Possible Abbott Reshuffle, And A Not-At-All Idle Threat

WHISPERS OF A RESHUFFLE in the Abbott government raise several tantalising scenarios, but whichever way you cut it — especially after the botch made of a similar exercise late last year — a reshuffle ahead of a scheduled 2016 election would cap a stunning return to form. Even so, one rumoured change would prompt your columnist’s immediate resignation from the Liberal Party on principle, and issue a nationwide call to arms for support.

I want to talk this morning about a bit of chatter I have been hearing around the place for a little while, and which has now found its way into the mainstream press through an article in today’s edition of the Herald Sun in Melbourne; it centres on a possible reshuffle of the Abbott ministry — the second since it came to office — and provided such an undertaking avoided (or, to be sure, corrected) the glaring mistakes and misjudgements of the one that was badly botched late last year, a reshuffle should be regarded as good news indeed.

The very fact another reshuffle is being contemplated, with the Coalition’s position in reputable polling continuing a slow but steady recovery this year, is a triumph over the opposition “led” by Bill Shorten; twelve months ago a sizeable number of the sound political minds I regularly pick — the ones prepared to offer honest off-the-record opinions, that is, rather than regurgitating party-line crap — agreed with my own view that thanks primarily to Joe Hockey’s woeful 2014 budget (with a few peripheral contributions from elsewhere to round out the self-inflicted hit on the government), the Abbott government was terminal.

Perhaps it will yet prove to be so; but if it doesn’t, nobody should be under any illusion that Shorten, Labor, and their ghastly masters at Traders Hall are driving much of the government’s recovery: it would be dangerous to believe, for now at least, that Abbott’s outfit is held in fonder regard on its merits by voters.

And less than six months ago, with the state election debacle in Queensland the precursor to an ill-fated move against Abbott as Liberal leader and Prime Minister, the government’s fate seemed all but sealed: Malcolm Turnbull was (and is) a red herring in the leadership stakes, but under his or anyone else’s prospective leadership the Coalition appeared doomed.

So here we are: the government trails Labor after preferences by just a few points, when it had lagged by 15 points; a reshuffle would enable Abbott to finally clear out some deadwood from his frontbench once and for all, and to promote some of the embarrassment of new talent that has until now languished on the backbench.

The cynic in me does allot more than a passing thought to the prospect that talk of a reshuffle could be used as cover to bring on a snap election; after all, Shorten has pretty much passed his useful lifespan as Labor “leader” (if there was ever anything useful about him at all, that is) and with his date to answer questions arising from damning testimony at the Royal Commission into the unions — and his role in alleged events in his past life as head of the AWU — drawing closer, it seems Labor is boxed in by Shorten and the rank embarrassment the unions are now proving on the one hand, and the odious, messy and protracted process that getting rid of him before an election would entail on the other.

Talking about a reshuffle might tempt Labor hardheads to calculate replacing Shorten is a worthwhile exercise. In those circumstances, it would be a dreadful surprise for the Liberal Party to spring by calling an election whilst the ALP was amidships in its silly leadership ballot process and effectively devoid of a leader to fight an election with.

Wouldn’t it? 🙂

Assuming, however, we are talking about a reshuffle ahead of an election no earlier than, say, May, here’s the good news.

As the Herald Sun article notes, the first cab off the rank to get it in the neck would be Industry minister Ian Macfarlane — or the “Minister for Industry Assistance” as this column has known him ever since he saw fit to plead for more government money to prop up the car industry — despite billions of taxpayer dollars having disappeared into the endless black hole of union-negotiated enterprise agreements that delivered ridiculous and unjustifiable largesse to those workers covered by them, but which meant that every time the grants were increased manufacturers still couldn’t turn a profit because more and more money disappeared into “renegotiated” wage agreements that just happened to mirror the size of those increases.

The sooner Macfarlane is put out to pasture, the better.

Defence minister Kevin Andrews can’t be too far behind him, having botched Workplace Relations under the Howard government, botched Social Services under Abbott, and underwhelmed in his present portfolio.

Treasurer Joe Hockey — someone I like enormously, but who is clearly out of his depth as Treasurer (a sentiment known to be shared by several of his Cabinet colleagues privately) — should not be sacked, but moved to another portfolio, perhaps Defence, whilst Malcolm Turnbull or Scott Morrison are promoted to take his place.

But I would go further than the obvious names being bandied around; Senate leader Eric Abetz has been a solid servant for the Coalition, but has barely landed a glove on either the ALP or the unions — nor advanced anything constructive by way of industrial relations policy on the government’s behalf — in his role as Employment minister.

His deputy, George Brandis QC — an intelligent operator who ranked among the Liberals’ best performers in opposition, only to become one of the party’s greatest political liabilities in office — should perhaps be redeployed to a post less directly responsible for prosecuting the case to spread freedom and liberal rights: his “freedom to be a bigot” remarks were surely among the worst publicity the government has attracted, and his attempts to explain the government’s metadata laws were confusing at best. Unfortunately these have not been Senator Brandis’ only unhelpful contributions as a minister.

And Howard era figures who have scarcely set the world on fire, like Small Business minister Bruce Billson and Health-turned-Immigration minister Peter Dutton, would scarcely be missed by the electorate if they were moved on to open opportunities for fresh talent.

Of course, the inevitable potential retirements are spoken of, for nothing lasts forever; chief among them is veteran National Party leader and deputy PM Warren Truss, who — at 66 — is being implored by some to stay for another term in Parliament to ward off the “threat” Barnaby Joyce could take his place.

Joyce comes with problems and limitations — like Truss — but unbelievably for someone who was a magnet for public ridicule when he first entered the Senate a decade ago, cut-through and positive sentiment in the electorate are not among them.

But the Coalition’s next generation of stars, drawn from the backbench and the ranks of existing parliamentary secretaries and “Ministers Assisting” — Angus Taylor, Christian Porter, Kelly O’Dwyer, Bridget McKenzie, Dan Tehan, Steve Ciobo, Sarah Henderson and Michaelia Cash, among others — should stand to compete for numerous vacancies as ministers in their own right in any reshuffle, and the short- and long-term political health and policy vigour of the Coalition would benefit immeasurably from a substantial injection of this impressive new talent at senior levels.

Of course, and discounting any surprise election announcement altogether, such a reshuffle — properly executed — could take the Coalition to the polls next year with a team that would set it up for a decade of competent, effective, and electorally popular government.

The one other change I want to touch on is the situation of Trade minister Andrew Robb; undoubtedly one of the top-tier standouts of the Abbott government, Robb, like other long-serving Liberal MPs, faces the ceaseless pressure of the passage of time: soon to turn 64, it is hard to fathom he would serve any more than a single additional parliamentary term: if, that is, he stands at the next election at all.

Robb is also my local MP, as member for Goldstein: the electorate I have lived either in or adjacent to (in the neighbouring seat of Melbourne Ports) ever since I moved to Melbourne 17 years ago.

The article I’ve shared from the Herald Sun today suggests Robb could replace former Labor leader Kim Beazley as Australia’s ambassador to the United States, and were this to occur he would go with my very best wishes on a deserved appointment indeed, and his tenure in that role would ensure Australia’s interests in the US are well represented — just as they have been by Beazley, to be clear.

But under this scenario — which would see Robb head across the Pacific late this year — a by-election would need to be held in Goldstein and, despite repeated denials of interest in a seat in Parliament that the Herald Sun has dutifully noted and reiterated on her behalf, the name of Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, has been raised as a prospective Liberal candidate to replace Robb in the usually safe Liberal seat in Melbourne’s Bayside.

At the risk of introducing a sour and provocative note to the discussion, I should reiterate that my criticisms of Peta Credlin in this column in the past remain very much in force; too many stories of her idea of management have spilt from too many appropriately placed sources — and the political consequences of those deficiencies writ large for the country to see in the form of poor governance, bad strategy, incompetent communications and woeful opinion polling — for me to reasonably take any other view.

And of course, her “star chamber” vetted me out of consideration for any formal involvement in the Abbott government in 2013 for reasons best known to itself — or, indeed, to her — well before so much as a syllable of criticism was ever published in this column.

Sometimes, principle has to come before any other consideration in politics, and readers will have heard me say often enough over the years that I’m a conservative first and a member of the Liberal Party second.

Indeed, had legendary powerbroker and political strategist Michael Kroger not resumed the presidency of the party’s Victorian branch earlier this year, with an explicit brief to knock the division into more professional and competitive shape, I would have left the party.

Happy as I am to remain a member, I cannot and I will not be a party to Credlin being imposed on Goldstein (even via a sham preselection process and/or administrative committee rubber-stamp to make it look legitimate) and I cannot and I will not campaign for her election in Goldstein, another seat that falls vacant (perhaps Andrews’ seat of Menzies) or, indeed, anywhere else in Victoria at all.

I’m sure this threat will have people around Credlin shaking in their boots with fear — do, of course, note the self-deprecating sarcasm — and acknowledge that I might end up polling a single vote on the day, but in the event Credlin is endorsed as the Liberal candidate for Goldstein, I will resign my membership of the party the same day and contest the seat against her as an independent conservative.

I have no particular ambition to be a member of Parliament, but on principle — faced with a backroom operative foisted on my community, whose record to date seems more concerned with the exercise of power than with the advancement of any cogent set of principles — were Credlin to contest Goldstein, I would feel bound to stand against her.

It won’t be the hottest news in town, and I’m sure it will generate amusement among those who think they know better than everyone else, but if push comes to shove, I’m prepared to get out and fight for conservative ideals against a candidate who has more or less overseen a government that could hardly be characterised as conservative, or even liberal — in the orthodox sense.

Stay tuned. And should the contest eventuate, I’ll be sounding a clarion call to readers — and anyone else more concerned with the advancement of conservative objectives than with the expedient use of power — for all the support they can offer.

I’ll be back this evening to talk about some of the other events going on in the world of Australian politics.

 

Merry Christmas — And More — From The Red And The Blue

WITH THE TIME TO TALK having temporarily evaporated, festive greetings are once again in order; for the fourth year now, The Red And The Blue wishes all readers and their families a very Merry Christmas: and those things we aimed to discuss yesterday, but simply ran out of time, will be covered in this column soon enough — perhaps even this afternoon or this evening, depending on how much German beer I have had with my Christmas turkey.

Can I make the rather platitudinous observation that it seems like only yesterday that we were doing this?

It has been another active (and at times explosive) year in politics — at home and abroad — and it has been great fun, a lot of hard work and sometimes an enormous frustration providing a focal point for people to discuss conservative perspectives on these events. But I love it.

It has also been a year that has rocketed past; not always for the right reasons, either.

There were two issues I hinted at yesterday that I hoped to get back to before the day was out; I challenge any reader to compete with my power-packet five-year-old daughter for attention when there are biscuits to be baked and Charlie and Lola to be watched. Seriously, though, I simply ran out of time: and (properly) preparing a 12 pound turkey from scratch and all the accoutrements to go with it will do that to you.

Those missed issues, however, are ones we will return to.

The first is the now-formalised contest to replace John Robertson as leader of the NSW ALP just three months before a state election Labor has started to look like copping a belting at; this one will be ongoing for a week or two, and we will certainly have something to say on it.

The other concerns the apparent restructure going on at the Prime Minister’s office in the wake of this week’s botched ministerial reshuffle, amid reports that a decision — perhaps adversely — is set to be made on Tony Abbott’s increasingly controversial and divisive Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin; it seems the clock may be ticking on Ms Credlin’s tenure at the PMO sooner than anyone imagined, and I would simply venture at this point that if she exercised any meaningful input into the charade that constituted the reshuffle, it’s little wonder.

Perhaps we will get to these later today or tonight; it depends on how much Christmas cheer I have had frankly, and to be perfectly honest if we miss this day (of all days) I am not going to make any apology for it.

Either way, I would like to wish all of my readers — regular and sporadic, old-timers and newcomers, and irrespective of political allegiance — a very, very merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous new year in 2015; I appreciate the support you continue to show this column: and whilst we haven’t grown readership this year, we haven’t really lost any of the colossal growth we experienced in 2013 either.

I think the federal election distorted trend growth in readership, and our numbers have picked up solidly in the second half of the year, so it seems we’re keeping most of the people who stray across our forum except the ones who were literally looking for guidance on how to vote. I do thank you.

There is a big year in 2015 ahead, which we will preview over the next week or two, and 2014 isn’t exactly finished yet either.

But in the meantime, my best wishes to all readers: go and eat yourselves silly and enjoy a glass or three of your favourite tipple with the family and friends and others dearest to you, and I look forward to resuming the conversation when we next catch up — whether that’s later today, or later this week.

Best

Y

A “New Do” For The Red And The Blue

FROM TODAY, The Red And The Blue takes on a new look as we update our site to make it more streamlined, clean-cut and professional; these changes are aimed at making our conversation easier to follow and easier to read, and we trust readers will endorse the modifications we have made.

Over the past month or so, readers may or may not have noticed minor tweaks being made to the visual presentation of this site; I have now overhauled the template on which the site is constructed to provide a cleaner and more user-friendly experience for newcomers and regular readers alike.

This process will continue over the next little while (as I have time to complete the desired modifications in the lead up to Christmas, in other words) but the “new do” published today represents the last of the major changes I intend to make.

With nothing against the standard WordPress template I originally used, it was always my intention to update this to reflect a more modern and professional look — and almost three years on, here we are.

It is to be hoped all readers find this revised format for The Red And The Blue enhances their experience, and makes their interactions with our conversation more enjoyable; I would be very keen to receive feedback on the new layout that will form the basis for the column into the foreseeable future.

Oh, and don’t forget: if you’re not already doing so, you can follow this column on Twitter @theredandblue

I’ll be back later today with something — typically enough — a little more political.

This Week At The Red And The Blue

JUST A teaser this afternoon; over the next week or so I will be talking about some direct frontline issues rather than the strictly political side of them; these are issues of great everyday importance, and represent ground on which most of us can agree irrespective of political stripe.

There are a few things I have been thinking of addressing in this column for a little while now; issues that occur every day, in our daily lives, on which I feel action is required or about which I want to put my position on the table to bolster one side of an argument.

These are issues relating to health, transport and the like: and I do think that what will be published here will offer some common ground as a little bit of a break to the typically adversarial nature of political discussion and debate.

And they are relevant: government is ultimately the arbiter for the kind of things I will be discussing, and in talking about them here I will be keen to see if others do share my view and — if so — what we may do to bring pressure to bear as appropriate.

Of course, we will continue to follow the issues of the day in politics as they arise; the next cab off the rank, of course, is Newspoll: due for publication in tomorrow’s issue of The Australian, the figures will be available late tonight, and when they’re through I will be posting on them too.

The first poll of the week is out this afternoon; an Essential Research survey finding an unchanged Coalition lead from last week of 55% to Labor’s 45%, after preferences.

Will Newspoll remain unchanged from last fortnight’s 56-44 result as well? We will see.

Finally this afternoon, I’ll take the opportunity to reiterate the invitation to readers to follow me on Twitter for those not already doing so: you will find me @theredandblue .

Barring unforeseens — the eternal qualification when it comes to planning content and the issues we provide coverage to — I will be back again late tonight to talk about polling.

UPDATE, 11.49pm: There is no Newspoll tonight; that gem will have to wait until next week. As I said, barring unforeseens…

Happy Easter From The Red And The Blue

IT’S EASTER time, and tonight I simply want to wish all readers of The Red And The Blue a happy Easter; this is a time of peace and celebration, and I trust all readers will enjoy it with family and friends, wherever they are.

It’s another opportunity for me to thank everyone for their support, and ask that you all continue to do so; there’s a great conversation here (I like to think we strip away the BS to some extent) and I hope you all enjoy what we publish here as much as we do.

I understand many readers do not practice a religion, or do not share the Christian faith; to those readers I also wish well at this time, and hope they are able to enjoy the activities that so typify this time of year.

Especially those with children, as they delight in the Easter Bunny and the gifts he brings.

To those in other cultures and from non-Christian faiths, we send our best wishes too, and we look forward to resuming the conversation with everyone in the next day or two.

A Red And Blue Baby…

JUST a quick post tonight: a few days ago, I hinted in an article that our second child was due to be born; seeing I raised it, and rather than leaving readers hanging, I’m delighted to confirm that there’s a little boy who has joined our clan.

My apologies to readers for the delay, but in the circumstances I think most would understand — our second child, Angus, was born shortly before midnight on Thursday (21 February); a healthy little bundle at 7lb 7oz, with mum also doing well.

I will be back either late tonight or tomorrow with the article on Labor leadership I have been promising all week; it’s actually half-written (but again, I trust readers understand that the delays, substantially, have been due to circumstances beyond my control — notwithstanding events also intervened once or twice).

So there it is; back to “normal” in the next day or so.

Until then…

The Wrap: ALP Leadership, Newspoll, Rudd And Abbott, And A Message To Readers

Firstly, my mistake: like many other commentators, I expected a Newspoll tonight; it’s been held over a week, so we’ll revisit it on Monday. But I am out of action tomorrow, and wanted to get a quick wrap-up in, as well as a message to all readers of The Red And The Blue.

OK, first things first: I’m out of action tomorrow — Tuesday — as I said; my second child is being born in the morning (irrespective of any views to the contrary he might have) and as I am going to squeeze some work in during the day as well, it really depends on what state of mind I’m in as to whether I post tomorrow night when I get in or not.

(UPDATE 11.15am, Tues 19 Feb: the run to the hospital this morning was a FALSE ALARM after all that…but as it will happen again in the next day or so, I’m still happy to flag it: if I disappear for a couple of days, readers will now understand why…)

So we are all going to have to wait another week to see what Newspoll brings, and specifically how it impacts on the fortunes of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Messrs Rudd and Abbott, and whether it influences the course of political life at a delicately poised moment in the political cycle.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, barring unforeseens my next post will be the long-promised article on the ALP leadership, and whether a switch to Kevin Rudd might offer Labor a way out of the thickening darkness; I have to qualify it in those terms simply because there is so much happening at present it’s easy for events to prevail in terms of the discourse we share here.

I’m also intending to look at some mooted campaign strategies on the Labor side of the fence in the near future: fascinating stuff, albeit most of it likely to be useless in the context of the looming electoral Armageddon which appears to await the ALP.

We are also going to focus more on the strategic directions of the Liberal side which — in the opening rounds of the new year — have undergone a subtle yet unmistakable switch; Abbott looks more Prime Ministerial by the day, and more and more sounds the part as well.

Interestingly — at the risk of rattling the cage of the anti-misogynists — Abbott was seen on the campaign trail in Sydney today with his beautiful daughter, Bridget; even taller than Abbott himself, his youngest daughter was the face of last year’s Sydney Autumn Racing Carnival.

Blessed with three stunning daughters, it’s probable the Abbott girls will be seen with their father quite frequently as the year progresses; and being “all in the family,” it will be fun to watch the “Abbott Hates Women” brigade fulminate over the sheer exploitation of it all…

Seriously though, folks, this is just a short piece tonight to keep everyone in the loop; I might be with you again tomorrow night, or it may be the night after; but either way, we’ll soon resume.

AND ANOTHER THING: If you’re not already following on Twitter, please feel free to do so @theredandblue

We’ll talk a little more a little later.