One has to wonder what is being fixed in the latest moves by the Prime Minister, Julian Gillard. In government by a dodgy thread she has been taken steps to arrest the damage.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, arranged by the Prime Minister it what was argued to be at the time a master political stroke, she promoted Peter Slipper to the position of Speaker, a plumb job with a good salary. In the wake of the controversy surrounding his cab charge dockets (I gather these amount to around $950 a week) and a civil matter relating to sexual harassment in the workplace, he has been asked not to resume the speakers chair until these matter are resolved, and so the Deputy Speaker will take the chair. In the meantime he continues to drawer the speakers salary, a mere $950 a day and will no doubt continue to wrack up the cab charge dockets.
He is afforded the presumption of innocence as is customary in our society – if not in the media and public opinion. He no doubt will resume his seat, now on the cross benches, and one presumes he will continue to support the Government rather than bring it down.
Clearly the liberals had had enough of Peter Slipper some time back, however it seems he has been very difficult to remove from the seat of Fisher he holds. It would seem as best I can ascertain this is due in part to the Old Guard in Queensland, and connection he has with Sir Johannes “Joh” Bjelke-Petersen, sometime premier of Queensland, I think he was/is married to a daughter or other close relative.
In moving Slipper to the Cross Benches and using the Deputy Speaker to hold the chair, the voting position of the house remains toe same so long as Slipper behaves – at least in a voting sense.
Another long story, having been accused of using union funds for an election campaign, and for other purposes which the newspapers describe as escort services, the matter has undergone 4 years of investigation, much of it under some kind of ‘cone of silence’ and the details of report have not been made public, though there is a suggestion that there were 181 breaches identified, and the matter was referred to the DPP who has criticised the report as not being a brief of evidence, so the matter is likely to drag on for another ‘x’ long where ‘x’ is the distance to the next election plus 14 days.
Craig Thompson is the member for Dobel, can now say, there is no evidence, only allegations. The DPP, I guess, backs him up on that. The Old Scottish judgement of not proven was always somewhat less arrogant than our option of guilty or not guilty. Until recently Craig Thompson enjoyed the full support of his Prime Minister. Many Australian read that as meaning that the Prime Minister needed to full support of Craig Thompson to remain in office.
Craig Thompson looks unlikely to retain Labor Pre selection for Dobel and the Labor party looks unlikely to retain the seat of Dobel. A bi-election would be a catastrophe for the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister has now asked the Labor Party to suspend Craig Thompson’s membership while these matters are resolved. I believe that in Moving Craig Thompson to the Cross Benches the Prime Minister can be reasonably comfortable that will not change the voting outcomes.
So What Then
The two moves here are effectively to try and take the sting out criticism of a Government that relies on a thread line majority. On the one hand Julia Gillard has maintained the presumption of innocence, whilst generating a little, but not to much distance. This of course may be political brilliance, or it may just be hanging on to power at any cost – aka business as usual in the term of the current parliament.
On the cross benches are a number of people the government needs to be nice to, but not too nice. Andrew Wilkie learned that the Prime Minister is in favour of Pokie Reform until it is safe to ditch it, Rob Oakshott would no doubt like to think he could be the Speaker (just don’t let him have the microphone again), and one suspects that Tony Windsor will only bend so far (yes the NBN has made it to Armidale). Bob Kater sits effectively in opposition benches and Adam Bandt sits effectively on the Government bench. In the short term adding Slipper and Thompson to the Cross Benches will have no effect, however it does place seven there, and politics can make for some strange alliances.
Effectively nothing has been fixed, the deck chairs have been re-arranged on the Titanic, however increasingly we look for when the iceberg will strike. In all but the safest of Labor seats a bi-election is a ticket to a general election, and a General Election is most likely the end of Labour Government. This is yet to be played out. It is a shame that there are members of the house who seem to get confused on issues that many of us find seemingly straightforward.
The imagery of the light on the hill has been a trademark motif for the Labour party since it was uttered by Ben Chiefly in 1949
I try to think of the Labor movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody’s pocket, or making somebody Prime Minister or Premier, but as a movement bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people. We have a great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand. If it were not for that, the Labor movement would not be worth fighting for.
I suspect every Labor Leader since Chiefly has referenced the phrase directly or indirectly. It may seem to you that it is a long way divorced from the matters discussed here, and it is. If the Labor Party can not reconnect with the people, if the Labor Party can not regain it’s integrity, If the Labor Part cannot abandon it’s addiction to spin, one fears that the light on the hill, flickering as it is, will be covered by a green moss and go out. And I don’t mean out of office, I mean out of existence.