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Daily Media Quotation

PM's Bodyblow To The Future Of The Coalition

January 31, 2006

by Malcolm Mackerras - Canberra Times

The last full week of January 2006 was marked by two acts of disgrace in Australian federal politics.

The first was the swearing in of the new Howard ministry on Friday, January 27. More on that later. The second, coming on the following day, was the publication in the opinion page of the Times of an article by Crispin Hull titled "McGauran's seat belonged to Libs in the first place".

The paper needs feel no shame. All it did was publish an article by a regular contributor and put above the article a headline accurately reflecting its substance. However, Crispin Hull should feel thoroughly ashamed of himself that he would even contemplate writing such a disreputable piece - let alone actually writing it.

In that article, Hull parades his prejudices for the umpteenth time, follows that up with some statistic mongering, and then states: "The fact is McGauran only got his Victorian Senate seat because the Coalition ran a joint ticket".

That is Hull's supposition, not a fact. The fact is McGauran was originally elected in 1987 on a separate National Party ticket. However, the Liberal Party came to its senses in 1989 and a Coalition agreement was drawn up whereby the National party would take the fourth place on the joint ticket in 1990 and the second place in 1993. And so on.

But the most important fact is that section 15 of the Constitution, in providing that a party is entitled to keep its seat when a vacancy occurs, provides as follows: "Where a vacancy has at any time occurred in the place of a senator chosen by the people of a State and, at the time when he was so chosen, he was publicly recognised by a particular political party as being an endorsed candidate of that party and publicly represented himself to be such a candidate, a person chosen under this section in consequence of that vacancy ... shall be a member of that party."

Those words were endorsed by the Australian people in 1977.

The Australian people are genuine democrats. They are not power-hungry petty party politicians like John Howard. Nor are they prejudiced commentators like Crispin Hull. Consequently, if Julian McGauran were to be run under the proverbial bus the Liberal Party would not even dare to claim that it should fill the vacancy. It would acknowledge that the seat belonged in the first place to the National Party whose nominee would fill the vacancy.

Back in 1996, Mal Colston ratted on Labor - and was recognised by every reputable commentator as a traitor to his party. Howard was so ashamed of Colston's vote he engaged in an elaborate pretence of refusing to accept his vote in the Senate.

Colston was quickly labelled "the Quisling Quasimodo from Queensland", a description very unfair to Quasimodo. McGauran should be called "the Vicious Viper from Victoria".

These traitors stand in marked contrast to Cheryl Kernot who engaged in an honourable defection. On October 30, 1997, Andrew Bartlett filled the seat resigned by Kernot who understood her moral duty in the matter. She knew the seat democratically belonged to the Democrats.

Neither Colston nor McGauran were honourable. Both ratted because they could. Both were welcomed by John Howard and Peter Costello, neither of whom have any morals. And these men are defended by Crispin Hull!

Both Colston and McGauran decided to sit in their seats with intent to damage the party which had given them the seats.

Lying within the rubbish of Hull's article there is, however, one interesting sentence. It is this: "If the Liberal Party in Victoria had any sense it would prove the point by booting the Nationals off its Senate list next election and watch the Nationals' Victorian Senate presence expire at the hands of the mainstream voters in Victoria".

Hull seems unable to understand that the Victorian Liberals have already accepted his bad advice. When, at the election after next, the Nationals ask for the 1989 agreement to be honoured the Liberals will squeal: "How dare you ask us to give one of our seats to you?" And the Liberal Party will break the agreement!

What the Victorian Liberal Party is actually doing is advertising its own immorality. No decent person could belong to such a party.

Now to John Howard. This ministerial reshuffle is an absolute disgrace, and it is easy to explain why. In one circumstance it is reasonable to change the balance of Coalition party numbers in the ministry when the party numbers change in parliament. That circumstance is when the change is the consequence of electoral competition.

It is not legitimate to change the ministerial balance when the change in the parliamentary balance comes about by the treachery of one senator.

So far, John Howard has got away with it. He has sacked De-Anne Kelly as a punishment for her loyalty to Barnaby Joyce. And a very bad "principle" has been injected into the relationship within the Coalition - for the first time at the federal level.

The only difference between Howard and Costello is that Costello is still smirking whereas Howard continues to fake his grave, serious face to make him look ever so very sincere. Howard is a much better actor than Costello.

And all sorts of commentators have been "taken in" by Howard about this so-called "arithmetic" or "mathematics" of which he speaks.

But when the history books are written, this reshuffle will not be recorded for the fact that Malcolm Turnbull and Andrew Robb were given idiotic new jobs. It will be recorded as the reshuffle when Howard and Costello destroyed themselves by placing intolerable strain upon the Coalition.


Malcolm Mackerras is Visiting Fellow in Political Science, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, the University of NSW at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

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