Menu lock

Queensland

May 1, 2017

5 comments

The One Nation renaissance is once again inviting comparisons to Groundhog Day, as the party faces the possibility of deregistration in Queensland over irregularities in its legal structure.

The latest development adds to an accumulation of bad news not just for One Nation, but also for Queensland’s Liberal National Party opposition, which has been hoping that One Nation will provide the key to a quick return to office after its shock defeat in January 2015.

At issue is the registration of One Nation Queensland Division as an incorporated association in November, the principal benefit of which is that members of the party executive will not be exposed to personal liability for legal action against the party, so long as they are judged to have acted in good faith.

Since the move did not involve changes to the party’s state constitution and regulations, it was evidently deemed to be no concern of the Electoral Commission of Queensland, which must be informed of changes to party constitutions under pain of deregistration.

But according to business regulation specialist Tom Ravlic, who wrote at length on the matter for The Saturday Paper, the party’s incorporation under the model rules provided to make life easy for small clubs and societies means it now has a “foundation governance document” that potentially fails to meet the requirements of the Electoral Act.

[Former One Nation heavyweights call for inquiry in wake of Four Corners report]

Labor Senator Murray Watt has moved quickly to refer the matter to Queensland’s Electoral Commissioner, which could potentially torpedo the party just in time for an election that Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is reportedly considering holding later this year.

Given the distinction between the party’s constitution and its rules of association, and the historic tendency of courts to deem that party internal matters are beyond their jurisdiction (albeit that this has come under challenge in recent decades), such an outcome is by no means assured.

Nonetheless, it’s remarkable that the party could potentially be in legal hot water over its organisational structure, considering the events surrounding the party’s deregistration in 1999 and Pauline Hanson’s related conviction (later quashed) and imprisonment in 2003.

It also adds to the accumulating impression of disarray following the party’s chaotic Western Australian election campaign, recurring embarrassments surrounding candidate selection, and an Australian Electoral Commission investigation into claims the party failed to disclose the gift of a light aircraft from a property developer.

Notwithstanding the party’s success in winning three upper house seats, the Western Australian result discredited the notion that its prospective support base is impervious to such concerns.

State-level polling trends provide further evidence that support for the party gets softer in proportion with its exposure to media scrutiny.

An aggregation of federal poll results conducted a month ago found the party was maintaining a consistent level of support in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

But in Western Australia, where the party’s presence was one of the defining issues of an election campaign that ran through February to early March, its support slumped from a double-digit peak in late January to just 6% — a downward trend that has been maintained in polling conducted in April.

[Poll Bludger: making sense of the WA election result]

In Queensland, the other state where the party has been most visible, polling conducted by Galaxy Research last week for The Courier-Mail found One Nation had dropped three points since February on federal voting intention, from 18% to 15%, and six points on state voting intention, from 23% to 17%.

In terms of its potential parliamentary presence, there is a dramatic difference for One Nation between 23%, which equals its performance in 1998 when it won 11 seats, and 17%, which, in all but a scattered handful of seat, would reduce it to third place, beyond the help of preferences from the LNP.

With each point lost, the prospect of a One Nation crossbench delivering power to the LNP — either as a minority government or, as foreshadowed last November by former premier Campbell Newman, through a coalition arrangement — rapidly diminishes.

What’s more, the rest of the Galaxy numbers suggest the voters who are deserting One Nation are taking their business to Labor — just as they did in Western Australia.

Queensland

Apr 22, 2016

5 comments

There are still nearly two years to go until the state next goes to the polls, but yesterday might well go down as the day Annastacia Palaszczuk’s Labor government won itself the next Queensland election.

This was not achieved Paul Keating-style, with a searingly effective demolition of a showpiece opposition policy, or as John Howard might have done, by using unanticipated external events to wrest back an initiative that had long seemed lost, but through a dramatic and entirely unheralded change to the electoral system.

The minority Labor government appeared to be on the back foot yesterday as crossbenchers lined up with the opposition to support a bill to add four extra seats to the 89-member Parliament, thereby addressing their concerns about the level of rural and regional representation.

The passage of the bill loomed as an embarrassing demonstration of the government’s weakness, as the decisive vote in favour was to come from Cairns MP Rob Pyne, who last month quit the ALP to sit as an independent.

However, the smile was shortly wiped from the Liberal National Party’s collective dial when the government tacked on an amendment to abolish optional preferential voting, and again require that voters number every box on their ballot papers.

That sounded awfully good to the crossbenchers, who now stand to receive the overwhelming majority of the preferences of any major party candidate they succeed in outpolling.

Opposition members were less pleased, with one going so far as to say: “Today we have seen democracy die.”

It’s hard to know whether to be impressed by the government’s audacity, or appalled by its cynicism.

The very same Labor Party whose federal members vented outrage just a few weeks ago over the rushed process on Senate reform was now turning the state’s electoral system on its head without so much as the fig leaf of a consultation process.

It stands in very stark contrast to the way optional preferential voting was introduced after Wayne Goss led Labor to power in 1989, and set to work addressing the scandalous state of the electoral system bequeathed to it after the Joh Bjelke-Petersen years.

Among the measures taken was the establishment of the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission, in response to one of the principal recommendations of the Fitzgerald inquiry that lifted the lid on the state’s culture of political and police corruption.

The main concern of this body was to address the gerrymandering and malapportionment that are remembered as Bjelke-Petersen’s legacy, though he was by no means their sole author.

It was no doubt pleasing to the Labor government that this august and non-partisan body recommended following the example of New South Wales in abandoning the requirement that voters number every box.

With the Greens yet to establish themselves as the third force in Australian politics, and the Australian Democrats not much of a factor on the state scene, the main impact of compulsory preferential voting was in allowing Nationals and Liberal candidates to contest the same seats without splitting the vote and delivering victory to Labor — precisely the reason preferential voting was first introduced at federal level by a conservative government in 1918.

The optional preferential voting reform was not much commented on at that time, as it was seen as a low-order concern when compared with the concurrent introduction of “one vote, one value” electoral boundaries.

For the most part, voters continued to number every box, following a habit ingrained by long-established practice at both federal and state level.

But as the years went by, two factors caused optional preferential voting to take on ever greater significance.

One was the weakening of the major parties’ hold on voter loyalties, and the resulting increase in the number of seats being determined by preferences, or the absence thereof.

The other was a strategy increasingly employed by major parties of simplifying their messages by recommending supporters “just vote one”, as former Labor premier Peter Beattie did to devastating effect when the right-of-centre vote fractured amid the One Nation insurgency at the turn of the millennium.

This was dramatically illustrated when Labor returned to power last year, just three years after the rout administered to Anna Bligh’s government in 2012 reduced it to seven seats.

Otherwise accurate opinion polls failed to forecast this outcome, as it had not been anticipated how dramatically the hard-edged approach of Campbell Newman’s government was going to change the behaviour of minor party and independent voters.

At the previous two elections, Greens voters in particular were inclined to place a pox on both houses after more than a decade of Labor rule, with around two in five of their votes exhausting when preferences were allocated.

But in 2015, two in five suddenly became one in five, as left-of-centre voters found a determination to go the extra mile to see the back of Newman.

Now Labor is back in government, it has had good cause to fear that the swelling ranks of Greens voters might revert to type.

The point is well illustrated by published opinion polls, which have recorded little change on the election result so far as the primary vote is concerned.

Observers have been reluctant to conclude that these numbers would be sufficient for Labor to maintain its tenuous grip on power, given the likelihood that many Greens voters will have a more apathetic frame of mind next time around.

Galaxy Research has dealt with the issue by averaging preference flows from the last three elections in determining its two-party preferred results, rather than following the usual practice of simply going on the most recent election.

A poll it conducted just last week credited the LNP with a 51-49 lead, despite the two major parties’ primary votes being almost exactly as they were at the election, when the 51-49 result was in favour of Labor.

For both the pollsters and the Labor Party, the situation now becomes a lot more straightforward, with at least three-quarters of Greens voters set to follow their well-established habit of favouring Labor over the conservatives, however reluctantly.

Life may well have become less complicated for the LNP too, though in a less enviable way. Barring a substantial change in political fortunes, the unanticipated trek through the wilderness that began with last year’s shock defeat could now be even longer than it feared.

*For more from William Bowe visit Crikey blog Poll Bludger

Queensland

Mar 21, 2016

5 comments

As a federal election looks certain for July 2, the Queensland branches of the big parties had an instructive opportunity to run their campaign operations around the track on Saturday, courtesy of the state’s local government elections.

The results were pleasantly surprising for the conservatives, both encouraging and frustrating for the Greens, and very sobering for Labor.

Council election day is a particularly big deal in Queensland mostly on account of Brisbane City Council, which has no peer in Australia either in terms of its million-strong population or the scope of its responsibilities, which have historically included public transport and water services.

What’s more, the elections are highly partisan affairs in which the major parties battle over two distinct prizes in the lord mayoralty and control of the 26-member city council.

Although Labor had a very high mountain to climb after the debacle it suffered at the last local election in 2012, it appeared to have a lot going for it heading into Saturday’s election.

The “it’s time” factor ought to have loomed large, since the lord mayoralty has been in conservative hands since the unexpected victory of a young-ish Campbell Newman in 2004. The incumbent, Graham Quirk, succeeded Newman when he made his run for state politics in early 2011, won election in his own right a year later, and this weekend sought an advance on the five years he had already served.

The Liberal National Party’s campaign also failed to go according to plan, with the final week derailed by accusations a council ward candidate had sent sexually explicit images to a teenage boy from a Catholic school at which he served as a minister.

Two published polls — one from Galaxy, one from ReachTEL — appeared to confirm the widely held expectation of a tight race.

However, it quickly became apparent on Saturday night — through social media, rather than a malfunctioning Electoral Commission of Queensland website — that the swing to Labor had fallen well short of what was advertised.

At the close of counting last night, Quirk was on 59% of the two-party preferred vote, which was 6% and 7% higher than had been attributed to him in the two polls.

Labor candidate Rod Harding can at least point to a swing in his party’s favour of around 9%, but this was coming off a miserably low base in 2012, when voters seized a second opportunity to wield the baseball bat they had used against Labor at the state election a few weeks previously.

Bad as the result for the lord mayoralty may have been for Labor, there were even fewer excuses at council ward level, where the party actually managed to go backwards from 2012.

As well as failing to dislodge the LNP from any of its existing 18 wards, Labor was unable to defend its own marginal ward of Northgate.

It is also possible that another of Labor’s seven existing wards, The Gabba, will deliver a rare victory to the Queensland Greens.

Owing to the absence of a state upper house and a modest statewide support base that makes life tough at federal elections, the Greens’ record of electoral success in Queensland is pretty much limited to Larissa Waters’ Senate victory in 2010.

So there was considerable excitement among Greens on Saturday evening when their candidate pulled ahead of Labor in The Gabba, which covers a southern inner-city area that largely corresponds with the party’s likeliest state election prospect, South Brisbane.

However, yesterday’s counting of postal votes went heavily against the Greens, and the result is currently up in the air.

Should the Greens hang on, Labor will have only five seats out of 26 on the council, and it will need a second swing on the cusp of double digits to be in the hunt in 2020, by which time the conservative grip on city hall will have run for 16 years.

Queensland’s weekend festival of democracy did not end with Brisbane — as well as council elections across the length of the state, there was also a referendum to determine whether the state would move from its old-fashioned regime of three-year terms to a sleek and modern fixed four-year model that would schedule future elections for the last Saturday of every fourth October.

As electoral law maven Graeme Orr explained in Crikey last week, the “yes” case had across-the-board support from the state’s political, media, business and union establishment, which saw to it that the campaign overall was kept at a muted pitch.

With only a few stray academics and regional MPs to make the case for “no”, 53% of voters let their weariness at enduring five state election campaigns between early 2004 and early 2015 get the better of them.

The changes will take effect after the next election — which, perversely enough, more than half of Queensland would be happy to see the government call early, according to a recent Galaxy poll.

In a state with a winner-take-all voting system and no upper house, future election winners will then be set to enjoy four years of elective dictatorship in a state that has form in producing leaders with an authoritarian streak.

Queensland

Mar 17, 2016

5 comments

On Saturday, Queensland will vote on a proposal to move from triennial election cycles to constitutionally fixed, four-year parliaments. Verging on 50, I find myself in the unfamiliar position of opposing a proposal for constitutional reform. Queensland’s political system needs a shake-up. But unfortunately, this proposal — fewer elections without any compensating checks or balances — is regressive. Here are the key reasons why.

First, it dilutes the birthright of the ballot. The Chartists, who helped win universal suffrage over a century ago, wanted annual elections and parliaments. The world is more complex than in the Victorian era. But contemporary governments with a clear agenda have managed to move mountains in a three-year term: Gough Whitlam, Paul Keating, John Howard mark IV and Campbell Newman all made their reform marks.

Reducing the number of elections is hardly democratic. Democracy is not about “efficient” government in the corporate sense; it’s about representative government. Businesses claiming that elections depress consumer confidence or economic activity repeat a silly furphy. While a few industries are sensitive to policy flux, money does not evaporate. It is contradictory to claim that electors must be shielded from elections at footy final time, yet somehow are so unnerved by campaigns that they stop spending.

More tellingly, consider Queensland’s political framework and culture: it has no upper house to review government bills or actions; it has no charter of rights to allow judicial review of legislation; and it has no proportional representation. So Queensland has far fewer registered parties than anywhere else in Australia and its parliament is particularly unrepresentative of the diversity of opinion. Queensland doesn’t even have an entrenched parliamentary committee system — even though that was meant to accompany this referendum.

In short, Queensland has minimal checks and balances. Not surprisingly, it has experienced a culture of strong-men premiers, from Messrs Gair through Bjelke-Petersen and onto Beattie and Newman.

What of the (distinct) issue of fixed terms? In normal times, it is a pretty good idea. But industry and public servants can have fixed terms without a referendum. The UK Parliament fixed its term in 2011, to require two-thirds of Parliament to agree to an early election.

Some have painted this referendum as a contest between stability and accountability. Yet when you fix terms in constitutional concrete … well, as Victoria found out when its minority Liberal government crumbled recently — and as Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk unwittingly pointed out when she threatened an early election last week — be careful what you wish for.

This referendum would consign the present hung Parliament to four years of instability, not stability. There would be no path to a circuit-breaking election, short of the opposition and government agreeing on a time and rationale to pass a gentleperson’s “no-confidence motion” — a motion in which the opposition would also have to promise to not sweet talk the independents into supporting them.

On the woeful process behind it alone, this referendum should not pass. I know people with PhDs and practising lawyers who are not aware it is being held. What chance has the average citizen, who knows nothing about manner and form entrenchment, or how state constitutions differ from the national?

This vote was hurried on, a just over a month ago, to piggyback on council polling day, much to the chagrin of local government. It has employed nothing but a century-old model of 1000-word, black and white pamphlets for the “yes” and “no” cases — even though the Australian Parliament has stressed, for nearly two decades, the importance of proper education and modern media to enhance the deliberative process before referendums. Instead, a million Brisbanites will turn out for the Brisbane City elections, with many hundreds of thousands saying “Referendum, what referendum? Ah, here’s my party’s how-to-vote card to tell me what to do.”

The real problem with this proposal is not captured in the line “it’s about job security for politicians”. Most MPs are decent and hardworking. The underlying problem is not with politicians as people, it’s with systems. The worldwide pathologies of a scatterbrained media and parties without social bases are not a product of the length of the electoral term.

If this referendum passes, Queensland’s constitutional framework will be virtually identical to the Northern Territory’s. That’s right, not the other states, which have upper houses and proportional representation, some with charters of rights and some even with competing state-based newspapers, but the Northern Territory. And how well has that panned out?

This referendum is a charter for further entrenching executive power. It should be defeated. Then we might go back to the drawing board for a rational compromise. Steered properly, Queensland might just discuss if not an upper house, then voting system reform, or a legislatively fixed three-year term.

Queensland

Feb 12, 2016

5 comments

When the Queensland Parliament reopened this week, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk issued writs for local government elections to be held on March 19. Everybody, give a big yawn …

However, for once, the campaign for control of the 74 town halls across the sunshine state has a political urgency for Palaszczuk — whose minority Labor government is hanging by a knife edge — and for the federal election later this year.

A swing against the ALP at the March council elections will boost the LNP state opposition and hearten Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s bid to hold onto the 22 Queensland seats won by Tony Abbott in September 2013.

Just over 12 months ago, Palaszczuk’s party barged into office at the state election ousting Campbell Newman from the premiership as well as from his seat of Ashgrove.

She has managed to hang onto solid polling numbers but her early performance has been marred by an over-emphasis on process and a neglect of delivery.

In sharp contrast, NSW Premier Mike Baird has created a delivery unit in the Department of Premier and Cabinet whose sole function is to monitor, cajole and drive the implementation of projects promised in the election manifesto.

The inflexible Queensland bureaucracy shows no sign of surrendering its power to decide on policy and the pace of reform. If the Premier suffers an election defeat, the self-serving bureaucracy doesn’t give a rats; it survives to suffocate the delusional ambitions of the next incumbent.

Local election flashpoints will be Brisbane City Council, Australia’s largest council, currently administered by lord mayor Graham Quirk of the LNP; Gold Coast City Council where lord mayor Tom Tate is recontesting; the Maroochydore-based Sunshine Coast Regional Council; and coastal councils around Maryborough, Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville and Cairns.

Mayoral candidates will face a new voting system at next month’s poll. The optional preferential system is being introduced which will allow voters to indicate first, second or third preferred candidates.

Gold Coast businessman Tom Tate spent $340,000 of his own money to win the mayoralty in 2012 while others say the total outlay was closer to $1 million, making it the most expensive mayoral election campaign in the country’s history.

Independent candidates opposed to Tate hope that preference deals will make it easier to unseat the pro-casino and pro-developer incumbent.

When council election day comes around on March 19, voters will be asked to take part in a referendum approving the introduction of fixed four-year terms for Queensland’s Legislative Assembly.

The “yes” vote has bipartisan support and, if passed, will bring Queensland into line with every other state in the Commonwealth. Because Queensland is the only state without an upper house — the legislative council was abolished in 1922 — some wary opponents argue that a successful vote is essentially undemocratic because it will enshrine single-party rule for four-year terms instead of three.

The Queensland Local Government Association is opposed to the referendum, complaining that it intruded on the sanctity of council elections, which should be about local issues and not state politics.

On March 23, 1991 Queenslanders rejected by a simple majority an earlier bid to introduce four-year fixed terms with 772,647 (48.9%) in favour and 881,078 (51.1% against).

This time around, Palaszczuk and the Queensland Electoral Commission are spending millions of dollars on advertising to persuade Queenslanders to support the change.

However, their biggest challenge appears to be increasing voter turnout. At the last local government elections in 2012, almost 400,00 people who were eligible to vote were “missing” from the electoral roll because they had not registered.

There was a significant increase in voter registration on the eve of the 2015 state election when 21,000 young people between 18 and 24 registered but the overall turnout was still lower than some other states.

As a result, QEC issued “please explain” notices to tens of thousands of people across the state and many were forced to pay substantial fines. The penalty for failing to vote was recently increased from $113 to $117 but offenders are also obliged to pay a sliding scale of interest charges if they don’t cough up immediately.

The electoral authorities have given themselves a modest target of an 85% turnout for the March council poll, which appears to indicate a lamentable acceptance of the anti-state, non-participatory “feral” culture in the sprawling Outback and the isolated coastline havens from Hervey Bay to Cape York.

Queensland

Sep 11, 2015

5 comments

Queensland’s first female Chief Justice, Catherine Holmes, has the dubious distinction of being on the legal team that defended serial backpacker killer Ivan Milat.

When Brisbane-based solicitor Andrew Boe was assembling his defence team for Milat’s NSW Supreme Court trial in 1996 he chose Holmes because she was one of the brightest criminal barristers at the Queensland Bar. They lost the case, and Milat, now 70, received seven life sentences, which he is currently serving at Goulburn jail’s “Super Max”, a maximum security, electronically controlled facility that is deemed “escape-proof”.

Holmes, aged 58, was sworn in this morning by Governor Paul de Jersey, a former chief justice, in the presence of Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Her appointment brings the curtain down on a bizarre chapter in Queensland’s judicial history, when the prestigious chief justice position was held for 14 months by former Queensland copper Tim Carmody. Former LNP premier Campbell Newman started a chain of dramatic and farcical events when he plucked Carmody from the obscurity of Chief Magistrate. Newman described him as “a knock-about bloke”.

Carmody’s appointment was considered so controversial that the swearing-in ceremony was held in private, behind closed doors, at a Brisbane registry office. Ironically, it was Holmes who officiated at the ceremony, while many other judges boycotted the event.

Queensland Bar Association president Peter Davis was so incensed over the Carmody appointment that he resigned.

Carmody had never previously sat on the Supreme Court, and his fellow judges and the legal profession were soon making public protests.

Throughout the political and legal wrangling, Carmody’s most loyal ally was the Rupert Murdoch-owned Courier-Mail, which attacked his detractors and hailed his “man in the street” approach.

Two senior Supreme Court judges, Justice Margaret McMurdo and Alan Wilson, deserve most credit for rallying opposition to Carmody, which led to his resignation from the chief justice role in June.

In an angry exchange of emails last year, McMurdo, head of the Court of Appeal, declared: “I cannot sit with with him [Carmody] again on any court. Please ensure in future that I am not listed to sit with the Chief Justice.”

When he stepped down from the bench last year, Wilson gave a controversial speech saying that he had been “driven to say something” after witnessing a “serious loss of morale at the court” over Carmody’s leadership style.

“Finally, it will be recalled that the Chief Justice, in his public remarks last Christmas [2013], urged the judges to maintain civility and courtesy; but he has on different occasions referred to us collectively as ‘snakes’ and ‘scum’,” he said.

Under a deal brokered with the Labor government, Carmody resigned as chief justice on July 1 but remains a judge of the Supreme Court serving as a supplementary judicial member of the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT), a relatively minor judicial functionary’s position.

Brisbane lawyers believe Holmes has been selected on an “ABC” basis — Anyone But Carmody. Her colleagues testify to her work ethic, quiet nature and practical approach to legal and administrative tasks.

The daughter of a labourer and a bookkeeper, Holmes attended Oxley State High School, became a founding member of the Women’s Legal Service and conducted the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry into the 2011 disasters.

Queensland’s 19th Chief Justice describes herself as a “black-letter lawyer, not a feminist warrior” and a legal conservative who disapproves of legislation promoted by populism.

That will be music to the ears of her fellow judges who are mainly white males from “Churchie” (Church of England Grammar School) or “Nudgee” (St Joseph’s Catholic College).

After the Carmody turmoil, they would be yearning for an era of peace and calm followed by a comfortable retirement on their judicial pensions.

Tips and rumours

Aug 21, 2015

5 comments

From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Warren Entsch feels the love. A tipster tells us that LNProud, a group of LGBTI people who support the Liberal and National parties, are holding a fundraiser for Liberal MP Warren Entsch in Sydney next week, which will be attended by Entsch, Malcolm Turnbull and Christine Forster (Tony Abbott’s sister). According to the tipster, the fundraiser is necessary because Entsch is on the outs with party HQ:

“So why are a bunch of Sydney queens fundraising for a Queensland MP? Apparently head office are so pissed with Entsch for pushing the gay marriage barrow, they’ve told him he’s on his own when it comes to campaign funds come the general election. He won’t get a sniff from them. Once again the high homophobes in the coalition are prepared to lose a seat rather than be seen to be supporting the gays.”

What’s your job now? Speaking with 3AW’s Neil Mitchell this morning, Social Services Minister Scott Morrison said he wouldn’t take action against government employees who had been found to have accounts on infidelity website Ashley Madison. Asked if he would take action against anyone using a .gov.au email address on the site, he said it wasn’t his job to be a policeman on people’s private lives. Except when it comes to allowing same-sex couples to get married — then it’s definitely his job.

Sex Party pulls out. Following our report yesterday that Australian Sex Party federal director Douglas Leitch was due to attend a meet-up of the Melbourne Gamergate community next weekend, the Sex Party released a statement saying that Leitch would practise his withdrawal method:

“In early August Fiona Patten MLC was invited to attend a local meeting of gamers. When a scheduling conflict arose Douglas Leitch, Federal Director of the Australian Sex Party, agreed to attend in her stead.

“When alerted to the nature of the meeting through a reddit post Mr Leitch withdrew his acceptance of the invitation.

“The Australian Sex Party opposes harassment and bullying in any form.”

We find it hard to believe that political groups don’t do basic searches on the groups they agree to meet with, but maybe that is asking too much.

Talk wordy to me. The latte-sippers of Melbourne will be descending on the Melbourne Writers Festival over the next 10 days, and for all the gossip, you can follow Crikey‘s team as they live-blog their way through the festival. We are particularly looking forward to Gerard Henderson’s sandalista outfit, which has been promised for months in Media Watch Dog.

Campbell Newman. It was announced yesterday that Queensland Police Minister Jo-Ann Miller would be donating the former state government’s bright pink prison jumpsuits (which the Newman government wanted to make bikies wear in prison) to the state library and Queensland museum, as well as to two breast cancer charities. The minister said the government has been overhwelmed with enquiries for people who wanted to own a pink jumpsuit, probably as some kind of weird souvenir of the Campbell Newman government. One such person looking for a set of suits is Eric Gardiner, the writer of Bounty, a play to premiere at Melbourne’s Fringe Festival that focuses solely on the Newman government. According to Gardiner, the play will be a dark satire, in which the characters of Campbell Newman, Lisa Newman — and their daughters, who will be wearing the suits. Gardiner told Crikey this morning that he hadn’t given up on his quest for the original suits, but that the theatre company probably can’t afford them. Even without the suits, the play promises an absurd level of detail on Newman, after hours of research, right down to the specific way the former premier scoops ice cream out of the punnet.

Luck’s a fortune. Australian National University copped plenty from those intemperates at The Australian Financial Review and The Australian last October for daring to sell out of seven energy and resources stocks Iluka Resources, Independence Group, Newcrest Mining, Sandfire Resources, Oil Search, Santos and Sirius Resources, but with today’s results at Santos, maybe ANU is laughing now? The AFR was very upset at the ANU’s stance (and ignored the fact that it was part of a trend by a growing number of investment funds in Australia and around the world to quit resources shares, especially those focused on fossil fuels and nuclear power. In particular the AFR attacked the Santos sale decision, calling it a disgrace and a threat to jobs. Will the AFR be very quiet after Santos this morning revealed an 82% drop in profit, announced the resignation of CEO David Knox, and talked about more job and investment cuts?

Free to a loving home? There’s always someone who needs to be the funny guy, and this anonymous Gumtree poster has hit the nail on the head. This advertisement for a “Cabinet — functioning exceptionally well”, appeared on the classified website yesterday, from a seller known only as “tony”.

The description reads:

“As you can see from the picture, our cabinet is functioning exceptionally well. Pretty much ‘as-new’ condition. No damage whatsoever and no cracks beginning to show. Every part working exactly as it should be. No surprises. Keeps everything neat and tidy (the last cabinet we had was chaos!). Very modern looking. Also very sturdy — good at stopping things. Does leak from time to time. Comes with flag. Open to offers.”

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form.

Tips and rumours

Aug 5, 2015

5 comments

From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Indiwatch: Mirabella mum in Mansfield? We told you earlier in the week that ousted former member Sophie Mirabella had enjoyed some early success in the Indi electorate, winning a trivia competition on the weekend, but it’s not all going swimmingly, according to a tipster. Our spy told us that at a recent “meet the pollie” event in Mansfield, Mirabella “barely said a word or answered questions from Liberal supporters”.

“Only 14 turned up to meet her and [Liberal MP] Jamie Briggs, and she was a lot more interested in her dinner than her loyal constituents,” the tipster said. Without knowing what was on the menu, Ms Tips can’t officially condemn the controversial former MP.

Victorian Young Labor conference is on. We were wrong — it turns out the Victorian Young Labor conference has not been delayed indefinitely as per yesterday’s tip but will be on this weekend. The ShortCons will be running self-described progressive candidate Will Bennett for the presidency, but it is expected that  National Union of Workers’ Josh Gilligan, mentioned in yesterday’s tip, will get up as the president due to his factional deal with the Shoppies. We hear there is likely to continue to be factional infighting despite the near-certainty that Gilligan will win the presidency.

Shannon Threlfall-Clarke is still listed as the current president of Victorian Young Labor on the Victorian Labor website, even though she tells us she stepped down at the last conference and hasn’t been involved in the movement for a year.

TV wars. Channel Seven’s declining ratings hit a low mark yesterday, with the network’s main channel coming fourth, behind the ABC. As well as replacing poorly rating reality TV shows with cat videos (no, really), rumour is Seven is looking to news to help it claw back some ground. A tipster says it’ll be adding to its local afternoon news in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne form next Monday — the plan is supposedly to air a full hour of local news in Melbourne and Sydney, and a whopping 90 minutes in Brisbane. “It’s a big shot in the TV news wars,” our tipster said.

Last year, both Seven and Nine significantly ramped up their news hours — TV news is relatively cheap content that rates. Crikey asked Seven our tip was accurate, and received a cryptic answer. “A bit off the mark, but not completely. How off the mark and how ‘completely’ will become apparent in due course.” Given our tipster said Monday maybe we might not have long to wait. Know more? Do get in touch.

Can Do can get published. After Melbourne University Press indicated it had no interest whatsoever in publishing Gavin King’s love note to/biography of his former leader, and one-term premier Campbell Newman, it looks like Connor Court Publishing has taken on Can Do‘s “incredible and often controversial story” for publication in September. We wait with bated breath.

Sterilise the poor. Speaking of Connor Court Publishing, it is also publishing Gary Johns’ upcoming tome with the no-holds-barred title of No Contraception, No Dole: Tackling intergenerational welfare. The company has helpfully published the opening sentences of the book to get readers hooked:

“This project started on 27 December 2014, after I read the horrible news that a mother had murdered seven of her children and one other child. The dead numbered three of the mother’s girls, aged 12, 11 and 2; three of her sons aged 9, 8, 6 and 5. The eighth victim, a 14-year-old niece, had been staying with them in their Cairns home. The woman had these children to different fathers. Her income came from you and me, taxpayers. Did anyone ever think to call a halt to this women being used as a cash cow?”

He has also titled chapters along the lines of “Some Australian women are cash cows” and “Blaming the poor and other trash talk”. We could probably run a “Gary Johns quote or comment from News.com.au competition” once it is released in September.

Jane Turner for Speaker. The Department of Parliamentary Services is busily uploading loads of archive footage from parliament dating back to 1991 to its video-on-demand site Parlview. We were hoping this might include some of  embattled — and now former — speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s infamous fiery performances in Senate estimates before she moved to the lower house in 1994. Unfortunately those memories have yet to be uploaded, but we did find an old sketch with Jane Turner as Bronwyn Bishop in one of those estimates hearings from many years ago.

The current archive in Parlview goes up to December 19, 1991 — the very date Paul Keating successfully challenged Bob Hawke for the top job. The good stuff is still to come, with the Keating question time episodes being uploaded over the coming months.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

crikey15

Jun 3, 2015

5 comments

Following an election, it’s become standard operating procedure for parties to invite eminent figures to review the performance of their campaigns.

The exercise is obviously of greatest interest when the campaign didn’t go according to plan, a particularly memorable case in point being federal Labor’s shambolic bid for re-election in 2010.

That led to a fine-tooth comb being run through the party’s affairs by Labor luminaries Bob Carr, Steve Bracks and John Faulkner, who offered a wide range of recommendations for reform that have mostly found their way into the too-hard basket.

More recently, a new benchmark for campaign disaster was set by the Liberal National Party in Queensland, which completed a dramatic transition from rooster to feather duster with its defeat at the state election on January 31.

With a seemingly limitless supply of blame to go around, the task of apportioning it out fell to Rob Borbidge and Joan Sheldon, who were respectively premier and deputy premier in the conservatives’ previous one-term stint in office from 1996 to 1998, and thus representative of the National and Liberal arms of the since-merged party.

The Borbidge-Sheldon report, which was published on the party website earlier this week, strains to emphasise that it’s not in the business of pointing the finger. But it’s not for no reason that media reportage has painted it as an extended critique of Campbell Newman — so much so that Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has touchingly jumped to his defence, albeit with the clear motivation of seeing that Newman’s surviving parliamentary colleagues are not let off the hook.

In sizing up the Newman government’s first and final term in office, the report offers the semi-charitable view that its failings largely flowed from “a lack of corporate history in the conduct of parliament and the party room”, owing to the unusual circumstance of “a huge influx of inexperienced new MPs”.

Of course, that influx included Newman himself, who leapt directly from the lord mayoralty of Brisbane to the premiership via his all-or-nothing assault on the Labor-held seat of Ashgrove at the 2012 election.

With Newman’s parliamentary inexperience came a naive optimism about his capacity to finesse bruising public service job cuts pursued in defiance of election campaign commitments, together with inevitably unpopular privatisation measures.

Nor will students of Newman’s style be surprised to hear him being faulted for “the alienation of key stakeholders” — not the least of which was his own party organisation. In particular, it is suggested that the government might have been dissuaded from destructive courses of action if only party committees had not been frozen out of its policymaking processes.

Newman is at least given credit for “addressing the state’s economic crisis”, which he might well see as praise for the omelette amid blame for the breaking of eggs.

But there can be little doubt that he was a tough product to market by the time of the election campaign, and that it was grand folly under the circumstances to build that campaign — at least in its early stages — around a reboot of the “can-do Campbell” act that had swept him into office three years earlier.

Borbidge and Sheldon argue that the party would have done much better to have shunted him to the sidelines in favour of a more negative approach. Relatedly, the report includes sore-loser talk about the damage inflicted by a “fierce and ruthless union-led guerrilla war”, by way of recognising that the party faced a better-mobilised opponent with a smarter social media strategy.

Curiously, no effort is made to draw comparisons with the New South Wales election two months later, at which a government that was in so many ways similarly placed to Newman’s achieved an eminently satisfactory result.

For example, it is noted that the Newman government had a “fixation” with securing a mandate for privatisation policies in its second term as a strategy to pay down debt and emphasise Labor’s profligacy. But this was equally a feature of Mike Baird’s campaign in New South Wales, notwithstanding that he sought to soften the blow by leasing rather than selling the targeted assets.

While polling made it clear that Baird’s policy was unpopular in its own right, it plainly did little to limit his electoral appeal. One could well draw the lesson a softer image leaves a leader better placed to sell a hard-edged policy.

Another distinction that passes unremarked in the Borbidge-Shelton report, perhaps out of politeness to the offending party, is the role played by the Prince Philip knighthood in torpedoing the final week of the LNP campaign.

Aggregation of federal polling records that Abbott government reached its nadir in the week after Australia Day, which perfectly coincided with the timing of the Queensland election. The federal Coalition’s two-party deficit at that time was 55-45, whereas it had recovered to around 52.5-47.5 by the time New South Wales went to the polls eight weeks later.

But perhaps the report’s most striking omission is the extraordinary circumstance of Newman’s losing battle in his seat of Ashgrove.

With all the polling from the electorate in the last week of the campaign pointing in the same direction, the LNP found itself in the position of being unable to guarantee the product it was purporting to sell, tarnished though it may have been.

For all his noted deficiencies on the policy front, Newman’s most confounding act of hubris was in seeking to defend a naturally marginal seat that had borne the brunt of his government’s public service cutbacks, when he could so easily have swallowed his pride and sought a safer berth elsewhere.

crikey15

Mar 20, 2015

5 comments

One of the virtues claimed for federalism, by those who care to defend it, is the role it plays in stimulating policy innovation, with ideas that prove successful in one jurisdiction readily catching on among the others.

So it’s worth noting, as the federal Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters grinds through the final stages of its inquiry into the 2013 federal election, that significant electoral reforms have been put through their paces during the Queensland election in January, and continue to be tested in the lead-up to the News South Wales election on March 28.

Queensland’s election in January provided a trial run for voter identification laws, a matter that is now well established as one of the fiercest controversies in American politics.

In the United States especially, questions of voting procedure are intimately connected with the scope of the franchise itself. Denial of the right to vote on the basis of race was prohibited by a constitutional amendment ratified in the aftermath of the Civil War, but authorities in the Deep South found procedural means to ensure it was hardly worth the paper it was written on, up until Congress gave it teeth with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Many a liberal observer has detected echoes of the earlier state of affairs in the enthusiasm that Republican legislators have recently acquired to implement proof-of-identity requirements as strict as the courts will allow, ostensibly to tackle voting fraud.

Some states have gone so far as to require prescribed forms of photo identification — which, needless to say, are most likely to present difficulties for members of minority groups with little sympathy for the Republican cause. Nor is it any less clear that the presumed justification for such measures — that American democracy is being subverted by systematic campaigns of voter impersonation — is a conservative fantasy.

But so far as our concern is with the authentic voice of the people and what it has to say to us, opponents of voter identification face the uncomfortable fact that the established procedure, whereby polling officials take us at our word when we purport to be person X of address Y, and accept our assurances that we haven’t voted already, doesn’t sit comfortably with the public at large. While the matter has never to my knowledge been the subject of a specific opinion poll question in Australia, polling internationally leaves little room for doubt that voter identification measures would have widespread support.

So it was no surprise when the Coalition, which showed its form in relation to self-interested electoral measures after the Howard government secured its Senate majority in 2005, put the matter on the agenda after its 2013 federal election victory. What was perhaps more surprising was the moderate and sensible approach taken by Campbell Newman’s Liberal government in Queensland in placing itself at the vanguard.

As the regime operated at the January 31 election, acceptable forms of identification included utility bills, bank statements and identity letters that were posted to every enrolled voter, with the latter appearing to have been particularly useful.

Even more importantly, voters who were unable to provide identification were not, in fact, denied a vote — they were simply required to submit their ballots in a declaration envelope, so that their vote could be withheld from the count until it was confirmed that this was the only attempt made to cast a vote in their name.

In the event, “unknown identity” declaration votes accounted for only 0.6% of all votes cast, and there were few if any reports of untoward delay and confusion on polling day. To the extent that the motivation may have been to procure partisan advantage for the Liberal National Party, it evidently didn’t work very well.

Nonetheless, there seemed reason to suspect that the measure may have been conceived as the thin end of a wedge, so that more stringent measures could be introduced further down the line after a trial run appeared to establish that proof-of-identity requirements were benign in effect.

The defeat of the Newman government has put an end to that so far as Queensland is concerned, with the Annastacia Palaszczuk’s Labor government preparing to repeal the measure as one of its first acts in the new Parliament.

But it may be a different matter at federal level, particularly in light of recent comments from the new Electoral Commissioner, Tom Rogers. Speaking recently at Senate estimates, Rogers said the Queensland experiment “ran very smoothly”, and expressed greater concern about multiple voting than the Australian Electoral Commission has traditionally done in the past.

Meanwhile, New South Wales has given us a glimpse of what a more sensible regime for disclosure of political donations might look like, courtesy of legislation passed as an interim response to the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s inquiries into campaign-funding scandals.

Under its provisions, the campaign period began with publication of political donations above the $1000 disclosure threshold going back to the start of the financial year.

This compares with a federal regime in which the disclosure threshold is over 10 times as high, and donations made before the September 2013 election were kept secret from us until two months ago.

We have thus been privy to details not only of the healthy supply of corporate funding to the Liberal Party in particular, but also the bonanza yielded by Labor from the exclusion of union affiliation fees from the $5000 cap on political donations.

NSW Premier Mike Baird has recently offered “in principle” support to further reforms including immediate online disclosure of donations in the six months leading up to an election. It can only be hoped that he proves as good as his word — and that the federal Coalition follows the example by abandoning its usual instinct to limit public scrutiny of the sources of its funding.