The Victorian government should be showing leadership and purpose rather than tying itself in knots over the member for Frankston, writes former Labor Victorian MP Tony Lupton.
On his return from suspension this week controversial Victorian MP Geoff Shaw said the buck stopped with him, but the political merry-go-round in Spring Street just keeps turning. Shortly before 10am Thursday morning, Premier Denis Napthine moved to expel Shaw from Parliament.
The member for Frankston delivered his much-anticipated apology on Tuesday. He “humbly and sincerely apologised” to the Parliament and people of Victoria for misusing parliamentary entitlements. It should have ended there.
After apologising, Shaw made some comments in the media that the whole process has been a political farce — hard to disagree with. However, Napthine now says he doesn’t believe Shaw’s apology was sincere and is set to move to expel the troublesome MP. Politicians regularly withdraw offensive remarks or apologise in the House. There isn’t a mechanism for determining their sincerity. If there were, it would sure come in handy for us on polling day.
The government and the Parliament it is meant to be managing spent the week in disarray. Coalition MPs have been meeting about Shaw, and Napthine has held media conferences about Shaw.
With Shaw back in the chamber and able to vote, the government could not guarantee its legislative business program would be approved, so the Government Business Program was not put to the vote. This means the government cannot force a vote on any legislation in the Assembly this week. And this chaos has even infected the Legislative Council, where the government does have a majority. Government upper house members were too preoccupied discussing Shaw to vote on a motion at one stage on Wednesday, allowing Labor to win the vote. The government isn’t governing.
Napthine’s move to expel Shaw now gives credence to the view that this was the agenda of some in the Coalition all along, with the delay only due to the government’s desire to avoid a byelection in Frankston. It’s now too close to the November election for a byelection to be held if Shaw were to be expelled.
In the third last sitting week before the state election, one might ask why the government is putting itself through this wringer. The Premier risks appearing petty and vindictive. The government should be showing leadership and purpose rather than tying itself in knots over the member for Frankston.
Instead, its controversial but presumably important legislation is being voted down or languishes. On Wednesday the government’s Electoral Amendment Bill was defeated. Legislation to abolish the defensive homicide defence and enact the Cowards Punch Manslaughter Bill remains in limbo. The government’s own matter of public importance debate on the East West road project ended in defeat.
Labor leader Daniel Andrews has declared the opposition would not vote for expulsion. Of course, that’s in Labor’s tactical interest. But one might wonder why Napthine keeps pursuing Shaw. It seems to have more to do with manoeuvring in the Liberal Party than with Shaw. Napthine must have known Labor would not come to his aid on this one. He’s walked into a political quagmire of his own making.
After Daniel Andrews spoke briefly opposing the expulsion motion, Labor members left the chamber, leaving the government members to debate amongst themselves. Their private debate includes the Premier’s judgement.
A division to vote on the motion was called at 11.30am. Labor members plus Shaw voting together against expulsion defeated the motion 43 votes to 42. It seems Shaw was right after all when he said the buck stopped with him.
The Liberals have called a special party meeting for lunch time today. I recall late 2002 and the last time Denis Napthine was expected to lead his party to an election.