Earlier this week the Federal Court in Sydney threw out the sexual harassment suit against former Speaker Peter Slipper which was brought by his former staffer, James Ashby.
It was a spectacular turn of events after a tough year for Australian politics. The year has been book-ended by scandal, with allegations against Craig Thomson dominating debate particularly at the start of the political year. And now the dramatic collapse of the case against Peter Slipper, brought in April, sees the year end with a twist.
Federal Court judge, Justice Steven Rares found that former Howard Government Minister and LNP candidate for Slipper’s electorate of Fisher, Mal Brough acted “in combination” with James Ashby and a second staff member ”to cause Mr Slipper as much political and public damage as they could inflict upon him.”
Of course the Gillard Government, as any would in the same position, has jumped on this and are now calling on Mal Brough to be disendorsed by the Queensland-based LNP.
But the ALP are seeking much, much more. Since the judgement was handed down, various Labor ministers and MP’s, including the Prime Minister have called upon Tony Abbott and other senior Coalition members to explain their knowledge of the affair.
And the government has not ruled out an inquiry into the events which have led to this crescendo.
Whether or not Mal Brough is disendorsed could depend on two factors: whether or not an appeal, (which James Ashby flagged his intentions of submitting), is successful, or whether the party organisation considers Brough damaged enough to not allow him to proceed with his candidacy for the Sunshine Coast electorate.
So far no appeal has been lodged and the LNP and senior federal Liberal MP’s have publicly endorsed Mal Brough to continue as their representative for Fisher in the 2013 election.
If no appeal is lodged, then of course Mal Brough should swiftly fall on his sword.
The case, in the way it is being prosecuted by the government, has strong parallels with the recently highly public AWU allegations levelled against Prime Minister Gillard.
Some members of the Labor Government appear to be alleging that there has been wrongdoing and a broader conspiracy involving shadow ministers in the federal Liberal Party.
Like the ALP required of the Opposition when the shoe was on the other foot, they will have to make clear what questions they have, but also which Liberal Party representatives should be answering those questions. Further, the Labor Party needs to outline what acts of illegality or wrongdoing they are alleging transpired. And finally, the Gillard Government need to outline what evidence they have of wrongdoing.
There is a need for questions to be answered by senior Liberal MP’s, both to dispute the claims and for the sake of transparency.
Liberal MP’s were slow to react to the news and subject themselves to interviews about the claims. Some have however fronted the media in different parts of Australia and the world. But Christopher Pyne has so far avoided media scrutiny and Tony Abbott upon his return to Australia should perhaps face a slightly larger press pack, if anything for the sake of the image it would portray.
The next part of the equation is up to the Labor Party alone.
The ALP as a whole must outline what acts of illegality or moral wrongdoing they believe has occurred here. So far the strongest claim made by any Labor MP was of a broad conspiracy, but a number of senior Labor figures are singing slightly different tunes on this.
Finally, the Labor Party must produce hard evidence showing what they believe has gone on within the Liberal Party.
So far there is evidence of some communication between Christopher Pyne and James Ashby which has seen Mr Pyne change his story multiple times, but this does not prove collusion between the two, nor other unlawful acts. At the very least it is embarrassing and looks ugly.
Any proof that the Labor Party may have or think they may have of misdeeds will need to be presented. Labor might also use an inquiry as a vehicle for gathering evidence and that is their prerogative.
This saga is likely to extend well beyond Christmas and into the election year. But Labor, in the Prime Minister’s own words, must “put up or shut up.”
Tuesday’s Question Time has come and gone and Wednesday’s hour or so of Questions Without Notice is fast approaching a politically weary public who will be looking forward to the winter recess in two days time. Unfortunately for those in that category who still watch the news there will be little let-up in the loud debate over the long winter break, especially with the carbon price commencing this weekend which means so much to both major parties and their strategies, albeit for different reasons.
Question Time on Tuesday was all about the carbon tax again for the Coalition with little surprise there. For the government Tuesday was just as predictable being almost all about budget allocations for low and middle income earners and families, including trying to sell the compensation package for the carbon price which gets closer and closer. There were other issues too which played a minor role but Questions Without Notice was again extremely predictable for the most part.
Question Time tomorrow will of course most likely continue the air of predictability with the carbon tax almost completely dominating the debate in one form or another.
For the Opposition the majority of questions will undoubtedly be about the price on carbon which starts this weekend. The questions will continue to be based on a combination of the Treasury modelling, what lobby groups, companies and other organisations are reporting may be carbon price impacts above and beyond that modelling and perhaps still about the pre-election statement from the Prime Minister on the matter.
As far as the Gillard Government goes, there will also be a large focus again on the carbon tax but from a different angle. The direction the ALP will come at the issue with the use of the Dorothy Dixer during Question Time will be the way they’ve used for some time now and that is to outline the compensation and other benefits that will flow to low and middle income earners and families as a result of the carbon price.
The government, not content with a focus on just one issue could again broaden that out to a wider focus on another area as they have since the budget and that is also about payments and benefits to low and middle income earners. This time we’re talking measures from the budget, of which the Schoolkids Bonus is already flowing to eligible families, but other payments and benefits which include tax concessions are nearing.
It is possible that both sides will mention at some stage the asylum seeker issue though this has been a rather muted subject in Question Time since the tragedy late last week despite the actions and words that have recommenced in earnest outside of Question Time, although the drownings have been raised this week during the afternoon session.
It is also entirely possible that the Peter Slipper case and its developments, particularly over the last 24 hours will get a bit of an airing from the government side again though this will be limited because of sub judice rules as it was when raised yesterday.
That’s likely to be how Question Time will go tomorrow at least as far as the House of Representatives will go. The Senate has more parties and is susceptible therefore to a broader range of topics in the political discourse that is Question Time. One thing is certain: both major parties don’t do surprises particularly well.
It’s that special day that comes around but once a year. It’s that day when the Treasurer strides to the despatch to spend a good amount of time outlining the budget priorities for the fiscal year ahead, what will be key priorities and what will be the focus of cuts. Undoubtedly too, in times like these deferrals also form a part of the budget.
Question Time and the House of Representative sitting itself today will be the first one out of the chair for Peter Slipper since taking the role while investigations continue into claims of misuse of Cabcharge and sexual harassment are investigated. This puts ALP MP for Chisholm and Deputy Speaker Anna Burke in the chair for Question Time and the all important budget address and could see fiery exchanges if the last time Ms Burke was in the chair for a brief period in Question Time is anything to go by.
The Coalition will quite likely not be focusing entirely on the budget in this sitting of Question Time, commencing just five and a half hours before the budget is delivered from the House of Representatives at 7:30pm. Aside from the budget and the new spending, cuts and budget tricks, the Coalition will still likely ask questions on the carbon tax, maybe the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and perhaps even Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper investigations, the latter of which reached a head yesterday with a Fair Work Australia report yesterday naming him hundreds of times in relation to alleged wrongdoing of a civil nature.
The Gillard Government will likely focus all of their efforts in Question Time through the Dorothy Dixer on key aspects of the budget that they believe will be items which have electoral benefits for them. To this end, questions from their own side will likely focus on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the aged care reforms and the cash handouts for education.The government will also likely focus on the fact that they are trying to return the budget to surplus for financial year 2012-13.
Question Time as always begins from 2pm and can be caught on your television, radio or computer.
Last night former New South Wales Premier and current NSW Opposition backbencher provided some interesting advice to the ailing federal Labor Government headed by Prime Minister Julia Gillard. That advice, given on a political program on Sky News last night by the once Premier of the state of New South Wales was for the federal parliamentary party to completely revoke, or at least water down the controversial carbon tax which is set to come into force from the 1st of July this year after passing both houses of parliament.
The intervention and advice in this is as surprising as it is late, coming well after the passage of the carbon tax bills through the parliament and just months before the legislation takes effect and well after the political damage has been done.
In the first instance, the political damage inflicted by the instigation of the carbon tax has already been achieved with the broken promise after the August 2010 election which delivered a minority government that has been a source of much political drama.
Secondly, the political woes of the Gillard Government certainly started and are based in a significant way on the carbon price legislation sprung on unwary Australians thanks to the minority government situation in Canberra. However, since that time, the woes of the ALP Government have extended well beyond just the broken promise on the carbon tax package.
They now include other scandals involving the ALP including the Health Services Union scandal that has enveloped the Member for Dobell under a cloud of allegations, as well as the recent allegations against the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, Peter Slipper, the former Liberal Party MP and Labor choice to replace Speaker Harry Jenkins.
The Prime Minister has over the weekend made moves to distance the government from Mr Thomson and Mr Slipper, with the former agreeing to being suspended from the ALP, to sit on the crossbenches until the allegations have been resolved and the latter agreeing to stand aside longer, until allegations have been dealt with fully.
But these alas are just paper fixes. They will make very little difference to the functioning of the tiny government majority, with it reduced by 1 but still with Mr Thomson admitting that he will vote with Labor on the floor of the parliament.
But back to the calls from Kristina Keneally.
Were the Gillard Government to remove the carbon tax fully they would willingly open themselves up to further attacks from the Opposition similar to attacks being made now over the legislative package,
By moving to not implement the Clean Energy Future package in full, the Prime Minister would in effect be arguing that the Opposition attacks were all correct, that the costs are too extreme and damaging to Australia.
The second option offered up by Ms Keneally would likely cause the same arguments from the Opposition. That is, by offering more compensation and making the tax less severe in other aspects, the government would again be acknowledging that there is much pain within the policy a matter of weeks away from fruition.
The Greens in this whole affair, were it to take place would be in a very difficult position. They wouldn’t support it being watered down, let alone removed altogether before it even started but at the same time, they certainly wouldn’t be getting anything remotely like the current package under the Coalition if they were to become government.
In all this, the government has come out and said that they will not be pursuing the pathway that the NSW politician Kristina Keneally has suggested would help. They are wedded to it.
Changes to the package or its non-start may save some big scalps from humiliation next election night, but alone would not prove enough to reverse the electoral fortune that continues to be told month after month.
In all this, the simple fact remains that the Gillard Government would have to perform an amazing feat on top of removing the carbon tax to get close to winning government, including reversing history which might just prove quite difficult for the ALP to achieve.
The latest Newspoll continues to outline the grim and growing reality facing the Australian Labor Party, that barring a major fiasco tainting the Opposition, their hopes for winning the next election, due in 2013 are sinking further and further past the already toxic level it appears they have reached. The commentariat, including those that often are sympathetic toward an ALP Government seem to have roundly deserted praising and supporting the party in the press. This has been particularly the case since the events of the weekend when Craig Thomson and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Peter Slipper, both facing allegations of wrongdoing, were encouraged to appear to ostracise themselves.
The primary vote for the Coalition in the latest Newspoll has hit over 50% of the votes on offer if the polls are to be believed to indicate and mirror electoral reality exactly, now sitting at 51%. The Labor primary vote in the Newspoll released overnight now sits on 27%, close to half that of the Abbott-led Coalition and well into the electoral “death zone”.
In two-party-preferred terms the results could barely get any worse for the Gillard Government, with the 2PP vote now being 59% for the Liberal and National Party Opposition compared to 41% for the government, a result in itself which barely sees the government outside the zone for electoral disaster on two-party terms.
Even in the measure where the Prime Minister could draw at least some form of optimism if not for the hopes of the party, but for her leadership as compared with that of Tony Abott for the Liberal Party provides less cause for optimism. In the preferred Prime Minister stakes, Prime Minister Gillard has dropped 3% to sit on 36% as opposed to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott who now sits on 41%, a 5 percentage point lead.
Surely the ALP will be saying internally to the polls to “bounce, bounce, come on bounce”, particularly after the budget is delivered on May 8th and after the announcement yesterday that the NDIS, which is projected to help over 400,000 families will commence a year earlier at 4 “launch sites” across Autralia, initially helping 10,000 Australians, but with a “tough budget” supposed to occur, that will likely not turn into a political reality.
Normally the weekends are a very quiet affair in terms of politics, whether it be local, state or federal developments. Saturday and Sunday are usually the domain of our newspapers in the realm of politics, debating and discussing the major events of the week, as well as the occasional under-reported event that doesn’t make the headlines on any given day. This weekend, as with a few over the term of the 43rd parliament at the federal level has been the exception to the rule. Couple that with council elections across Queensland and a by-election in the seat of a former Premier and you have all the trimmings for digestion of a full political meal in the 48 hours that are usually relatively free of politics and the political process.
On Saturday night the LNP, fresh from an astonishing win at the March 24 state election, where they won 78 seats of the 89 seat parliament and Labor just 7, the LNP Lord Mayor Graham Quirk and his team fought a campaign to remain in the mayoralty and to keep a majority of councillors in the City Hall chamber.
Last night Graham Quirk and his LNP Council colleagues did just that, winning both the race for mayor in Brisbane and the contest to maintain a majority of wards won by former Lord Mayor, now Premier Campbell Newman.
The LNP Lord Mayor of Brisbane City in two-party terms has achieved nearly 70% of the votes on offer against just over 30% for ALP mayoral hopeful Ray Smith. This result means approximately a 2.5% swing to the LNP Mayor on top of the previously strong vote for the very popular former Lord Mayor Newman.
In terms of winning wards, the LNP last night won an additional three seats in the council chambers with their victory last night to now control at least 18 of the 26 Brisbane City Council areas, a strong majority.
Elsewhere, the South Brisbane by-election, for the seat occupied by former Premier Anna Bligh was also run last night, but as yet has not been won, or at least not yet conceded. The contest sees Labor’s Jackie Trad ahead at present with just over 52% of the two-party-preferred vote compared with Clem Grehan of the LNP on just under 48% of the vote. The Labor leader in the parliament last night claimed victory for the ALP, but as yet Mr Grehan of the LNP has not conceded defeat.
It appears that the ALP will reclaim the seat, a normally very safe Labor seat, with a margin prior to the March state election of 15%. But it should not provide for much celebration in Labor circles. The LNP have come very close, albeit in a by-election which are notorious for going the other way, to claiming a sensational victory.
But if that was an ordinary night for Labor electorally in Queensland, Sunday for the federal ALP has been extraordinary in the saga that is the Craig Thomson and in the realm of the recently emerged allegations against the Speaker, Peter Slipper.
Today, weary Australians awoke to the news that there would be a press conference where Craig Thomson, the member for Dobell subject to a Fair Work Australia investigation which has now concluded would announce that he would ask the ALP to temporarily suspend his membership of the party and he would move to the crossbench as an Independent MP.
This move came after over 3 years of investigation in the matter and just as much time spent by the Prime Minister and the ALP putting their support behind the MP from NSW.
But just how much will the temporary move, meant to clear some air for the Prime Minister and her party actually mean? The answer frankly is none. The MP, for as long as he can remain in the parliament will undoubtedly continue to fully support the Gillard Government in every policy and political move it makes and importantly also for the Labor Party, in matters of supply and no confidence motions.
As if that wasn’t enough drama to base an epic political drama on, or comedy as you could just as easily argue, the Prime Minister also indicated that now, after days of saying the opposite, the Speaker, facing criminal and civil allegations should remain out of the chair until all the allegations have been resolved.
This move will see Anna Burke, the Deputy Speaker of the parliament and ALP member sitting in the Speakers seat when parliament resumes on May 8th for the handing down of the budget by Treasurer Wayne Swan
These two moves were just mere political opportunism, a smokescreen, a reactionary decision in the face of what seemed more and more likely to be a permanent loss of the Speaker if the matter went unresolved until parliament resumes on budget day.
Labor federally and in Queensland will certainly be hoping it can all be up from here, but as they have proved, that is far from certain to the extent that it is extremely unlikely.
Peter Slipper, the Speaker of the House of Representatives stands accused of both civil and criminal wrongdoing, with claims of sexual harassment of a staffer being aired, coupled with accusations of rorting Cabcharge vouchers. The Gillard Government has moved from trouble to trouble during its short tenure from mid 2010 to the present day but the ALP minority government has rarely looked like it would be allowed to crumble, either by their own actions or by those MPs who have agreed to support it for a full three year term in parliament.
The Prime Minister and her government in the time shortly after the accusations were levelled at the scandal-prone refused to withdraw support for Peter Slipper to continue in the Speaker’s chair in the Lower House. The tenuous situation of the 43rd parliament made it necessary for political survival, whether right or wrong to stand by the man that both sides of politics knew could drag them into trouble.
Shortly after returning from a trip, Mr Slipper did the right thing offered to stand aside while the criminal allegations are investigated by police although he did not extend the self-suspension to also cover the prosecution of the civil proceedings against him by a staffer who alleges sexual misconduct on the part of Peter Slipper.
After the Speaker stood aside, the Prime Minister on behalf of her party admitted after the fact that Slipper standing aside was the right and honest thing to do, a strange change of heart.
Thanks in large part to the strong support of the two rural Independent MPs, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, Prime Minister Gillard and the ALP have been able to maintain a fairly stable government regardless of the very tight numbers on the floor of the House of Representatives.
However, in recent days, it would appear to the naked eye that cracks in that support are appearing, with Mr Oakeshott, the MP for the electorate of Lyne leaving the door ajar at least for the possibility of a no confidence motion on the floor of the Lower House chamber.
Also trailing closely behind Mr Oakeshott in his thoughts on the matter, Mr Windsor, the Independent MP for the seat of New England has today indicated that he would like Speaker Slipper to stand aside until both the criminal and civil proceedings have been investigated and prosecuted to an exhaustive end.
The distinct possibility of a no confidence motion appears to be growing, hour by hour, day by day in this dramatic period in the history of parliament in Australia with the New England MP appearing to suggest that the besieged Mr Slipper stand aside until both matters are concluded or he would potentially face a vote on the floor of the parliament.
The Labor Government, under a new Speaker, likely Anna Burke, would stare in the face an even more unstable majority of just 1 vote in the House of Representatives chamber.
Theoretically, a vote against Mr Slipper could be used by the government and its supporters, particularly Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott to take some of the focus off the government which is slowly drowning as stagnant polls, hovering around the same numbers for some time seem to show.
A vote of no confidence in the Speaker could be brought by the government or any of those MPs it relies on for support to remove some of the stench that lingers around the Labor caucus, a middle ground of sorts to show to the naked eye, the untrained political eye, that Gillard and her party are willing to take on some of the rot eating away at the parliamentary party.
But alas, the rural Independents are not the great illusionists that they think themselves to be. Any “compromise” move would be as obvious as having a brick strike you in the head.
But it would ameliorate some of the dead-weight that is slowly but surely pulling the government, strapped to its numbers so firmly.
The Opposition obviously, as an other would be in this situation want the government down and out and removed and will put as much pressure on the government as they can, on any issue of contention, to try and make this happen. That’s the reality of politics and the ALP would certainly be reacting to crises in the same way were they in the position the Coalition is.
All the while, the government, by removing Slipper will have deflected some of the attention away from the other major distraction they face, the allegations against Craig Thomson, the former HSU official and now Member for the seat of Dobell. Gillard and her government have continued to support their own MP to the fullest while the allegations have been investigated.
By no means will acting on the Slipper allegations fix the electoral mortality of the Labor Government, but to perform some feat of illusion will serve to nullify one point of contention and in the process keep the Gillard Government on track to go full term, unless and it is entirely plausible, another allegation of wrongdoing or some other unforeseen mishap or misadventure decides to rear its head.