And finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for…

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Come on down (to Canberra), Clive Palmer!

It’s been reported this afternoon that Clive Frederick Palmer, boating enthusiast, dinosaur fanatic and subject of far too many of my blog posts, has finally won the Queensland seat of Fairfax. Thumbs up.

The margin of Palmer’s win on first count was 36 votes, on a second mini-recount was seven votes and now it has been announced that he has triumphed by the still-ludicrously small margin of 53 votes. The official announcement by the Australian Electoral Commission will be made tomorrow morning, however the results are already raising questions – most notably by the voluminous man himself.

Clive has questioned how three recounts could have all returned different results … probably a fair thing to be wondering under the circumstances. Granted, the AEC had 89,000 votes to go through – but still. The consequences of any mistakes have the potential to be incredibly significant.

The Fairfax result has been announced alongside news reports revealing that 1,300 votes have gone missing from the recount of the contested WA Senate seat. The results of this will determine whether the final two upper house members will be ALP and PUP, or the Greens and some dude who likes sport. Again, there’s a fair bit at stake. Palmer’s deal with the dude who likes cars means that he’ll retain the balance of power in the new Senate regardless, but it will be a lot less certain.

Especially considering how bizarre the news coming out about Ricky Muir and his erstwhile Motoring Enthusiasts Party is proving to be:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-29/motoring-enthusiast-party-members-owed-thousands-after-election/5056236

Apparently he’s been doing his kangaroo poo-throwing in private recently.

Personally, I can’t wait for the resumption of Parliament. I’ll be setting up to watch Clive’s maiden speech in the chamber with popcorn and a frozen coke. Don’t interrupt me during it.

Dirty and Direct

News reports today indicate that Labor may be considering “recognising the Abbott Government’s mandate” and rolling over on the issue of the carbon tax.

Early signs from the new opposition tended to indicate that they would fight tooth and nail to keep the tax by blocking it’s repeal in the Senate, even if it forced a double dissolution election. However even during this posturing, there were hints, the merest of signs, that this may not have been the view of the entire party.

In my opinion, Labor would be unwise to do anything other than let the repeal of the legislation go through. The carbon tax has been nothing but a source of intense political pain for the government ever since it was introduced following the 2010 election. This is after its very existence was strenuously denied by the then-Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten would do well to take Julia Gillard as a perfect example of what not to do. Gillard was famously stoic in the face of intense criticism, however her judgement on when to dig her heels in was almost comically bad. Granted, I have the benefit of hindsight, but it seems to me that Julia had a knack for identifying which battles would wound her most grievously and then choosing those as the ones to fight most valiantly.

Kevin Rudd was of course the complete opposite. Running away from the ‘greatest moral challenge of our time’ was not his finest moment.

Shorten should recognise that, love it or loathe it, he is bound to the opposition side of the chamber for at least the next three years. During this time, he will have far more success tearing apart the Coalition’s Direct Action policy if he is not at the same time shackled to a tax that can be blamed for cost of living pressures. The beauty of opposition is that you can create stunningly detail-free policies that are not bound by the strictures of reality and claim that they will achieve pretty much anything. The next three years should be spent promoting a more effective and efficient emissions trading scheme (or whatever) that will far outstrip Direct Action.

The other benefit of ditching the carbon tax is that it is just one less link back to the dark days of Rudd / Gillard government. Obviously, Bill ‘Faceless Man’ Shorten would do well to erase as many of these as possible from the public consciousness. He’ll never get them all, there are still a few former ALP heavyweights yet to air their dirty laundry in public. Nicola Roxon gave hers a good shaking out a few weeks back and Bob Carr has just delivered his kick on the way out the door. Personally, I think Swanny’s will be a real treat.

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Shorten Get Down, Good Lord

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As Margaret Thatcher once said – in the face of all the recent scrutiny centred on the leadership of the Labor Party, there really was no alternative. Thatcher may not have been referring specifically to Bill Shorten rising to the rank of opposition leader when she first uttered these words; however I daresay she would have agreed.

After much refreshing of my Twitter feed and email on Sunday afternoon, it was finally announced that Shorten had won the contest against Anthony Albanese. With just over 60% of the caucus vote and 40% of the party members, Shorten triumphed with a final count of 52.5%. That’s not much, granted, but compared to the winning ‘margins’ of some new Australian Senators – it’s a positive landslide. These two results were nothing if not easily predictable. Shorten was always going to win the caucus vote. At the same time, it was clear that the party members were not going to be easily convinced that they should forget about his (very recent) past as a ‘faceless man’.

Shorten’s campaign in the lead up to the vote and the announcement that followed was a little bit chaotic. It wasn’t quite Kevin Rudd in the final week of the election campaign, but there were some definite thought bubbles expelled along the way. His lack of experience in campaigning for the public vote was clear – he’s only been in parliament since 2007 after all. That’s three elections in total. One win, one loss and one … well, 2010. Albanese, on the other hand, is a veteran of 17 years.

Where Shorten does excel, is in negotiating results. Hence the solid caucus vote (and his subsequent choice of deputy).

I feel sorry for Albanese. I daresay that he would have done a solid job as a reformer within the ALP and a valiant Tory fighter in Parliament. He’s so genuine, the ultimate underdog. But that’s just the reason it’s best he didn’t win. Albanese would have just been another step on the road to the inevitable ascension of Shorten. The Labor leadership speculation would have just continued, day in, day out. It’s been common knowledge for years now that Bill Shorten is Labor’s Prime Minister in waiting – speculation that Shorten himself has done little to dispel.

The results of the Labor leadership election will certainly prove problematic for Bill. Not having support of the party members (and having this known as fact, rather than just as speculation or the result of polling) will be seized upon by the Coalition. Christopher Pyne has already gleefully touched upon this during an interview with Annabel Crabb on 7:30.

Shorten needs to nix this one immediately and get down (no diggity) to the business of being in opposition. Questions about his family, likewise, need to be briefly addressed and then closed off. Governor General Quentin Bryce’s offer to resign following his ascension was not a smart move in my opinion. As far as conflicts of interest go in Australian business and politics, being related by marriage is not high on the rap sheet. Bryce’s offer only gave credence to anyone who had suggested that it compromised her, or his, position.

The fact that it was Tony Abbott who rejected her resignation isn’t much of a help. I may be biased in this particular matter, but it was refreshing to see that not all incoming governments immediately sack the current head of state when presented with the opportunity.

@BridgetJones – 51yo Twitter user

There’s a significant event taking place in my life this week. No, I’m not getting married, going skydiving or declaring my passionate commitment to ensuring the survival of the bufo marinus (cane toad). Instead, I’m awaiting the release of the newest Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding.

And like the lead up to any significant life event, I’m getting nervous. I’m worried that the reality will not live up to my expectations. How could it? After all, it’s been 14 years in the making. A prospect which is terrifying in itself for revealing just how quickly time is flying.

My copy of the first volume of Bridget Jones’ Diary is literally falling apart from the number of times that it has been read, taken on holidays, dragged to the beach and leafed through in times of need. The novel has been something of a constant companion in my life – providing reassurance that I’m not the only (slightly frumpy) person who obsesses endlessly about the trivialities of life, whilst paying little attention to anything of significance.

The fact that Bridget is entirely fictional has been completely erased from my consciousness. Along with reassurance, I have looked to her for guidance (yes, really) and inspiration. I think of her as a real person, who lives, breathes and counts calories – stuck in a perpetual state of 31 year old-ness. This is the beauty of Fielding’s creation. She is the embodiment of every woman’s (and occasionally, I suspect, man’s too) emotional vulnerability and propensity to second guess oneself. Everybody has had a ‘Bridget Jones’ moment at least once in their lives (whether they acknowledge it as such or not) and everyone can identify with the struggle to find and maintain their unique identity in the chaos of the modern world.

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A few things about the prospect of a 51 year old Bridget Jones scare me.

The biggest one I think is that, fundamental to my love of Bridget, I had complete confidence that she would one day sort herself out. By that I mean that she would reach a place in life where she is happy with her weight, body, friends, relationships and career. My belief in her reaching this stage is linked inextricably to the belief that I will too. To reveal anything other than a ‘happily ever after’ ending shakes the foundations of my assumptions about life. Obviously I know that life is never this simple, but one needs to have hope.

My love of Bridget is mirrored perfectly by her admiration of Elizabeth Bennett and her search for a Pride and Prejudice-esque happy ending. And hey, Helen Fielding – Jane Austen didn’t ruin Bridget’s life with a new book revealing that Mr Darcy had died and that Lizzie was still tarting up for the local country dances in her 50s, dammit.

Bridget’s appeal is that she is the ultimate stereotype of a panicking woman still single and stuck without a rewarding career in her early 30s. As an incredibly wealthy widow with two children, she is no longer easy to relate to for most of those who embraced her wholeheartedly the first time around. Without having actually read the book yet, I would have preferred to read about the struggles of her marriage to Mark Darcy – listened to her complain about his boring lawyer friends, worry incessantly about saying stupid things to his parents and battles over what to name the children – but knowing that she was ultimately happy.

None of this means that I won’t buy the book as soon as I can and probably read it within 24 hours, but I reserve the right to complain about it.

Happily Ever After

Can’t you almost hear it – the faint whir of laptops being fired up across the country and Outlook calendars searched for any mention of the word ‘wedding’? You can bet that MPs of all political colours and persuasions will be busily searching back through their records and expenses claims in order to prevent being included in the most recent news story out of Canberra.

So far, five Coalition MPs have been implicated in the ‘dodgy expense claims’ relating to three weddings. The first and most controversial centred on the 2011 wedding of former 2UE presenter Mike Smith which was attended by Coalition frontbenchers George Brandis and Barnaby Joyce. Brandis has since repaid $1,700, while Joyce has denied making any claims beyond perhaps using a Commonwealth car on the day.

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Since then, it has been reported that new Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Queensland MP Teresa Gambaro and Joyce attended the 2011 wedding of the daughter of one of Gina Rinehart’s close business associates in India. All three claimed study allowances for the trip home as they went on to various other meetings and so on.

And this morning, it has been revealed that Tony Abbott himself has paid back more than $1,000 that he claimed to attend the wedding of newly former Coalition MP Sophie Mirabella in 2006.

Controversies surrounding politicians’ expense claims have been around for almost as long as politics itself and there is always an element of ‘let those who are without sin cast the first stone’ – as Brandis has unfortunately discovered these past couple of weeks. He was the closest pursuant of Peter Slipper in the last parliament for claiming trips to wineries, amongst other things.

As Malcolm Turnbull said this morning, it is not uncommon for travel expense claims to be repaid. This type of behaviour is not limited to politics and gives an interesting insight into what the diffusion of a media storm is worth. Obviously it is worth more than $1,000 to Tony Abbott and $1,700 to George Brandis.

The recent scandal involving former Leighton CEO Wal King* repaying over $40,000 in expenses would tend to indicate that it can be worth a lot, LOT more.

This behaviour of repaying claims to take the sting out of the story is made possible by the dual defence of ‘guidelines about expense claims are ambiguous’ (as used by Malcolm Turnbull today) and, my favourite – albeit less openly cited directly by those in question, ‘everybody else is doing it too’.

Interim Labor leader Chris Bowen’s comments regarding the claims would tend to indicate that the ALP are going to repay the favour and pursue the Coalition mercilessly, saying that there are still questions to be answered. However, it is interesting to note that even Bowen has put a disclaimer in place in the event of any own goals from the opposition, by admitting that ‘mistakes happen’.

“This simply isn’t good enough. The Australian people deserve full transparency and disclosure here. I call on Mr Abbott and Mr Brandis, instead of saying that these claims were legitimate and they’re paying them back in order to avoid any doubt, to actually admit they got it wrong.”

“Mistakes happen… but I think the Australian people are entitled to expect their politicians to be honest about when mistakes happen and give them an honest explanation.”

Expect more nuptial and non-nuptial related expense claims being examined, pursued and probably repaid in coming days.

*In a completely unrelated side note, that’s a name with such potential. I would end every conversation with a Craig David-inspired “I’m Wal King away”.

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

I referred in one of my earlier posts to Julia Gillard’s popularity appearing to be in direct inverse proportion to her power in Australian politics. The Anne Summers interview broadcast on ABC News24’s Big Ideas program on Monday night could not have been a more perfect demonstration of this. The crowd that filled the Sydney Opera House barely stayed quiet enough to hear any of the questions or answers in between thunderous cheering and applause.

Granted, Gillard was amongst friends. Friends who had chosen to part with their hard earned money and line up for hours to go and see her first interview post-beheading (or post ‘June 26’ as the events were continually referred to during the program). Admittedly, I did find myself getting swept up in the moment on more than one occasion – her entrance to a rousing rendition of RESPECT by Aretha Franklin was borderline embarrassing (indeed, even she seemed to be laughing in a very self-conscious manner) but it made the point.

I find it very interesting that it has taken losing power for respect to finally be ‘earned’ or, perhaps, acknowledged.

It would seem that there is an element of guilt attached to how the public now views Gillard. It is only very recently that she has spoken openly about the mental and psychological anguish that she suffered at the hands (or more specifically, pens and keyboards) of some of the country’s more cretinous trolls. While all politicians should expect a certain level of personal criticism and taunting during their time in office (especially as Prime Minister), the nature of that directed towards Gillard really did seem to go to a new level – even in the mainstream media.

On the other hand, there were some real issues with Gillard’s Prime Ministership that appear to have been conveniently forgotten. It was Gillard who decided to implement a carbon tax merely weeks after stating that she would categorically never introduce one under a government that she led. She was also responsible for the decision to move single parents onto the Newstart Allowance, a decision since criticised by both Albanese and Shorten as a bad one. And most importantly, from a polling perspective (and that was her undoing in the end), Gillard failed at all points to communicate the excellent job that her government had done in navigating a vast array of legislation through the hung parliament.

The other, less tangible, factor in Gillard’s poor public perception was that she herself wasn’t able to be easily understood. Her motivations in life to do the things that she did were not typical and therefore quite foreign to a public that is used to politicians presenting a caricature of “Australian life”. It’s been analysed to death already, so I won’t dwell on it. But the Tim thing, the house in Altona, the lack of religion but opposition to gay marriage, the knitting and the unrelenting stoicism all conspired to present a very complex picture that did not welcome empathy.

I will read Gillard’s book with interest when it is published, however I suspect already that it will be a hard-headed and straightforward account of the facts with humour used to deflect from the more emotional and troubling moments – much like her appearance on Monday night.

I hope it contains an explanation for ‘Women for Gillard’ though. That was a little bit bizarre.

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