‘Tis But A Scratch

It’s been brewing for a long time. Seventeen months, to be precise. Seventeen months since we’ve witnessed an all-out public spat in regards to the Prime Ministership and who indeed is the “best person” to lead the government and the Australian people.

Sure, there has been grumbling and mumbling amongst the ranks of the government MPs for some time now, but it took a monumental own goal on the scale of the Prince Phillip knighting decision for Tony Abbott to become truly unstuck.

To reflect on this almighty brain explosion for a moment – who on Earth let it happen? Abbott, obviously, but surely there was someone (anyone?) around him who could have said “steady up there mate, I reckon that one might go down like a cup full of vomit” and provided just a handful of the most compelling reasons why.

The truth of it is, really, that Abbott’s proactive decisions never seem to carry as well with the public than his reactive ones. In essence, he’s great at telling us what we don’t want (boats, waste, debt, Labor, terrorism, etc – you know the drill) but when it comes to reading what the public does want, he’s rather hopeless. Like grandma in a gay club, his radar is just completely off. Liberal MP Dr Dennis Jensen said of Abbott at the time of calling for a spill:

He is a “great war time leader but not a great peace time leader”.

Over the weekend, Abbott most definitely reverted to type. A significant proportion of his comments related to “not repeating the mistakes of the past” in terms of the Labor leadership circuses (plural). He made mention of being “chastened” and promised to be a more consultative and collegiate Prime Minister, but he’s been making similar statements on a semi-regular basis since 2007. And yet, Prince Philip.

In any case, Spill Day arrived amidst a flurry of excitement in Canberra. It had everything; wall to wall TV coverage, overly dramatic corridor processions, live betting odds and Annabel Crabb everywhere. My prediction about the result turned out to be eerily accurate – I was only 60/40 confident that Abbott would remain intact. The result of the party room secret ballot, once tallied, was delivered by Phillip Ruddock as being 61-39, with one informal vote.

Presumably this was Kevin Andrews voting for Julia Gillard.

A victorious battle for Abbott, sure. But what about the war? It’s now public knowledge that 40 of his nearest and dearest want him gone in favour of an unconfirmed replacement – even taking into account the political fallout that would be caused by another “knifing”.

The real winner of the day was surely none other than Bill Shorten. In just one week of keeping his mouth firmly shut and doing precisely nothing, he has witnessed his already intensely disliked opponent sustain yet another mortal blow.

Monty Python

It’s only a flesh wound.

Kevin Rudd: The Ultimate Media Sponge

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Well, in retrospect – surely one could have predicted this.

Past performances would tend to indicate that any time there is clear air in federal politics; the dark Rudd-clouds roll in from the north and quickly rain on the ALP parade.

The second day of the 44th Parliament (the first real day considering that day one was hilariously ceremonial) started relatively unexceptionally. Members of Parliament convened, argued about debt, foreign policy, climate change legislation and taxes. To summarise, the politicians debated policy. Gasp. But Rudd sat, biding his time. Knowing that he still had a revelatory ace up his sleeve.

It was not until early in the evening that Kevin07 / 747 / 24/7 rose to his feet and announced to the House of Representatives that he was retiring from federal politics. Tony Abbott himself had to rush back to the chamber in order to be present. Reports indicate that dear old Albo was the only one who had any idea of what was about to happen.

Seriously, Rudd had to wait right up until the start of the new parliamentary term to make this announcement? This was the first chance for real debate to be discussed and analysed in the media, however at the end of it all we were still talking about Kevin. The evening news and following day should have been devoted to debt ceilings (which, incidentally, are redundant in Australia as far as I can tell), asylum seeker policies and the carbon tax repeal – but instead we were forced to sit through painful tributes to the man who has been an attention-seeking missile for as long as I can remember.

Bill Shorten’s largely unscripted response (how tricky would that have been to craft with less than 10-minutes’ notice?) was made slightly less awkward by the fact that he had eventually supported Rudd’s return to the Prime Ministership only a few months ago. Surprisingly, it was the new Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s words that seemed to be most genuine, with a heartfelt thank you for the apology to the Stolen Generations.

Kevin Rudd’s path through the last seven years is strewn with the political carcasses of a number of people. These include, but are not limited to Nicola Roxon, Craig Emerson, Greg Combet, Peter Garrett, Simon Crean, Martin Ferguson, Stephen Smith (the ultimate shit-sandwich eater, poor guy) and of course Julia Gillard. Many of these people nailed their own coffin in the end, but they certainly weren’t hindered in that task by the Ruddbot. I wonder how many of them were throwing shoes at their television watching the footage of him tearing up and being applauded.

There’s no doubt that the Labor Party will see Rudd’s resignation as an overwhelming positive, although I don’t think they can realistically expect for him to fade quietly into the background. I’m sure he’ll be back in front of the camera in good time, possibly crafting a career as the next ex-politician media commentator. I can only hope that they pit him against Mark Latham on an Insiders-style panel show – now THAT would be worth watching.

Now, it really is time for me to … refrain from punching the television screen in frustration at having to watch Kevin Rudd saying the ‘zip’ line for the 100th time.

 

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”.

Magic acts and Latham spats

Tomorrow marks one week since Tony Abbott and his posse of chromosome Y-toting ministers were sworn in by our ever-so-stylish Governor General. In that week, it would appear that the Coalition government has spent its six years in opposition practicing various acts of magic to a level of proficiency that would make Hermione Granger proud.

So far, Scott Morrison has succeeded in making boats disappear and reappear at the drop of a hat. Malcolm Turnbull has managed to disappear his NBN board, but is yet to make it reappear (back to magic school with you, Malcolm). Tony Abbott himself has banished an entire commission and successfully released a number of senior Canberra bureaucrats back into the wild. Impressive.

They HAVE had some help though, in the form of constant leadership debate on the opposite side of the chamber. It has been this more than anything else that has allowed Abbott to get away with minimal media engagement.

Today has seen another handy diversion in the form of one of my favourite rogue loudmouths.

If there was one man within Labor’s own camp that was going to break the unspoken post-election rule of UNITY AT ALL COSTS (said with gritted teeth and clenched fists) it was going to be Mark Latham.

At the very least, he was the only man capable of beating Kevin Rudd to the punch.

Latham has penned a florid smack down published in today’s Australian Financial Review that has essentially labelled Anthony Albanese as a backward-thinking political Neanderthal who has got every major call over the last decade wrong. Ouch.

“In effect, Albanese’s political instincts are terrible. If he wins next month’s leadership ballot, he will be a case study in inner-city, left-wing bunkum … The caucus and party membership have no choice but to vote ABA: Anyone But Albo.”

For the full rant, read the article here: http://www.afr.com/p/opinion/albanese_threatens_labor_reform_JkHeipvxG2cRwCwzDD1GDJ

In fact, Labor’s hopes of a newly united party may be falling apart before they have even been fully realised.

Julia Gillard, whose popularity seems to be in direct inverse proportion to her power, has announced that she is writing her political memoirs. They will be published in October 2014; however I’d be very surprised if large portions were not released ahead of this time in weekend newspaper lift outs and so on. The publishers will not want us to forget about the last six years of tumult before then, that’s for sure.

This does not bode well for any those people who were involved in either of Labor’s most recent Prime Ministerial beheadings. And if the last three years are any indication, Kevin Rudd will probably remain stubbornly in Parliament until that time just to make matters even more interesting.

It may be that current caretaker Chris Bowen will find himself as the leader who presided over the most stable period the Labor Party has had and will have for years to come.

Gender Equality

And Tony Abbott’s new Cabinet, which apparently has less women in it than Zoo Weekly’s staff meeting (and a million other variations on that general theme).

With the official swearing in of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister – debate has since swirled about the fact that Julie Bishop is the only female to be appointed as a Minister. Julie may be a formidable politician with a death stare that could stop Voldemort in his tracks, but even she should probably not be so noticeable in the standard post-swearing in photo op.

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I have watched the discussion with the curiosity of a person who has never experienced gender-based discrimination first hand (due to the amazing work of my bra-burning 1960s forebears – this is by no means an anti-feminist rant). I’ve never felt limited in any aspect of my life by the fact that I am a female. I have grown up surrounded by exceptional women who have made it abundantly clear that the most effective way of preventing this type of discrimination is to leave no one in any doubt that you are the best person for the role / job / whatever.

For these reasons, my first reaction to the suggestion of affirmative action is always to feel decidedly uncomfortable. I can’t help but feel that discrimination against an individual, in any direction and for whatever reason, is wrong.

A very interesting piece on the topic by Waleed Aly made me think more about this (and also had the side effect of concerning me that I appear to agree with Bronwyn Bishop):

http://www.theage.com.au/comment/learning-the-limits-of-small-lliberalism-20130919-2u2ec.html

Well played, Waleed. Well played.

But back to the topic at hand. Abbott’s decision to appoint himself as the Minister for Women is a tactically smart one – he is assuming responsibility for the decision to only include one woman in his Cabinet by taking on the responsibility for all women in Australia. He will certainly cop criticism for doing so, but probably only from the people who would have dished it out anyway.

The alternative, which would have been to hand the portfolio to Bishop, represented a token gesture so monumentally naff that it bears no further discussion. I can only hope that she would have responded to such a suggestion with this:

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