Please tell me they’re not listening?

I bet John Howard is hoping political scientist John Wanna is correct in his surmise that the undecided voters aren’t listening yet. Because if they were paying attention to the incoherent gibberish Howard and Downer are spouting about pre-emptive anti-terrorist strikes on neighbouring countries, they’d be drawing some conclusions that the Coalition wouldn’t like at all. Lucky Bambang Yudhoyono’s attention is elsewhere right now.

And maybe some of the punters are drawing those conclusions judging by the latest Newspoll and Morgan poll. I can’t understand how they both managed to arrive at the same point from opposite directions, one showing Labor’s support up by 1.5% and the other down by a similar margin. But maybe it doesn’t matter. The fact is that they both converge on a lead of around 5 points for Labor, enough to suggest it’s not just an artefact of error margins. Not a bad place to be at this stage of the campaign. I feel a bit less pessimistic now than I did a couple of days ago.

PS – It really is beginning to look like the Coalition has lost the plot, as Independent MP Tony Windsor’s allegations indicate. This is exactly the sort of “corruption” that led to Nick Greiner’s downfall as NSW Premier some years ago. Whether it actually should be classed as corruption is another question, but they certainly should have known better if they really did do it (and there’s no obvious reason why Windsor would lie). The facts as alleged certainly seem to bring the conduct within the scope of section 326 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act (bribery).

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2021 years ago

On this, I agree with Howard. If Tony Windsor was offered a diplomatic post by someone from a political party, let’s hear who it was. By midday today he was running backwards over sand away from it – ” I’m absolutely certain that the PM wouldn’t have authorised it, people get carried away, etc etc.” Here’s my take: Tony was pissed, so was the other bloke. I think it’s Tony who got carried away. Lets hope he’s helping the Federal Police with their enquiries.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Geoff

Windsor said on the TV news that he’d tell the appropriate authorities (i.e. the Federal Police) the name of the person who approached him. That’s very wise, because that sort of disclosure is protected from defamation action by qualified privilege. If he’d revealed the name publicly as John Anderson reckoned he should (rather than to the appropriate authorities), that person would have slapped a writ on him within minutes (as Howard and Anderson know very well). It remains very likely that Windsor’s allegation won’t be able to be corroborated. It was stupid to approach him at all (if they did), but it would be unimaginably more idiotic to have done it in front of witnesses or leave any other form of corroborating evidence. But my gut feeling is that it probably happened, and was probably a serious approach.

C.L.
C.L.
2021 years ago

Come off it Ken.

Clearly, Windsor is a goose. What was the diplomatic post – Groote Eylandt?

Sounds to me like he getting wound up – and alcohol has been mentioned.

Now, what about Tammany Mark’s corruption?

C.L.
C.L.
2021 years ago

erratum: “…he [was] getting wound up.”

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2021 years ago

Oh please! “Tony mate, we’d like to offer you the embassy in Madrid. When the inevitable media storm breaks over “popular New England independent MP resigns to accept diplomatic posting offer from the Coalition” we’ll just say that you were the best bloke for the job etc.” I mean, as a politically saleable scenario, it doesn’t rate. How stupid do you think these people actually are Ken?

I agree with CL. A pissed conversation that Tony thought would be useful when spun against New England Nats has got a little out of hand.

yarraside
yarraside
2021 years ago

Ken,

Anderson’s line – to the effect “we don’t think Tony Windsor is fit to represent the people of New England. Why would we think him fit to represent the people of Australia?” – summed it up nicely.

It makes more sense than anything else spouted in this story.

You also suggest there is no obvious reason Windsor would lie. How about the mountains of free publicity he has just ‘earned’ for himself which, as an independent without a party behind him, he could never afford to pay for?

Not a bad strategy – make up a dodgy claim that cannot be disproved that makes your main rival look corrupt and thuggish, generate a huge amount of free publicity for yourself and sit back and count the votes.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Yarraside, Geoff and C.L. – how many useless fools, superannuated hacks and drunks have we sent overseas to represent Australia – Vince Gair, John Herron, Brian Burke, Michael Baume, Andrew Peacock (who mainly saw the US embassy as a socialising opportunity), etc. etc. In Queensland politics, Beattie got rid of an embarrassing Minister, Bob Gibbs, by appointing him to a 250k a year gig as Trade Commissioner in LA. The Howard government got into trouble with Herron – seeking agreement from the Canadian gov’t while he was still denying he was leaving parliament, and withdrawing the nomination when it became public – later he departed to Ireland and the Holy See. I suspect Tony Windsor would do better than a lot of these characters. I agree with Ken – it’s highly plausible if difficult to prove. Don’t underestimate what the Nats would do to get a seat like New England back.

yarraside
yarraside
2021 years ago

Mark,

I understand that Windsor is just detested by the Nats – nobody is more detested in politics than a rat, and Windsor as a former National Party member is regarded as just that.

So even if there was a prospect of Windsor accepting an offer of a diplomatic posting (highly unlikely), it is just about inconceivable that the Nationals would support an offer of a plum post to someone like Tony Windsor – for them, it would be the domestic political equivalent of negotiating with terrorists.

As much as it makes a good story, the facts just don’t stack up on this one.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Thanks Mark. Exactly what I would have said if I’d been home to respond.

Now, who do you reckon might have made the approach? Someone on another blog was suggesting Downer. I don’t think so. Even though I think it’s so risky as to be stupid, you could see why the Nats would be tempted to try to get Windsor’s seat back (as Mark said). But they’d know an approach was risky, so they wouldn’t directly expose a senior Cabinet Minister, unless the initial approach was favourably received. They would choose someone who Windsor would believe might well have the government’s informal imprimatur, but who was also expendable and plausibly deniable. I reckon someone like Larry Anthony, or maybe even Heffernan. Any other guesses?

C.L.
C.L.
2021 years ago

Sir Les Patterson?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Thanks CL. Always good for a belly laugh if nothing else.

Don Wigan
Don Wigan
2021 years ago

Windsor’s integrity is regarded quite highly, I believe. It is possible as CL and Geoff suggest that it was just a bit of loose booze talk.

And I keep thinking of that former NSW South Coast Independent (John Hatton?). He did admit off the record that he first raised a row about police corruption purely to get publicity as a low-budget MP. It took off and the stories started coming to him. Mind you there was always plenty to work with.

I’m sure this was not attention-grabbing but it makes you think.

Whatever, it certainly took the wind out of the sails of the Liverpool Swiftboat Vets.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Windsor holds New England by 8.3%, and held the state equivalent for a decade before going federal. See Antony Green’s profile. I haven’t heard anyone suggest that this seat is even slightly at risk or that Windsor will have any difficulty retaining it. That makes it highly unlikely that he would do something silly and desperate to garner publicity. He has no need to do so. John Hatton, on the other hand, held the NSW state seat of South Coast on a very thin margin at some stages. The idea that Windsor has any electoral motivation to beat up this sort of allegation just isn’t credible.

Moreover, I have first-hand knowledge of the propensity of political parties to try to buy off opponents they think mght be susceptible to such approaches. It’s considerably more common than you might think. It wasn’t for no reason that Richo called his book “whatever it takes”. Politics is an amoral and fiercely pragmatic occupation. If a party thinks it might be able to win back a seat the easy way, it will give it a go. If you think otherwise you’re naive.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

There was a famous case in Queensland in the 20s when Labor held government by one seat and the Tories tried to bribe a Labor MP to cross the floor. In the days before tape recordings, he had a cop hiding behind a door in his Parliamentary office while the attempted bribe took place!

Robert
2021 years ago

Whether it actually should be classed as corruption is another question

I’m interested in your answer, Ken.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2021 years ago

” The idea that Windsor has any electoral motivation to beat up this sort of allegation just isn’t credible.”

Um. Let me see….there’s an election on? It gives him free publicity – the stalwart independent assailed by the corrupt party machines? The timing should offer a hint. He claims the approach was made months ago but he’s only just revealed it. What looks likely is that his allegation will prove hard to prove or disprove unless there are witnesses to who said what to who and in what context. I’m picking there won’t be. It’ll run to at least October 9. Whatever it takes indeed :)

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2021 years ago

“I reckon someone like Larry Anthony, or maybe even Heffernan. Any other guesses?”

Windsor has already publicly stated that the person who approached him wasn’t in parliament.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Whether it actually should be classed as corruption is another question

I have mixed feelings about it, Robert. First, offering a politician inducements by way of a cushy job to vacate his seat is generally going to be very difficult to prosecute successfully. If the offeror is sensible, there will be no evidence or witnesses; it will be one person’s word against another. And if the offeree is amenable to the offer, there will be no actionable complaint at all.

It’s always been a tacitly accepted method of easing out a useless time-server in one’s own party, and doing that should usually be relatively free of risk of prosecution (although that didn’t prove to be the case for Nick Greiner). Employing it with an Independent or minor party member is much riskier. It could easily have blown up in the face of the Whitlam government with DLP Senator Vince Gair, for instance, had he not been amenable to the offer. But even then, there is no criminal offence in offering someone an ambassadorship (or whatever). The offence lies in offering it in exchange for resigning one’s seat. But of course resigning one’s seat follows necessarily from accepting the offer. So all an offeror needs to do to avoid committing an offence is make the offer without explicitly linking it to leaving the seat. That is what makes it a fairly absurd offence.

And in one sense it’s a victimless crime. I suppose you can say that the public is the victim, because the local electorate gets deprived of the MP of its choice, and the general community gets an ambassador (or whatever) who isn’t an optimal candidate. But if the MP is sufficiently disinterested in continuing to serve as to be amenable to the offer, then he probably isn’t that great a loss anyway, and there’s plenty of fairly ordinary ambassadors.

Finally, easing out useless time serving MPs is necessary to a healthy democracy. It’s relatively easy to massage a safe electorate sufficiently effectively to ensure you’ll keep winning, and then sit around in backbench anonymity doing as little as possible until you accumulate a nice juicy super payout. No party can afford to have too many of those sorts of members cluttering up the Parliament and denying any viable avenue to bring in new potential ministerial talent. So offering inducements to dead wood by way of a sinecure might be regarded as democratically desirable.

On the other hand, it’s an option available only to the party in government, and further magnifies the advantages of incumbency, especially where the government is in power for a long time. It gets to engineer generational renewal, while the long-time Opposition is stuck with a stale, increasingly disinterested rabble who’d rather get out if they could. That was very much the situation of the Coalition at various stages of the Hawke and Keating governments, and no doubt of the ALP through quite a few of the Menzies years.

On balance, I think it’s probably worth keeping the offence on the books, if only to deter really crass exercises like offering MPs large bags of cash to walk away. And if we made the practice completely risk-free, we might see more politicians cynically using winning a seat as little more than a lever into a cushy post-politics career. That is arguably already a phenomenon to a greater extent than we might prefer (e.g. Michael Wooldridge).

dgj
dgj
2021 years ago

Ken I was going to rebuke you for misuse of “disinterested”, but dictionary.com says I can’t:

Usage Note: In traditional usage, disinterested can only mean “having no stake in an outcome,”

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2021 years ago

The “buying off” of people into cushy numbers is hardly limited to political parties and seat pre-selection is it?

I remember my elderly father saying that in His Day “Mediocre, useless, tenured professors that needed getting rid of were offered the job of Vice Chancellor with an extra 300 quid as a sweetener”. A professor present assured him it is still the case but that it is now a fuck sight more than 300 quid extra.

And then there are the sort of payouts failing business leaders receive.

David Tiley
2021 years ago

I heard Windsor raising the thing on the radio. If I remember rightly, as I dodged the Melbourne traffic (one fine day and we go berserk) I think he said it was made indirectly by intermediaries. And thus did not lead back to the Nats.

I imagine the office need not be very high profile. Something agricultural and nicely paid, suited to his expertise. Places like the Irish embassy are much too obvious and not worth the raspberries for any party.

It is also possible these middle persons were just having a lend. And he took it seriously for his own political advantage.

John Dunlop
John Dunlop
2021 years ago

True, they might have been having a lend. It’s a good cover story if they got caught out. I’m with Tony on this one.