: were they committed to integrity and probity in practice, as opposed to the form of words both have adhered to, there would at least be substantive, constructive ideas coming from them as to how to proceed.

Instead, there is nothing.

And on the other hand, there is the “Third Independent,” Rob Oakeshott.

It is generally agreed outside Labor circles that of the Independents who agreed to support Gillard after the 2010 election, Oakeshott was the most politically damaged by the act; in the past week it has become known that Oakeshott is deeply angered by the Thomson saga, and specifically with the length of time it has taken the Thomson to explain himself and with the time it is taking for these matters to be dealt with.

Oakeshott at least proposed to move a censure motion against Thomson, a move since abandoned upon confirmation that Windsor and Wilkie refused to support it. And as consistently critical as I have been of Rob Oakeshott in this column, I think it appropriate to note he was, at the minimum, prepared to do something.

It’s true Oakeshott’s motion, if moved and carried, would not have brought down the government and would not have called for Thomson’s suspension from Parliament. Even so, it remains to be seen whether this display of discord among the Independents is a precursor to them acting alone rather than as a bloc in the future.

An interesting sub-plot has been the referral of Thomson to Parliament’s Privileges Committee to face allegations his speech on Monday misled Parliament, and the route taken to get him there; for reasons of strategic insurance, the Coalition initially asked Peter Slipper — who remains Speaker despite having stepped aside from presiding over the House of Representatives on a daily basis — to refer Thomson, as Slipper is empowered to do.

Slipper refused.

The stench is already emanating from that on streets and in backyards and kitchens well-removed from Canberra; one MP accused of multiple transgressions and possible criminal offences has been seen to shelter another MP also accused of multiple transgressions and possible criminal offences from scrutiny.

It’s not difficult to see what Coalition was up to, but I think we’ll let that one rot and fester on the vine for a while before we revisit it in a later column.

Yet somewhat surprisingly, the government announced it would support a Coalition motion in the House to refer Thomson to the Privileges Committee: my guess is that Labor thinking is that it was the least they could do; to refuse would send a dreadful, dreadful message in light of its already shattered credibility and reputation for sleaze.

Perhaps ALP types are taking solace in the fact that the committee is controlled by the government; of its 10 members, 6 are Labor Party MPs.

This reality has not been lost on the Coalition leadership; the means are there by which Labor can clear Thomson of misleading the House but to do so the government may well be walking into a fatal trap.

To that end, the Coalition has made a change to its numbers on the Privileges Committee, replacing first-term Bennelong MP John Alexander with former Liberal Attorney-General and Immigration minister Phillip Ruddock.

The change is significant: Ruddock, a 39-year veteran of Parliament, has a well-deserved reputation as a tactician and strategist, and remains a wily old political bird; and whilst his presence on the committee will in no way alter the balance of its numbers, it will add an additional layer of forensic investigation and hawk-like sharpness to the Coalition’s arsenal.

Whilst all of this has been going on, a report appearing in The Australian today suggests nominations for Labor preselection in Thomson’s seat of Dobell are open, and already prospective candidates are coming forward.

In an obvious and expected move — but unpredictable insofar as any consequences are concerned — NSW Labor secretary Sam Dastyari has already declared Mr Thomson will likely be ineligible to stand on account of the probability of allegations against him being unresolved when the preselection scheduled for September occurs.

Dumping Thomson from Dobell solves one problem — how to ultimately get rid of him — but raises another for the ALP: what if Thomson himself quits Parliament? He professes to remain a “Labor Man” in spite of everything that has happened, but could  the effective termination of his career tip him to the point of resignation? If so, the government could be forced to a poll before Christmas.

But that, of course, assumes the present Parliament and the current government even make it to an election in August/September 2013; the poll-driven, focus group obsessed ALP will scrutinise the next round of polling figures even more closely than usual, and that means the simmering issue of the Labor leadership will boil over again sooner rather than later.

My tip would be that the next ALP leadership showdown is a matter of weeks away, not months, and it certainly won’t take until a scheduled election loss in August or September next year to materialise.

Irrespective, now, of whether a switch to Kevin Rudd or to another candidate such as Stephen Smith occurs, it is difficult to see how another change of Prime Minister could be anything but a lit fuse beneath the powder keg on which the ALP’s stability as a government sits.

At some point — somehow — common sense will prevail over the self-interest and self-preservation which currently drives the ALP and the equally electorally doomed Independents; if it doesn’t, and even if it takes the death or resignation of an MP through ill-health, the odds on an election sooner than later are rapidly shortening.

As I said, despite the relative lull in events, much has been happening; these few examples — and other events in Canberra — could lead anywhere insofar as the sordid mess that is the Thomson/HSU scandal is concerned. Only time will tell and we will, of course, watch with great interest.

The bottom line remains that a wide majority of the voting public (and even, it anecdotally seems, among some Labor voters tired of minority government) want a fresh election to resolve the instability and the sense of chaos and crisis — to say nothing of the dishonesty of a Labor government rotten to the core — once and for all.

And if the final result of Craig Thomson’s “five minutes of fame” on the floor of the House of Representatives on Monday is to trigger such an election, then maybe he will have effected some good out of this mess after all.

Whichever way you cut it, the stakes — and the bar for survival — just got a hell of a lot higher for Gillard, the ALP, and for the government.

 

Self-Indulgent, Self-Destructive Rant: Thomson Speech An Abject Waste Of Time

Somewhat anti-climactically, today’s speech by Craig Thomson to federal Parliament changed nothing, resolved nothing, and certainly failed to clear his name. Yet there will be consequences; for this speech could be construed as one of the greatest abuses of Parliament since Federation.

And in what proved little more effective than a baby throwing a tantrum, Thomson lashed out in every conceivable direction, throwing allegations and barbs and insults around under parliamentary privilege, but it was the unconvincing speech of a man with little to lose, and little left with which to fight.

Indeed, an associate who missed the telecast asked me for a summary this afternoon. “Two sentences,” I replied. “Everyone’s a bastard. Everyone should feel sorry for me.”

And that was about the extent of it.

I’m going to work through some of what Thomson had to say, and why the only person he is likely to have damaged — apart from the Prime Minister —  is himself; and then outline why I think the exercise in the House of Representatives this afternoon was a flagrant, co-ordinated and outrageous abuse of the Parliament.

The one surprise in today’s speech is that Thomson did not attempt to table incriminating material under privilege, which would have rendered it useless in any future legal proceedings; it would be a very low act indeed were that to have occurred, but this entire drama is such that nothing whatsoever would surprise me now in terms of the tactics that might be used to protect Thomson.

Again, readers will see what I mean later in this article.

In kicking off proceedings by reading out various threats he and his family had received, Thomson quickly rounded on the opposition and the media, saying “you have unleashed the lynch mob. And you have fanned it. And for that, you all, ultimately, are responsible.”

The allegations against Thomson first surfaced years ago, when raised in the Fairfax press and slapped with a defamation action for Uncle Fairfax’s troubles; after the action was settled — Thomson claims he was instructed to settle by the ALP — they have been the subject of endless inquiries and investigations, some of which Thomson has deliberately and consistently refused to co-operate with.

Amid suggestions of a cover-up — and with little forthcoming from Thomson or the government — it always seemed obvious that the media and/or the opposition would pursue him; after all, investigative journalism is exactly that, and one of the roles of an opposition is to hold a government to account and subject it to scrutiny.

Just because Thomson doesn’t like that fact, or that others are simply doing their jobs, does not mean he has been subjected to a “lynch mob.”

Indeed, Thomson has had many opportunities and avenues over long years through which to clear his name if he could do so; the first of these was the defamation action against Fairfax that was subsequently withdrawn.

Thomson’s assertion that it had been a mistake to do so was entirely unconvincing; if one has been defamed, and is suitably aggrieved to defend oneself by way of writ, one does not settle because someone else says so. In any case, the allegations to which the dropped action related are still of current import some three years later.

Many more opportunities to account for himself would follow.

And to attack Tony Abbott — for doing no more than his job — as “(not merely) unfit to be Prime Minister, he is unfit to be an MP” reeks of the pot calling the kettle black, and is the sort of desperate taunt doled out when there is literally nothing else to say.

Thomson held good to his threat to name names in Parliament; it had already leaked this morning, as we discussed, that he would name Health Services Union deputy secretary Marco Bolano, who angrily refuted the claims, describing them as ”fantastic and dishonest.”

Not content with that, Thomson went on to name his successor at the HSU, Kathy Jackson, and former HSU President Michael Williamson, accusing them of this and that and making various allegations against them.

He also took aim at Jackson’s partner, Fair Work Australia deputy president Michael Lawler, accusing him of interference into the FWA investigation into allegations against him and accusing him of having “a role” in the Liberal Party.

Unsurprisingly, all are outraged, and all are seeking the right to respond before Parliament; given Thomson has used the coward’s veil of parliamentary privilege to smear them, they know they can’t sue him.

Of course, had he made his allegations and declarations outside Parliament, Thomson would be subject to the laws of the land; but given so much effort has been expended in shielding Thomson from precisely that, today was clearly not going to be the day he voluntarily opted to face the music on that score.

But there is another point here, and one which nobody seems to have picked up on; it is, very simply, this.

Who cares — today, at least — about Jackson, Lawler and Williamson? It is allegations of serious official misconduct and financial misappropriation against Craig Thomson that are being investigated. Thomson might think himself clever for smearing them under privilege, but it did nothing whatsoever to remove the question marks hanging over his name.

And saying such things like opposition leader Tony Abbott had claimed that “I am not entitled to the presumption of innocence because I am clearly guilty” is — to use an ironic phrase — complete crap, and Thomson knows it.

Indeed, all Abbott has done is to call for answers in this matter; and for Thomson to satisfactorily explain himself and for the various investigations into him to run their course.

In the absence of that — three years later — Abbott has been asking other questions: for example, why Gillard continues to place her confidence in Thomson; why Thomson has systematically failed to co-operate with Police inquiries; and, more recently, if Thomson had all this information that would clear his name (which we found out today, he didn’t) why he didn’t come forward with it years ago?

Indeed, banging on about the presumption of innocence (a concept the ALP has bastardised to the point it is now almost as noxious a phrase as “moving forward”), Thomson chose to “name names” in Parliament today; yet just a week ago he refused again to supply those details to a NSW Police inquiry into the allegations against him — an investigation that may yet result in criminal charges being laid.

You can’t have it both ways. If you’re innocent and you can prove it, you do so, especially in such a diabolical case as this one.

Thomson expressed frustration that the general public appeared to have decided he is guilty. Doesn’t he realise that this is a matter of public outrage, and that people are very, very angry? From the very members whose fees have been pissed up against a post, to ordinary hardworking folk making an honest struggle to survive on less than Thomson earns, and to anyone with a shred of decency, the entire Thomson/HSU episode is an affront.

Tony Abbott is a voice for what is overwhelmingly the public mood; that does not make him unfit to be Prime Minister. Indeed, and especially lined up anywhere near Thomson, the complete opposite is the case.

Labor types today were making much of the fact that a courtroom was the right place for judgements to be passed on Thomson: my message is that if that’s the way they feel, then they should get him into a courtroom quickly. Convincing him to co-operate with Police instead of thumbing his nose at them would be a good start.

And as for the allegations concerning prostitutes, Thomson readily admitted he couldn’t answer for many of the calls made from his mobile telephone to arrange trysts with purchased companions. But the CCTV tape defence got a run; and as I flagged this morning (not least given one of the escort agencies — Sydney Outcalls — was not a brothel and would therefore possess no such footage) such a defence is a joke.

Thomson knows that, too; but behind the parliamentary barrier, he could say whatever he liked.

From an overall perspective, today’s operation involving Thomson was a sham; and I believe it badly abused Parliament, and amounted to no more than an attempt to continue the cover-up.

Thomson announced he would make his speech a week ago; in other words, he has had seven days to cook up one final attempt to sweep all of this under the carpet of parliamentary privilege — and leave it buried there.

He spoke for an hour, and what portion of the speech wasn’t concerned with throwing allegations and aspersions at people he clearly detests was spent on red herrings like his prostitute defence: incredible, unsatisfactory, and entirely unconvincing.

Prior to the speech, key Independents indicated that no matter what transpired, their role was not to judge Thomson; in practical terms, this meant that irrespective of what was said, they would continue to vote in support of the Gillard government, and would not support any move against Thomson unless it was shown he had misled Parliament.

After the speech, Leader of the House Anthony Albanese opined that he felt it was now time “for the Craig Thomson matter to be left alone;” in other words, the subject should not be discussed further, and should now be put to rest.

And subsequently — as the opposition sought to discuss Thomson’s speech, by way of a motion to suspend Standing Orders to make such discussion possible — the Gillard government repeatedly attempted to gag Tony Abbott, moving that he not be further heard, and to shut down proceedings.

If those five paragraphs, collectively, don’t spell out a concerted attempt to use Parliament and its privileges to knock the Thomson matters out of the arena once and for all, I don’t know what does.

Apparently, the great effort to protect Thomson — all to avoid a single by-election defeat that would trigger The Big One, and electoral Armageddon — continues unabated.

The whole thing was an abuse of process, pure and simple.

And the government knows it, too.

What will the ramifications of today’s proceedings be?

In my view, nothing will change. Thomson will eventually face the music over the findings of the FWA investigation into the HSU; the various Police inquiries will eventually conclude, resulting in Thomson being cleared, charged with criminal offences or charged with some kind of obstruction charge; the HSU figures named today will pursue recourse, and may or may not achieve it; and the Gillard government may or may not survive until the scheduled election time next year — with or without Thomson.

Whether the government survives or not, it is the only direct loser apart from Thomson: now guaranteed that the Thomson matters will continue indefinitely, it will have to deal with sensationalist headlines and scandalous, scurrilous revelations for as long as these matters play out.

And of course, Australian democracy is a loser, but it has nothing to do with Tony Abbott — it is a simple consequence of what happens when those in authority attempt to evade responsibility.

By means such as gutless attacks from within the sanctuary and immunity of the glass houses of parliament, for example.

And that will have consequences: for Thomson; for Gillard, whose increasingly shaky grip on the Labor leadership won’t withstand much more of this kind of thing; and for the ALP generally, whose electoral stocks are low, but which will test new depths if scandals such as this continue to afflict it.

In closing, I return to Thomson’s teary-eyed lament about the threats he and his family have faced, invasions of their privacy (especially his wife’s privacy), and to the apparently earth-shattering revelation that someone even dared to graffiti his gate.

All of this is Thomson’s fault, and Thomson’s alone; he could have co-operated with every relevant inquiry, expeditiously and candidly, and all of this would have been over years ago.

If he is innocent as he claims, he would have been exonerated and held faultless.

If guilty, he would probably have been charged and convicted, thrown out of Parliament, and perhaps jailed.

But either way, the fact all of this has dragged on so long is solely Thomson’s responsibility; and if he now wants to complain that the manifestations of public anger, which so palpably is at boiling point, are affecting his family then perhaps he ought to apologise to them.

After all, you’ve got to take responsibility for something sometime — even if you’re Craig Thomson.