What revenge, one wonders, is the Coalition plotting against Labor for its support for Clive Palmer’s war on Campbell Newman — oops, sorry, the inquiry into Certain Aspects of Queensland Government Administration? Launch a couple of partisan royal commissions, perhaps? Try to humiliate the former prime minister, Julia Gillard, by dragging her into the witness box to answer vague and unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing 20 years ago? Conduct yet another inquiry into the Home Insulation Program after the multiple inquiries that have already been conducted?

Maybe they could get Trevor Morling to have another crack at Centenary House.

When Clive Palmer falls out with people — something that happens quite a lot, and will continue to happen — he really falls out. Falls like a tonne of bricks. He’s spared no expense in pursuing his real and perceived enemies as a businessman and now he’s sparing no taxpayers’ money in his quest for revenge against Campbell Newman, who stole the Liberal National Party — a party Clive bankrolled and helped create — from him. Clive won’t stop until he’s snared a bunch of seats from the LNP at next year’s election. Labor, which would have had to wait til it returned to government to get some payback on the Coalition for its unprecedented pursuit of Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd and other Labor figures, has been handed an opportunity to get some revenge somewhat earlier than in normal circumstances.

And Clive doesn’t much mind whose help he gets when he’s pursuing a vendetta. The Greens were traitors funded by the CIA, he claimed in 2012, to destroy the resources industry. Now he’s allowed them to join in the anti-Campbell inquiry in a deal to extend it to resource development approval processes and other environmental approvals processes in Queensland. Of course, that was then, this is now, and expecting consistency from Clive Palmer is even sillier than expecting it from Tony Abbott.

Should Labor have adopted the high moral ground and declined to back an inquiry so blatantly beyond the traditional jurisdictional divisions of the federation? Should its response to the Coalition’s partisan royal commissions have been a high-minded refusal to stoop to that sort of level? As Crikey explained a few years ago, game theory suggests the only sensible approach by Labor is to match the Coalition, low blow for low blow. Continuing to play within the rules as though you have a cooperative opponent is a mug’s game when they refuse to adhere to the rules that benefit both of you. The only way to force an opponent to return to mutually beneficial rules is to punish them for breaking them.

The other reason why it shouldn’t is that the Rudd government was, for a while, an experiment in doing things differently. In contrast to the Howard government’s ruthless whatever-it-takes attitude, the Rudd government reformed the Freedom of Information process to encourage transparency, established an independent process to vet government advertising, and made non-partisan appointments to major positions. It got precisely zero credit from anyone for doing so — certainly not the media, which benefited from John Faulkner’s overhaul of FOI. No one, and certainly not the Coalition, has the right to complain when Labor instead opts to focus on its partisan interests.

Peter Fray

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