Crikey has strongly backed Greg Barns in the past but we’re a broad forum for ideas so when a group of anti-Barns forces in the Tassie Libs put this searing critique of him together we are compelled to run it. Their argument is fine but for the fact that there is a long tradition of dissent amongst the Tassie Libs which has been tolerated until Barns came along. Barns is more than welcome to respond to this in Crikey.
Greg Barns was an endorsed Liberal candidate until his outspoken views on refugees in 2001. The response of the Tasmanian Liberal Party was not a matter of whether Barns’ views were correct or whether they were compatible with those of an endorsed Liberal candidate. Barns was disendorsed because he is clearly incapable of being part of a team.
The clause of the Tasmanian Liberal Party constitution which restricts the circumstances in which an endorsed candidate can comment publicly on policy, is not “little known and obscure” as is claimed by Barns’ supporters in the media.
Other State Liberal Party Divisions have a very similar provision and as Barns so eloquently demonstrated, for very good reason. As with other clauses in the Liberal Party’s constitution, it may well be little known to the media, however to Liberal Party members and candidates it is better known and understood than any other clause.
Candidates for preselection who sign the party’s nomination form are expected to be capable of reading and interpreting that to which they have agreed and pledged. The words on the form which accompanied Mr Barns signature, presumably signed in good faith and with honest intent read as follow:
“You guarantee, agree and warrant that: You have read the constitution of the Party carefully and acknowledge in particular, Part XXVII relating to public statements.”
Not only did Barns voluntarily and willingly agree to comply with the standard conditions which accompany every candidature, by his very membership of the party he equally, voluntarily bound himself to join with other Liberal members in respecting and complying with the Liberal Party’s constitution.
The Liberal Party is a voluntary organisation, overwhelmingly made up of good, decent honourable men and women who join together with a common purpose and intent. The constitution to which they collectively agree to be bound is the fragile fabric which holds together the order and integrity of their conduct.
The relevant words of the Tasmanian constitution are clear and simple:
“No Member other than the State President or his nominee, shall make any public statements on Organisational or Divisional matters or make any public statements on policy (other than a member of the Federal or State Parliament Liberal Party) without leave of the State President or his nominee or the State executive & Policy Committee.”
Barns’ response to his own undertaking when it suited him to do so, was to shred not only the spirit of his commitment, but the plain and clear meaning of the words.
During the period leading up to and including the federal election, Barns behaviour demonstrated a total disregard for the electoral prospects of the political party which he claimed to support and which he was seeking to represent in the Tasmanian parliament. He showed contemptuous indifference towards the consequence of his behaviour on the federal Liberal candidates and he has since the election maintained his rage in the media against the best interests of the Liberal Party.
Barns seems utterly incapable of understand that membership of a political party requires collective responsibility, personal discipline and respect for consensus. No political party could possibly survive if its candidates behaved as Mr Barns did.
Barns, a State candidate, was not content with mounting a vitriolic campaign against his own party about an issue the exclusive province of the federal parliament. In the midst of a federal election which was precariously balanced, Barns indulged himself in a bitter and spiteful personal campaign against members of his own party, not the least the Prime Minister.
Describing Howard as pandering to the racist and xenophobic underbelly of our nation, having a morally bankrupt immigration policy and embracing a political value system more akin to the Deep South of America in the 1930’s, is the quality of obscene disloyalty which deserves the full measure of disciplinary action.
Not satisfied with attacking the Liberal Party and a central plank in its re-election campaign, Barns, egged on in particularly by the “Australian” newspaper, broadened his attack on his own party to include its policy on the Monarchy, Aboriginal reconciliation, motor industry protection, a drugs policy, economic management, foreign aid, social welfare and mandatory sentencing.
The extent to which Barns shows himself to be completely unfit to be a member of the Liberal Party is shown by his bitter attack upon the “moderate” liberals for not crossing the floor on mass against the Border Protection Bill, a course which would have destroyed Howard’s election prospects.
No political party can or will tolerate such disgraceful misbehaviour by one of its members, however enthusiastically the media may cheer on such treacherous conduct. Many parliamentarians feel passionately about issues, however most have the wit to convey their views from a position of strength-from within the party and in the party room.
Barns either does not understand the qualities and values necessary to be part of a team or he arrogantly believes they do not apply to him. Whether it be arrogance or ignorance, Barns has been ignominiously dumped out of the political debate and is now little more than a rapidly fading political curiosity.
Consumed by his own view of the world and bathing in the publicity which his notoriety had temporarily given him, Barns ultimately showed himself to be politically incompetent. He has neither spoken in parliamentary debate, moved a motion nor voted in support of his cause and now will never do so.
In support of his own views, Barns is very fond of quoting the 18th century philosopher, Edmund Burke. Burke was a great philosopher, however like Barns he was a terrible politician.
Having been elected to the constituency of Bristol, Burke promptly informed his voters that they had also vested him with the right to think, speak and vote as he wished. They promptly dumped him out of the seat. Barns did not get that far.
It seemed to matter not to Barns that he had sought preselection for a seat in a State parliament and that he would never be required to vote in that chamber on the issue about which he had become such a self appointed authority.
Barns may have attracted a modicum of respect if he had demonstrated the courage and commitment to his cause and sought preselection for a federal seat. He would at least have been seeking the proper forum to express his views and the only forum where he could have translated his rhetoric into a vote.
It is not without significance that after years of strutting around the mainland, when he decided to seek a political career, Barns retreated to the minor bailiwick of Tasmania.
Perhaps if Barns and the Murdoch media had accepted that the republican referendum was a devastating loss to them rather than an aberration by a misguided public, Barns may just have had a slightly different view of himself.
Unlike the republican press, I hold that Barns was a disaster as campaign director of the Australian Republican Movement. I should resist the temptation to perambulate through his list of catastrophes in running and losing that campaign, however the highlight was his decision to invoke for the republicans cause, the names of two failed and discredited former Prime Ministers whose contribution to the republicans’ campaign was to remind the voters of the bitter and divisive events of 1975.
Relying on the present Monarchal system, Fraser had wrenched the soul out of the constitution to steal office from the elected government. Whitlam whose government was so rotten that Fraser’s conduct was overwhelming embraced by middle Australia, has crusaded ever since against the Governor General who ridded Australia of him.
The television commercial in which these two gentlemen appeared should be compulsory viewing for all political campaign directors. It was devastating to the republican campaign.
Greg Barns has shown himself in the past months to be a self centred, self indulgent and vainglorious man who deserves to be politically where he now is.
Now for some feedback.
In defence of Barns
The bureaucratic and legalistic nonsense provided to Crikey by Barns’ enemies in the Tassie Libs seem to assume that it’s perfectly OK for endorsed candidates to contract away their freedom of speech and freedom to dissent. Quite an insight. Crypto-fascism thriving in the bowels of the Liberal Party. All exacerbated by the Howard Government’s new found credo of political correctness (the 1996 promise to end PC was non-core, too, it seems).
Both sides have merit
I’m in the curious state of simultaneously supporting Greg Barns’ position and convictions on almost all of the charges made against him by the Tasmaniac Libs, including his support for the republic, disgust with the contemptible politicking by John Howard that won the last election campaign, with his opinions on “… the Monarchy, Aboriginal reconciliation, motor industry protection, a drugs policy, economic management, foreign aid, social welfare and mandatory sentencing”, while nonetheless agreeing that the Liberals’ argument for disendorsing him are perfectly sound and very well put by your correspondent.
How can everyone be right? Because these are interesting times, and we might as well blame the vacuous John Howard and his coterie of apologists and forelock tugging fools for this.
No seriously, GG