Harnessing the Most Appropriate Coalition Talent

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has now announced the ministry that will, hopefully, be taken to the 2016 election and beyond. That is of course unless there is more ministerial impropriety which takes place or is uncovered from the recent past. The new ministry is quite strong and relatively youthful, which suits the image, messaging and substance which PM Turnbull wants his government to portray.

A particularly brilliant choice was awarding the trade portfolio to Steve Ciobo, the MP for Moncrieff. By all reports, he has been a hard-working member of parliament and has excelled in his junior ministerial role in international development. Mr Ciobo is also a strong and confident when it comes to engaging with the media.

There were however some missed opportunities as a result of today’s reshuffle.

A few women were promoted, including new Deputy Leader of the National Party, Fiona Nash, and Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. However, there could have been promotions offered to more, including Senator Joanna Lindgren, and the Member for Brisbane, Teresa Gambaro.

Today was also an opportunity to deal with the Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton, who is simply not across his portfolio. Mr Dutton is also trying very hard to pull the politics of immigration and citizenship even further to the right and that is not healthy.

It must be said however, that Minister Dutton was probably kept in cabinet to appease the Abbott-backers. Also, a new minister would only be able to make the language used around asylum seekers and immigration more positive, rather than any substantive policy change. But an improvement is an improvement.

Given the bipartisan push toward the recognition of indigenous people in the Constitution of Australia and the sentiments from the Prime Minister in his Closing The Gap update to parliament, perhaps the biggest missed opportunity was in the indigenous affairs portfolio.

Currently that post is occupied by Senator Nigel Scullion, who is widely respected and has been quietly going about his business. However, for someone in what is a very important policy area in terms of the current political discourse, his voice has been conspicuously absent from a lot of the debate.

If you couple that with the fact that the Coalition Government now has two indigenous members of parliament within their ranks, then it is easy to see that talent and experience has not been harnessed there.

Ken Wyatt has extensive experience in the area indigenous health and welfare both prior to and during his time in the parliament and he would be the perfect candidate for Minister for Indigenous Affairs.

Senator Joanna Lindgren, although she has not yet been in parliament for a year, would be an ideal candidate for the junior role in this portfolio area.

Shifting Senator Scullion from the role would have proved a bit of a complicated situation, given he has held the role since 2012 and that the process for constitutional recognition of indigenous people is well underway. But, a successful change would not have been impossible.

Today, Senator Matt Canavan was appointed Minister for Northern Australia and will assist Josh Frydenberg in this role – someone who lives just about as far south on the Australian mainland as is possible.

Senator Canavan is a satisfactory choice as assistant minister in this role, given that the north of Australia is close to his heart. However, given that the government wants development of northern Australia to remain a key focus, the ministerial experience of Nigel Scullion, who lives in the Northern Territory, should be utilised in the senior role, rather than Josh Frydenberg retaining it.

Rather than election-winning moves, the changes outlined above are simply minor improvements to better serve the people who are represented in these areas of society.

How Much Should Deputy Prime Minister Joyce Scare Us?

The answer to the aforementioned question could easily be answered using anywhere from two words to a sentence – the answers ranging from ‘not much’ to ‘the new Deputy PM should not scare us much’. However, as is standard with political analysis, a few hundred words rather than simply a handful of words is necessary.

Barnaby Joyce, after 11 years in the federal parliament, was elevated to the role of National Party leader and therefore Deputy Prime Minister after the long-awaited resignation announcement by the incumbent, Warren Truss.

Since well before Pistol and Boo were smuggled into the country, the Deputy PM elect has been a polarising figure. The mere prospect of the knockabout Australian larrikin rising to the rank of stand-in Prime Minister frightened the living daylights out of the loud and opinionated.

It is impossible to ignore the fact that Mr Joyce is a bit of a rogue, and that both his mouth and his mind get him into a little bit of strife from time to time. However, it is equally relevant to note that this will not be exacerbated by the loftier rank in government he will now occupy.

A thorough understanding of how the cabinet process and government actually works should give cause for more optimism than is currently on display. Decisions by ministers are, usually, put to cabinet for discussion at least. Other policy ideas go to the partyroom for debate. Both fora can give rise to altered, even rejected policies.

To look at the impact Deputy Prime Minister Joyce will have on the political process, we must also consider those times when he will, for a time, be Acting Prime Minister. In this area there is also little need for concern.

Barnaby Joyce will only assume this role when Prime Minister Turnbull is away on holidays or on an overseas visit. Holidays and overseas visits are usually short, and the former tends to be at times when political decision-making takes a break, along with most of our politicians.

The far greater concern is the ideological direction of the entire Coalition, which is not quite as far right as Barnaby Joyce, but still worryingly socially conservative. The Deputy PM-elect is but one cog in this driving force.

The Near Impossibility of Finding a Better Way to Help Refugees

The humanitarian crisis caused by the Syrian conflict has dominated world news for days now, as thousands of people fleeing persecution try to get to a number of European nations. Some of these nations have pledged to contribute to addressing the resettlement issue, some with more meaningful contributions than their regional neighbours. It is as if there was no preparation for, or expectation of a mass people movement brought about by the conflict.

But as with every other refugee situation, this is a global situation which needs a worldwide response. But that does not mean that individual nations cannot make their own decisions about how many refugees to aid. The point is though, that all need to help. This includes Australia.

But it seems that Tony Abbott does not want to help. His language so far this week indicates that he has decided there is effectively a ‘no vacancy’ sign shining brightly for the world’s most desperate people to see. As a result, it is now laid bare for all to see that ‘stopping the boats’ is not about cutting down the number of asylum seeker deaths which happen at sea, but a far more sinister attempt to appeal to the crowd that thinks we should not accept outsiders in almost any case. And in terms of situations where a country should help people, this current event is one of the clearest examples of when to do so.

It has been heartening to see at least a couple of members of the Coalition saying publicly that we need to help some of the Syrian asylum seekers. The most striking and also highest ranking example being minister and National Party MP, Barnaby Joyce. The Agriculture Minister is someone who is known for a bit of a dislike of foreign capital in terms of farmland. The other example being Craig Laundy, an MP from a marginal seat with ethnic diversity, whom you would expect to have a more sympathetic view.

Leaving aside abolishing offshore processing of asylum seeker claims, there are three things which could be done in terms of refugee policy in this country, with an eye to playing our part in dealing with this emergency. However, it is likely none of these policies will be enacted, at least until a change of government. The three main options are a significant increase in the yearly quota, to a number closer to 30,000 or above, a temporary spike in the number of refugees we accept, or a more flexible policy which focuses on helping people from current and emerging conflicts.

A permanent increase to Australia’s humanitarian intake would help absorb some of the strain caused by the displacement of people across the globe. The increase would have to number in the thousands to have any meaningful impact and would have to be coupled with greater regional and global cooperation on the matter. This is also the least politically palatable option, which is a real shame.

One of the easiest things the Coalition Government could have done is said to the Australian people that we need to accept a temporary spike in our refugee intake. It is a small fringe element within our community who would not accept such a reasonable policy prescription. A temporary spike could last a year, or a number of years and that increase would solely be made up of refugees who have been forced out of Syria. Again though, the problem is too big to be overlooked at a regional and international level, and that is the hardest part of the equation.

A more permanent way of contributing to the management of this and other refugee events which may emerge over time is to gear our almost our entire humanitarian intake toward managing the flow of asylum seekers from current and emerging conflicts. This is a flexible approach which can be managed as new movements of displaced people occur. It also largely removes the politics as it would be impossible to sensibly argue that those we would be helping are not the exact definition of a refugee. Yet again though, world thinking needs to be aligned.

It seems however that we are destined for regressive and repressive thinking domestically, at least for the time being. And our wilful inaction, coupled with the same dastardly inaction from other countries, will mean people who are so obviously suffering are still dying at sea.

Justice, Politics and the Royal Commission Show

Dyson Heydon’s deliberations on whether or not he should stay at the helm of the Trade Union Royal Commission (TURC) after claims of apprehended bias are over. The former High Court Justice has dismissed the application from union lawyers and will continue in the role the Abbott Government appointed him to.

But the story it would seem is not yet over. The unions will consider a court appeal. The ALP, who stand to lose some political skin from the TURC, though probably not enough to lose the 2016 election, have decided that asking the Governor-General to remove Heydon is the way to go. It has been foreshadowed that the Australian Labor Party will couple this with attacks on the Liberal Party for their part in this situation, when parliament resumes from September 7.

In terms of principles of natural justice it is quite clear what should have happened in this instance. It is clear to almost anyone, except for the most wilfully blind supporters of the right side of politics that former Justice Heydon should have recused himself from further hearings of this commission. This would have blunted any attacks from Bill Shorten and the Labor Party. That Commissioner Heydon cancelled his appearance at the fundraiser at a later stage is irrelevant. The decision to say yes to attending the function in the first place says more than enough.

However, there is absolutely no case to say that the Royal Commission should not go ahead altogether. This is particularly the case now that the inquiry has been running for a number of months and is doing vital work, uncovering just how murky the world of industrial relations can be. Renewed calls from Labor for a police taskforce instead of the Royal Commission are a bit rich, considering they announced a commission of inquiry the topic of which similarly could have been examined by a special police body.

Back on the justice side of the equation, the Abbott Government could have used this opportunity to widen the terms of reference to include all forms of corrupt practices across institutions in the industrial relations space. If this had been done, then any squealing from the unions or the ALP about the continuation of the royal commission could have been met with derisory laughter, from both the Coalition and the electorate.

With an election less than a year away, it is worth a brief look at what the current state of affairs means for both the Coalition and Bill Shorten’s ALP.

The Coalition may gain a small amount of much needed political traction from the findings of the Royal Commission, particularly if there are further discoveries made about union activities during Bill Shorten’s time as a union representative. But it will not prove an electoral game-changer. A shift in electoral fortunes could only come from more substantive policy and political narrative changes made by the Abbott Government. That would have had to begin well before the people stopped listening. This critical point was likely reached more than 6 months ago.

The ALP is likely to suffer mildly as a result of future TURC hearings. There will be some more unease about the leadership of Bill Shorten, but the polls and the new rules around leadership challenges will make a change on that front almost an impossibility.

The Trade Union Royal Commission will not feature high on the list of reasons the Abbott Government will probably lose power in 2016. In fact to say it will be a feature at all is nonsense. This area of politics is generally one where most have a worldview firmly locked in on one side of the debate or the other.

There will be some more noise on this issue over the coming weeks, but it will likely not last. It is hard to sustain attacks on things which do not have wide appeal.

Australian politics will meander toward the next misstep or missteps. With every day we will get closer to the 2016 election. And the show that is the Trade Union Royal Commission will continue, with Dyson Heydon likely to remain in the chair.

A Look at Queensland’s New Ministry

Two weeks have passed since the shock result of the state election in Queensland. The Electoral Commission of Queensland has declared all 89 seats and confirmed a surprise Labor Government, just three years after the ALP were spectacularly turfed out of office. On Sunday, new Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk unveiled her first ministry to the waiting public.

Unsurprisingly, given the turnaround in electoral fortune, it contains a significant proportion of inexperienced ministers, with a few old faces returning to the frontbench. There are some good choices and some bad ones and also some lost opportunities.

The new ministry also rewards those who claimed big scalps at the election.

The ministry is slimmer this time around, with 14 personnel making up the frontline of the Palaszczuk Government as opposed to 19 in the former Newman Government

 

Premier, Minister for the Arts: Annastacia Palaszczuk:

The accidental Premier. Someone many thought would lose the Opposition Leader job to a returning heavy-hitter such as Cameron Dick.

The excitement of becoming Premier is still there to see on Ms Palaszczuk’s face. Premier Palaszczuk did not have to do much work to earn the title, so will she grow into the role?

The new Premier will have to learn the ropes quickly or the ALP could very easily be a one-term government.

 

Deputy Premier, Minister for Transport, Minister for Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, Minister for Trade: Jackie Trad

A rapid rise to prominence for the MLA for South Brisbane. Just three years after replacing former Anna Bligh in a by-election, the former opposition’s spokesperson on Transport and Main Roads, Environment and Heritage Protection, Small Business, Consumer Affairs and the Arts becomes Deputy Premier, coupled with a big portfolio.

Annastacia Palaszczuk aside, Ms Trad was definitely one of the better performing of the ALP’s 9 parliamentary representatives.

The role of Deputy Premier might have been better suited to an MP with ministerial experience like Curtis Pitt who is the new Treasurer or Cameron Dick.

The combination of portfolios is a little strange and is an unnecessary result of the smaller ministry. It would have been ideal if the new Deputy Premier simply had the additional ministry of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, with Transport tacked onto the end. After all, transport is a vital form of infrastructure. The trade portfolio should have been given to Treasurer Curtis Pitt.

Will the diversity of responsibilities be a hindrance?

 

Treasurer, Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships: Curtis Pitt

Unsurprisingly, Curtis Pitt moves from Shadow Treasurer into the Treasury Portfolio.

For someone in such an important portfolio in opposition, he was not seen and heard as much as he should have been over the three years of Campbell Newman’s Government. This could have been a product of the fact that there was no anticipation from the ALP that they would be in government in 2015, or that he would have been replaced in the portfolio by a returning MP.

Employment and Industrial Relations is quite a natural match for the Treasury portfolio, so it is a good move from the ALP Government to link it with the treasury portfolio.

While it can easily be argued that there is an important relationship between employment and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships portfolio, that is not all there is to the latter portfolio. This responsibility should have been given to the Minister for Communities or the Attorney-General.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships portfolio should have gone to one of the two indigenous MP’s who won seats at the election. It beggars belief that this did not occur.

The salient question here is, will we see the modest spending commitments made by Labor in opposition carry through into government? History says no.

 

Minister for Health, Minister for Ambulance Services: Cameron Dick 

It is entirely unsurprising that an MLA with ministerial experience like Cameron Dick was given the health portfolio. The former Attorney-General and Minister for Education has 3 years’ experience in senior ministerial positions.

It is also not a big secret that the MLA for Woodridge was seen as a leadership contender leading up to the election and what better portfolio to give someone with leadership aspirations than the poisoned chalice of the health portfolio? Trouble is, he could shine at the role, repairing relationships with the sector which were broken by the LNP.

While this portfolio is often used to temper the leadership ambitions of colleagues, it should have been given to someone skilled in areas related to the portfolio. Doctor Anthony Lynham would have been the ideal person to take on this job.

The question is whether or not the new minister can get on top of important issues relating to prompt care of patients who present to health facilities?

 

Minister for Education, Minister for Tourism, Major Events and Small Business, Minister for Commonwealth Games: Kate Jones

The MLA for Ashgrove, who took on Premier Campbell Newman and won back the seat she lost to him in 2012, has been rewarded with a plum role in the form of the education portfolio. Ms Jones brings some ministerial experience to the cabinet table and should again be one of the better performers in the ALP caucus.

Kate Jones has also been given a variety of other roles in what can only be described as a bizarre mismatch of portfolios.

Tourism and Major Events belong together, and should also include the Commonwealth Games portfolio. These responsibilities should have been given to the Minister for State Development. The Minister for Sport and Racing should have also shared in the Commonwealth Games portfolio. Quite clearly, Small Business should have been included in Minister Pitt’s portfolio.

The question here is will the people of Ashgrove like that their returning local member will be busy with such a large portfolio of ministerial responsibilities?

 

Minister for State Development, Minister for Natural Resources and Mines: Doctor Anthony Lynham

For winning back Stafford for the ALP at a by-election brought on by the resignation of Dr Chris Davis, then of the LNP, Dr Lynham has been given a very important portfolio.

This portfolio combination is sound. As mentioned above however, Dr Lynham should be in the health portfolio.

A question people will want to know the answer to, is just how much development will be allowed by the new minister? Over the last three years the ALP has railed against some key development projects.

 

Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Minister for Training and Skills: Yvette D’Ath

Yvette D’Ath, another by-election winner has been rewarded with a senior role in the government.

The former federal MP takes on another oddly shaped portfolio. What kind of logic was used in separating the Training and Skills portfolio from either the education or employment portfolios? Terrible logic.

Yvette D’Ath is not the best choice for this position. There are at least two members of the ALP caucus better suited to this position. The Premier should have chosen former Attorney-General Cameron Dick, or high-profile lawyer Peter Russo.

One question with regard to this portfolio is whether the new Attorney-General and the ALP Government will show due deference to the rule of law and principles of justice? Another essential question is will the government be able to swiftly regain the confidence of the legal fraternity?

 

Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Services, Minister for Corrective Services: Jo-Ann Miller

The combative member for the safe ALP seat of Bundamba, who has sat in the parliament since 2000,  picks up a portfolio which was front and centre of the last 3 years in the Newman Government’s response to criminal gangs.

A question on everyone’s lips is how will Jo-Ann Miller deal with the outlaw gang issue? It looks certain that a softer approach is on the way. The rule of law and principles of justice have to be front and centre, while at the same time making sure that the public continue to feel safe.

 

Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Minister for Sport and Racing: Bill Byrne

Bill Byrne is now in his second term as the MLA for Rockhampton. He picks up a ministry different to the one he held while in opposition.

The member for Rockhampton has also been awarded a strange portfolio mix. Agriculture and fisheries go well together, but sport and racing is a strange addition. The latter should have been included in the Tourism and Major Events portfolio as sporting tourism is an important drawcard for visitors to and within Australia.

It was a smart decision to make Bill Byrne the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries. His electorate is well-known for agriculture, especially beef production and is in close proximity to the coastline.

A crucial question is how will this minister assist his colleagues in ensuring the ongoing viability of our fisheries as climate change hits and mining impacts take their toll?

 

Minister for Main Roads, Road Safety and Ports, Minister for Energy and Water Supply: Mark Bailey

Mark Bailey is a brand new MP, having beaten former LNP MP Carl Judge in Yeerongpilly. He takes on a large portfolio for a parliamentary newcomer.

Mr Bailey’s portfolio is also a hodgepodge of seemingly mismatched responsibilities. Main Roads should have been kept with Transport, along with Road Safety. Ports should have been included in the Infrastructure or State Development portfolio and those two areas merged into one ministerial area of responsibility.

There are two important questions in this space: What will happen on the ports front? And how well will Mark Bailey work with the self-appointed ‘infrastructure Prime Minister’ on what may well be competing priorities?

 

Minister for Housing and Public Works, Minister for Science and Innovation: Leeanne Enoch

The story of Leeanne Enoch is one of the best to come out of the 2015 election. The new minister and equally new MLA is one of two indigenous MP’s who were elected to the Queensland Parliament – a first for the state.

But yet again we have a case of confused ministerial priorities and missed opportunities.

The Housing and Public Works portfolio should be closely associated with either the Community Services, Infrastructure or State Development portfolios. The Science and Innovation responsibilities should be wedded with either Education, Employment or even State Development.

While housing is a big issue for indigenous Australians, it is a missed opportunity that Ms Enoch was not appointed to a broadened role relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island affairs, or even Community Services.

A question which has barely been countenanced in this area in recent times is what will be the strategy in relation to homelessness? This appears to be a forgotten issue in Australian politics.

 

Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection, Minister for National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef: Steven Miles 

Yet another first-time MP straight into a ministry. The new member for Mount Coot-tha has been rewarded for unseating Saxon Rice in the inner-city electorate. Over the next 3 years this portfolio will be one of the most widely mentioned in the political arena.

This is the best constructed portfolio of all fourteen ministries. Every aspect of it is interconnected.

People will be wanting an answer to the question of how much this portfolio will focus on the reef and also around Gladstone?

 

Minister for Disability Services, Minister for Seniors, Minister Assisting the Premier on North Queensland: Coralee O’Rourke

Coralee O’Rourke unseated a Newman Government Minister in David Crisafulli on January 31 and has been rewarded with what is a vital portfolio, given the aging population and the NDIS, which is in the important trial phase.

The North Queensland focus, while clashing with what is a social policy portfolio, will suit the Townsville-based MP. The North Queensland part of Ms O’Rourke’s responsibilities could however have been given to the state development minister if the Premier had chosen an MP from North Queensland to fill that role.

This is yet another case of picking the wrong candidate. Rob Pyne, a quadriplegic, was also elected to parliament on the 31st of January and given his personal experience with disability, would have been the ideal candidate for this ministry.

A topic of consideration will be what issues the NDIS trials raise and how the government works with other state governments and the federal government to ensure the NDIS becomes fully operational.

Also under consideration will be what additional government support is required in North Queensland.

 

Minister for Communities, Women and Youth, Minister for Child Safety, Minister for Multicultural Affairs: Shannon Fentiman

Another minister, another rookie MP. Shannon Fentiman joins the Palaszczuk ministry after defeating Mike Latter of the LNP at the January 31 state ballot.

This is quite a large portfolio to start with but could have been even bigger if a streamlined version included disability and other areas of community services.

In the area of multicultural affairs, state governments do very little, especially when the Commonwealth Government has carriage of immigration policy. Nonetheless, making people from different backgrounds feel welcome and included in Australian society is a role state governments can play

There are a number of issues to consider in this area including: homelessness, getting more women and young people into the workforce and protecting children from online dangers.

 

Leader of the House, Assistant Minister of State Assisting the Premier: Stirling Hinchliffe

Stirling Hinchliffe returns to state parliament after losing his seat along with most of his colleagues in 2012. Mr Hinchliffe has effectively been demoted, given that his last role in government was the Minister for Mining.

Using his experience in key economic portfolios in the former Bligh Government, Mr Hinchliffe’s main task will be to help the new Premier behind the scenes.

As Leader of the House, he will also be both a general and guide to the whole ALP caucus.

First and foremost, we wait to see how well he negotiates with the crossbench. We know that most legislation is likely to be passed. However, it is unlikely everything will be smooth sailing.

Moving On is the Hardest Thing

The votes are in and the Liberal leadership spill has been averted. Tony Abbott remains the Prime Minister after a party room meeting at 9am confirmed his leadership. The Liberal Party voted 61-39 against a spill of the Leader and Deputy Leader Positions. Just how far into this story are we? Is it a novella or a saga which will continue to play out before our already astonished eyes? Australian politics since 2007 has certainly been an epic tale and will likely continue to be a volatile environment for all of the players, from the voters to the politicians.

The first point to make is both an obvious and not so obvious conclusion. On the face of it the vote of the Liberal Party caucus was an emphatic one. More than half of the MP’s gathered voted at the very least to give the Prime Minister more time.

On the other hand, 39 members of his parliamentary team – over 40% of them and likely multiple ministers – delivered a vote of no confidence in his leadership. And it is a point made by many observers that this is an untenable position. Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke did not save his leadership from a very similar vote to that which the Liberal Party delivered today. And Julia Gillard did not recover from a much better position than the one furnished to Tony Abbott by Liberal MP’s.

It can easily be argued that the Prime Minister would not be able to recover politically if he received as little as 25 or more votes in today’s ballot. The public have largely switched off and that is largely because of Tony Abbott, but also Joe Hockey. It is not the fault of any backroom figures and any move to shift the blame to them is just ridiculous. Politicians make the final decisions and while it is the job of staffers to persuade against particular directions, it is not their fault if good advice is not heeded.

There can be little doubt that Tony Abbott’s leadership will continue to further implode. Prime Minister Abbott has had months to stop making mistakes, without the threat of a leadership spill and has not done so. In recent times he has even appeared to be making fun of his penchant for ‘captain’s calls’. Tony Abbott should be solemnly proving by his actions, at every opportunity, that he is no longer going to make these unilateral decisions. He has not.

The PM can continue to talk about getting himself and the party out of this invidious position, but it will likely be to no avail.

If there was any small skerrick of a chance of Tony saving himself and the Coalition, then the government would have to change or dump some of the policies. The overall narrative simply has to remain, and the public will accept that. Voters accepted the debt had to go under John Howard and Peter Costello – for 12 years. At the very least, the co-payment idea and knights and dames must no longer be countenanced, even at arm’s length or in consultation with others. Recent history shows any changes will be cosmetic.

The current Treasurer’s commission has to be terminated too, regardless of whether Tony Abbott wants to stay in the job or not. Joe Hockey has gone from a pretty good Shadow Treasurer to a hopeless and abrasive embarrassment in the Treasury portfolio. Mr Hockey lacks the temperament to be able to deal with difficult negotiations. He has been far too stubborn. The trouble here is that the best candidate for the job is also the ideal replacement to Prime Minister Tony Abbott – Malcolm Turnbull.

The Treasury portfolio does deliver a difficulty in terms of the leadership equation. If there is no change of the leadership of the Coalition and at the same time, the Treasury portfolio, within a month, any new economic team after that would have less than two months to prepare the budget.

If the Liberal Party were to give Tony Abbott a further 6 months as leader and keep the Treasurer, as has been reported, then problems would arise on that front too. An incoming leadership team and their likely new bean counter would have to sell or quickly dump elements of a budget delivered by a politically compromised team.

Obviously the situation is absolutely dire. The Coalition will be in an even worse position if a likely transition to a new leader is not handled well. Another spill would not look great, even thought it would almost certainly deliver a new Liberal leader. The Liberal Party will need to be mature and know that the best way forward, whether it be almost immediately or after 6 months, is an orderly transition. Tony Abbott will have to swallow his pride and resign when it gets to that point.

This is not an easy situation to be in. But it is a situation cultivated by less than a handful of people and allowed to continue by dozens more. The actions of a few in that handful of people could determine how the next 18 months plays out.

Experienced, With Political Baggage

The political scene in Australia continues to amaze. We are ever closer to the motion to make the Liberal Party leadership positions vacant. That vote will come on Tuesday, or possibly Monday if a rumour doing the rounds is confirmed fact. And in Queensland we continue to witness the fallout from the extraordinary election result just one week ago. Peter Wellington has declared his hand and the ALP are ever closer to government – a situation barely even considered by anyone.

In the midst of negotiations between the two major political parties and Katter’s Australian Party, the LNP moved to elect a new leadership team.

This move was a necessity to give some clarity of direction and focus to the negotiations. A leaderless team cannot possibly be considered for office – especially one with multiple representatives seeking to put forward the case for the continuation of a LNP administration.

In any case that is likely a forlorn hope, even with the uncertainty of the Ferny Grove poll result. Negotiations should continue in good faith, but it seems the LNP may as well begin planning for the 2018 Queensland election. If anything has been learned in the last 5 years, it is that almost any opposition could find themselves in government. And those political parties may not even have to work hard for that privilege.

After a meeting lasting about three hours, the LNP Party Whip, Ted Sorensen, emerged from the caucus room to inform the waiting media and the public that the new leader was Lawrence Springborg and his deputy, John-Paul Langbroek.

Those who have kept up with Queensland politics in the 21st century, and the media today, will realise that the LNP have chosen to return two former leaders to the top two positions in the LNP caucus. On the face of it a good thing, but not necessarily.

In terms of the negotiations between cross-bench MP’s and the major parties, the new yet old leadership team is a sensible move. The Katter’s Australian Party MP’s have said this week that they are most comfortable negotiating with Lawrence Springborg. This is obviously a sign that he is one of the most rural-minded MP’s in the amalgamated Liberal National Party.

When speaking of the need for an experienced leadership team, it is also hard to go by a duo who have held the leadership three times between them. Contrast that with the ALP leader, Annastacia Palaszczuk, who has been the Opposition leader for three years. However, Lawrence Springborg is also experienced in electoral defeat, having led the coalition and subsequently the amalgamated LNP to three poll losses.

This kind of experience in leadership and electoral defeats means less in political terms for the party though, than the political journey of Mr Springborg and Mr Langbroek over the last three years. For the entire term Lawrence Springborg was in the troubled health portfolio, and John-Paul Langbroek the Education Minister. To put it simply, the ALP will have a fine time with this right up until the next election. The Health portfolio was an absolute disaster for the new LNP leader. And education policy was not without difficulty either.

It is entirely possible that a rush to impress the KAP team of two will backfire on the LNP, or at least provide some serious discomfort over the next 3 years.

What is needed now is a sustained disavowal of elements of the last three years. This has happened to a degree, including today. However, actions, including a mix of jettisoning some policy and tinkering with others would be a far better way for the LNP to begin regaining the electorate’s trust.

Ideally though, the LNP could have gone with a different leadership team. Two of the candidates touted – Scott Emerson and John McVeigh – might have been a safer option. Both Mr Emerson and Mr McVeigh have some ministerial experience, and therefore some guilt by association with the former LNP Government. On the other hand, they are far less politically compromised than the team which the partyroom voted for today. Transport and Agriculture were never the cause of mass angst during Campbell Newman’s time as Premier.

The reality is that the decision was made to go with two different candidates. Whether or not they are there in 2018 remains undetermined.

Spilling the Blood in the Nicest Possible Way

Things are hotting up on the Liberal leadership front. The backgrounding from disgruntled PM’s has now morphed into spectacularly public dissent.

Public statements from Abbott Government MP’s about Tony Abbott’s leadership began in a very dramatic fashion with Jane Prentice on the national broadcaster. And again today the ABC played host to an even more dramatic statement – Dennis Jensen revealed he had told Tony Abbott that he could no longer support his leadership. Throw in Warren Entsch calling for the issue to be resolved in the partyroom next week and Mal Brough giving qualified support for the leader and you have the beginnings of a very messy situation.

Australia has seen a lot of leadership change in the last 5 years. Governments have fallen and governments have imploded, with leadership contests becoming more common. Matters look certain to come to a head in the near future within the Liberal Party.

Because of the certainty of the impending events, some care must be taken that the party deals with this difficult situation in the least ugly way possible. The Liberals need to learn from lessons of the past and make the move as seamlessly as possible. That will probably be easier said than done.

The best option is no challenge at all. That does not mean that the situation should continue as is. That would be among the worst outcomes. Poll results of 57%-43% in the Labor Party’s favour would become the new norm. The no-challenge option means the Prime Minister resigning in the face of growing discontent among members of caucus. Given the Prime Minister’s defiance and rhetoric at the National Press Club on Monday, this is also the least likely eventuality. So the party will have to navigate the next best way forward.

Another terrible option would be waiting too long before a challenge or transition. The Coalition Government would be even further paralysed by the inability to perform the basic functions of government – much like the ALP were in the period between 2010 and 2013. The present situation should be resolved within a matter of days or weeks and definitely not months. The new leader needs more than a year to get people listening again.

In an ideal world, one leadership contest or a single transition to a new Prime Minister would make the best of a bad situation. That means going about the process in a particular way.

In the event of a leadership contest, all candidates should publicly pledge to leave politics – like Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd did in the last leadership spill of 2013 – if they lose the battle. But instead of pledging to leave politics at the next election which is about 18 months away, the losing candidate or candidates should pledge to leave politics immediately, forcing a by-election. This option might cause some voters to be a little angry in the short-term, but it would be the best way project an air of stability in the medium to long-term.

Even more important than the ease of the transition is the shift in policy and rhetoric. This has already commenced, though barely, under Tony Abbott, but needs to go further under his replacement. The party must realise that the the products need to be re-designed and the sales pitch altered. A fresh team in the problematic treasury, health, education and social services portfolios would help sell the message of change.

Tony Abbott and the Coalition face some difficult days and weeks ahead. But this issue needs a resolution and that solution has to lead to the best medium and long-term outcomes for the party. Egos cannot get in the way or the Liberal Party leadership issue will fester. And that is what really cooked the Australian Labor Party.

Just how quickly these events will reach a crescendo is yet to be determined. But this situation can be controlled and managed better than it has been so far.

Cooler heads must prevail.

Where’s That Button?

Calendars have only just been flipped over to February and already so much has happened in Australian politics this new year. In just a few weeks the government’s standing has gone from bad to worse. Many of the government’s woes over the last 18 months have been as a result of difficult policy decisions made in response to the less than ideal budgetary position. A lot of the government’s troubles are also down to Tony Abbott’s leadership and the style of governance he has allowed to linger. So far in 2015 all the missteps are down to Tony Abbott – and only Tony Abbott.

That brings us to today, the 2nd of February, 2015. The Prime Minister made a rare appearance at the National Press Club today in a bid to give the public a taste of a government finally engaging with the public and proving that they have begun to listen to voter concerns.

Election night in Queensland drew our attention to the address in spectacular fashion, with Jane Prentice nominating it as a forum at which the Prime Minister had to perform some kind of miraculous recovery effort – setting out a way to escape the doldrums.

Unsurprisingly, Prime Minister Abbott was unable to perform this feat. There were ever so slight slivers of hope that the speech might give some kind of direction. At best it was a tired, spent leader trying to conjure up a final burst of energy, sprinting a bit, but wobbling at the crucial moment. At worst it was a display of arrogance and disdain for voters. Actually, it was probably a mix of the two.

The Prime Minister started by making some broad statements about what government should do and followed that with what his government had done and what it could both do, and do better.

In reality, what the Prime Minister should have done first was to move pretty swiftly into apology mode. Almost the whole speech could have been one long mea culpa, with a little bit of what he and the government were going to do for the next 18 months thrown in at the end.

Making broad statements about what governments should do is irrelevant when you have already achieved government. You draw attention to the fact that you are not doing those things if you need to spend time talking about them. Furthermore, it is the talk of an Opposition Leader and that is not a good look 18 months into office.

In other words, Tony Abbott had his speech in completely the wrong order.The resulting display was at least one-third waffle and two-thirds slight improvement.

The arrogance sprang from the way the Prime Minister took so long getting to what everyone was made to believe was the point of the speech – an apology for taking voters for mugs and a new way forward. In the case of a new way forward, we only got a brief glimpse of that, but again it was all vision and no substance. Again, something expected of Oppositions early on in a political term.

Shockingly, the Prime Minister also implied that voters were stupid and had encountered a “fit of absent-mindedness” in the Victorian and Queensland elections. Even a rookie politician knows that this kind of thought must not be put into words publicly, regardless of whether it is a correct observation or not.

It was tired precisely for the reasons mentioned above, in that there had been little thought and substance woven into the speech. And the Prime Minister looked tired too. There was very little energy put into the delivery, except when the PM mentioned the few things his government has actually done. The fact that came so early gave the address a valedictory feel.

Tony Abbott has spoken multiple times of hitting the reset button. On each occasion he has instead forgotten that the metaphorical button ever existed in the first place. Today was another one of those days for the struggling leader.

Today could have been Tony Abbott’s last chance to save his leadership and he did a very poor job of fighting for it . Or perhaps he knows that he is a spent force and today’s speech was simply going through the motions. He did however imply that his colleagues would have a fight on their hands to unseat him.

It is pretty clear from some of the facial expressions of his colleagues, captured on film throughout the hour, that they had noticed his suboptimal performance too.

Queensland Helps Break the Political Mould

In the world of politics there is a lot of talk about different eras. In most countries politics is referred to in terms of pre and post-war eras. In Australia we talk about pre and post war politics and even post-1975 Australia. And in the United States of America there is also discussion of a post-war era. Today in Australia, we can fairly comfortably talk of there being a post-2010 age of politics.

The Newman Government – and Campbell Newman himself – dramatically lost power in Queensland in what has to be one of the biggest shock results in politics, even eclipsing the hung parliament outcome in federal politics in 2010. To put it simply – nobody saw this coming, surely even the Australian Labor Party in Queensland.

A number of people argued after the Victorian election earlier this year and the hung parliament in 2010, that one-term governments could be the big new possibility in Australian politics. It was far from certain that it could be a new feature of Australian democracy on a semi-regular basis back when Daniel Andrews became Premier, but now it seems it can be seen that way. Barring drastic change in the fortunes of the federal coalition, it seems the Abbott Government will be a one term government.

The questions that will be asked a lot over the coming days and weeks are ‘what happened? And how/why did it happen?’. Without a doubt there were multiple factors, including things the LNP had control over and that they did not.

By far the biggest factor which the outgoing government in Queensland could control but failed to was how they governed the state. Campbell Newman and the LNP governed with an arrogance, surely in large part fuelled by the whopping majority handed to them by voters in 2012.But they also began governing without listening to voters. It is one of the simplest rules in democratic politics that you must listen to the public.

Even in conservative Queensland, it is hard to deny the fact that federal politics played a role. A number of state and federal Coalition MP’s admitted as much, including Jane Prentice in a most dramatic fashion on the ABC election night broadcast. Long gone is the time when you could safely say that federal issues had little or no bearing on state results. In this space, it has come very quickly to a point in time when most people are asking when Tony Abbott will lose his job as Prime Minister rather than if he will.

The assets question is an interesting one. It is a question that was put to Queensland voters by the LNP Government a while back and one the LNP thought they could build a case for on the back of deciding to lease some assets rather than sell them. However it seems that polling indicated it was one of the big issues on the minds’ of the voting public.

The cuts made by the LNP at the beginning of their tenure surely played a role in the devastating result too. Voters knew that the LNP had to make cuts and they always have to after a long-term Labor Government. It was the terrible and shady way this issue was dealt with which would have really annoyed the people of Queensland.

It is hard to argue that the ALP won this campaign, and therefore government. The whole campaign it felt like they were going through the motions. It was quite obvious that the only goal many in the party saw achievable was knocking over Campbell Newman in Ashgrove. To put it quite simply it was the LNP who lost government. They did so through a series of politically stupid decisions.

The LNP have to make some difficult choices now in order to become electable again in three years’ time. They have to pick a new leader and really think about which issues to keep on fighting on in the usual way and those where they need to have a different perspective.

In terms of the leadership question, it looks reasonably likely that the Liberal National Party will finally turn to Tim Nicholls. As far as experience in a key economic portfolio goes, he looks like the ideal candidate to replace Campbell Newman. The trouble with his candidacy will be the question of whether or not he is viewed by the public as damaged goods having been the Treasurer for Campbell Newman.

The LNP would really want to think long and hard about this very important consideration. The issue with John-Paul Langbroek and Lawrence Springborg, other than their ministerial association with the former government, will be their failed attempts at the party leadership in the past. However, working in their favour is the example of John Howard.

There is one other contender thrown up in the leadership equation, and that is Scott Emerson, the former Transport Minister. There is the ministerial association with the outgoing administration, however he has not been as heavily linked with a string of tough decisions as the other candidates have been. Mr Emerson would also be a lacklustre choice, but then so was Annastacia Palaszczuk and she will become the new Premier.

There are not a lot of certainties in Australian politics anymore. We will have to keep watching intently to see what else may happen and just what is possible the next time Queensland heads to the polls.

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