03 March 2016

Quality control

Australia has a two-party system, where the Labor Party and an established Coalition of parties contend to form government. Each of these parties (the Liberals in particular as the lead party in the Coalition) have a responsibility to choose candidates worthy of the responsibilities of government. It's easy to pick out examples where you don't like an MP and use that as an example of systematic failure, but the Coalition as the incumbent government have work to do in vetting candidates and drawing a line under unacceptable behaviour.

A need for intervention

Mal Brough helped the Coalition get rid of Peter Slipper, thus helping to hasten the end of the last Labor government. After all that effort it might have seemed unfair to exclude him from preselection for Fisher in 2013, but revolutions eat their own and the LNP should have waited until police processes had been exhausted. The reasons why he has chosen not to recontest in 2016 are the same as those for which a functioning party should have vetted him out of contention.

Looking at the LNP cohort in Federal Parliament, none of them are much chop. There are 22 LNP Members of the House of Reps (Queensland has 30 overall) and six Senators (of 12). Only Karen Andrews has a future. Six - Warren Truss, Bruce Scott, Warren Entsch, Teresa Gambaro, Ian Macfarlane, and now Brough — are waiting out their time. Stuart Robert will probably be a shadow minister next time the Coalition go back into Opposition. Brandis and Ciobo are floundering out of their depth. Dutton will probably lose his seat in a swing big enough to carry Labor into office, especially if he devotes too much time on punishing little injured children. Canavan is another culture warrior low on ammunition. Jane Prentice would make a perfectly nice Minister but the dolts will barge ahead of her.

The LNP have done a lousy job in talent selection, but then again they probably don't have much choice. Now that the central premise of the LNP - presenting a united front at state level - has been revealed as a hollow joke, they have an obligation to put their best people forward (Joanna Lindgren? Really?).

The very prospect of Newman’s ninnies slouching toward Canberra should fill everyone, Queenslanders or not, with disgust. It isn’t appalling, it isn’t funny, it’s just a disgrace from a state that is finally getting off its knees: every other party has managed to find some talent (except Clive, and he’s proving my point). Nobody with any other options wants to be a LNP MP, and it’s sad for the LNP that they have worked themselves into that position.

Leaking submarines

Greg Sheridan lied when he denied receiving the leaked National Security Committee papers from Abbott about the submarines. Nobody in any position of authority should have commented on it; Abbott tipped his hand when he did so.

Defence Minister Payne was the real target here: a factional opponent of Abbott’s from NSW, Abbott is trying to perpetuate Kevin Andrews’ laughable claim that removing him from the portfolio was a risk to national security. He hasn’t just missed the target (one does not simply wound Marise Payne and flit away), he’s made himself the issue.

You just can’t go around leaking top secret documents and be a credible government. If you’re a party of government, you can’t put someone who does that into your parliamentary team. There are some issues that are bigger than faction or party: this is one of them.

The Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary of the Defence Department were right to negate the substance of the issue. Those guys do not mess around and nobody messes with them. The press gallery cannot simply report this as he-said-he-said argy-bargy any more.

J’accuse Tony Abbott of leaking that material, but I recognise that finer minds and keener students of Canberra skullduggery are on this case. If my suspicions are confirmed, the NSW Liberals have no real choice but to disendorse Tony Abbott as a candidate. I don’t care that he doesn’t have another job to go to, or that Curl Curl is full of dickheads who love him. No party of government could tolerate someone who tools around with top secret material.

In the 2007 election it was easy to follow the easy line that Rudd was cruising to victory, but real aficionados of politics were following closely Tony Abbott’s careening efforts in helping marginal-seat Liberals get unemployed. Abbott is doing that again, but instead of Tasmanian hospitals he has crossed the line into national security issues. The Liberals have to get rid of him.

If you thought Trent Zimmerman was tough standing against homophobia, wait until he has to take on the baddest homophobic, sexist, top-secret-leaking, don’t-give-a-damn bully of them all, in his capacity as NSW President of the Liberal Party. And take Abbott on, Zimmerman must - for the sake of party and nation.

Zimmerman and Payne are mates. Any other NSW Liberal who pulled something like that - any of these losers, for example - would already be toast by now. If the Liberal Party is to have any credibility at all, it cannot tolerate someone who leaks national security documents for a cheap headline (and headlines don’t come any cheaper than Sheridan’s).

The legal powers that the AFP and Defence have in investigating Sheridan and related parties are the very ones passed by the Abbott government, which caused an outcry at the time from journalists - real journalists, that is. Actual investigative journalists warned it would be used against journalists and journalism. Press gallery didn’t speak out on this issue in any meaningful way - they tend to be really bad at reporting legislation and debates and actual core business of parliament, and anyone who stood up for journalists and journalism would have their access limited. Now that legislation is demonstrably being deployed against a journalist, they have nothing to say about that either.

Turnbull is convinced he can ladle out another dollop of smarm and calm the waters: this might work on anyone but Abbott. At Goldman Sachs, Turnbull could sic the lawyers onto a recalcitrant employee, but the Liberal Party doesn’t work that way. He needs a combination of toughness and deftness that he probably doesn’t have.

The press gallery think this is about Turnbull vs Abbott, but it isn’t. It’s about the success or failure of the quality control systems that make representative democracy possible. The press gallery and those who employ them are part of those systems, and they’re quite simply fucked. Labor have played this impeccably (imagine if they hadn’t. Imagine some ragged old lefty had spoken out against the very construct of “national security”), but can they be trusted to go on?

Now it is time for the Liberals to wake up to themselves. If you want a reputation for targeting threats to national security, never mind kicking down the door of some young loudmouth in Punchbowl: start closer to home.


  1. "and headlines don't come any cheaper..." What a delicious line.

  2. Another great article on Australian politics thank you Andrew and keep up the good work.

  3. Fantastic piece, Andrew.
    I read Lenore Taylor's take on the Guardian and it was horse-race journalism. I kept thinking "Every point you are making has been made before. If this is a new twist in the tale, where is the 'so what'"?
    Here, you point out multiple angles, both the factional piece that goes beyond Abbott v Turnbull, the powers handed to the AFP potentially coming back to bite Abbott (though I'll hold my breath on that one) and drawing the connection between Abbott's history of rather blunt strategies for attacking his political opponents. Required reading, I'd say. Well done.

  4. Well articulated as usual. Very accurate portrayal of the Queensland contribution. Just waiting for the next move by Springborg. If he is elected that will be laughable.

  5. Thanks Andrew; edifying, as always, but your ire I suspect has sharpened your eye in the cross-hairs even more keenly. What a fucking week! Yes, MT vs. TA?... well no, and one doesn't have to be an insightful political sophisticate to see it's way beyond that. In a smaller teacup, we are experiencing our very own Donald Trump 'moment'.

    The most useful people in The Gallery are the Ellinghausens and Bowers. Some of the body language and expressions on major players this week told us most of what we need to know.
    Abbott's arrogance/cockiness was a sight to behold; the Coalition of which he's a member is heading towards the Lorelei Rocks, and he looks delighted. You don't need Taylor or Savva, or Kenny, or Hartcher to tell you much more; not that they're really geared up to do so.
    Strangest political times; far weirder than Gillard's wafer thin/multiple Bills passed period.

    SloMo train wreck. Or is that ScoMo?

  6. I'm eagerly awaiting the press gallery's enthusiastic rallying around Abbott as they did around Rudd, or will Turnbull's more middle class accent and appealing expression of what is, after all, the gender designed by God for leadership of this great country of ours, save him from their derision?

    1. God no. Turnbull is their boy.

      Lenore Taylor had a rare excursion in the below-the-line comments on one of her Guardian pieces the other Friday evening (https://profile.theguardian.com/user/lenoretaylor) which was revealing in a few ways, most notably when a reader comment:

      "Had me up till 'the last time the Australian people trusted them to run things"...would that be the low unemployment meltdown avoiding NBN,Gonski ,NDIS etc time ?
      Someone has a big girl crush dont they ?"


      "someone watched a party so riven by leadership rivalry it overwhelmed them"

      Taylor for all her faults is generally one of the more balanced press gallery hacks, and yet the Rudd/Gillard thing still colours her view of Labor as unworthy of government to the extent she is trying to find reasons to justify Turnbull despite this current Coalition government being incompetent and ALSO riven with leadership problems. This view explains the behaviours of much of the press gallery, who have transitioned neatly from "Abbott will be better than you lefties think and will save us from Labor chaos!" to "Turnbull is the saviour and will save us from Labor chaos!" without ever admitting they got Abbott wrong...

    2. ..and perhaps it wasn't really 'chaos' under Labor?

      Gillard never struck me as out of control.

  7. I suspect that Abbott actually wants to get back to the only job that he was any good at: LOTO. I wonder whether Credlin (which autocorrect changes to Cradling!) will stick with him: Dick Cheney to Abbott's Dubya?

  8. Do you really think the NSW branch of the Libs would intervene and dis-endorse Abbott as a candidate?

    That seems highly unlikely to me. But with you knowledge of the Liberal party I'm curious to hear your rationale as to why you think it might happen.

    1. If he was charged with a breach of the Official Secrets section of the Crimes Act and refused to resign, they'd have no choice.

      Can't see them doing any such thing for anything less than a charge, though, especially with the precedents set by Turnbull.