Lyne up for scrutiny once more

23 July 2017

 

The humble post office has changed a lot over time, like most other things.  Whereas once it might’ve been the size of a small cottage, and often standing separately from other shops, it’s nowadays much smaller and likely to be the size of other shops.  As postal services like delivery of letters and parcels have changed, the space needed for post offices to operate within has shrunk.

I can still remember where I saw post offices in numerous suburbs across Sydney many years ago.  Hardly any still look the same from back them.  I could go to plenty of suburbs and point to where I first saw post offices.  Often the buildings housing them back then are still there, but they now house other businesses.  In some cases, the post offices are still in the buildings where they’ve long been housed, but the size of the post offices are half as big as before.  The buildings now house both the post office and another business.

Perhaps the only thing about Australian post offices not to have changed over time has been the name identifying them – Australia Post.

You might wonder what Australia Post has to do with politics.  Well, in the context of Federal Parliament, where the Liberal-National Coalition governs with a majority of only one seat, it happens to have a connection.

This brings us to David Gillespie, a National who entered Federal Parliament in 2013 and is now in the Coalition ministry.  His problem relates to a shopping centre which he owns, in the Port Macquarie area in northern New South Wales.

The problem is that one of the shops within that shopping centre is an Australia Post outlet.  Because Australia Post is a governmental body, the existence of that outlet within the shopping centre means that Gillespie, as the centre owner, makes money through leasing a shop to a governmental body while also making money from his job as a politician.  This can be seen as conflict of interest.

During the past year, another politician has been found to have a conflict of interest under similar circumstances.  The politician in question was Bob Day, who resigned from the Senate months ago.  His problem surrounded his electorate office – noting that electorate offices are the places where politicians work when they don’t attend parliamentary sitting periods.  In the case of Day, his electorate office was located in a building that he owned, so he was making money through leasing an office for governmental purposes.

The trouble affecting Day has naturally led to questions about Gillespie, and whether or not he’s allowed to sit in Federal Parliament.

Because the Coalition has a majority of a single seat in the House of Representatives, it only takes one resignation or death, or change of mind, for the chamber to become deadlocked – this in turn leads to the notion of the Coalition losing the confidence of the chamber, and possibly being tipped out of office, almost this looks unlikely.

The other thing worth noting about Gillespie is that he holds the seat of Lyne, in northern NSW.  And he won that seat in 2013, upon the retirement of Independent MP Rob Oakeshott.

The mention of Oakeshott makes the Nationals – and many Coalition MPs – go cold, because he was among several Independents who held the balance of power in Federal Parliament from 2010 to 2013, and chose to enable the Labor Party to govern, despite the unpopularity of Labor nationwide and the fact that seats like Lyne tend to favour the Coalition more than Labor.

The balance of power put much attention on Lyne, and Oakeshott’s decision to support Labor caused much anger across the area.

If Oakeshott hadn’t retired, he’d almost certainly have lost his seat to the Nationals.

To be fair, Lyne is very safe for the Nationals in a contest against Labor.  Only an Independent like Oakeshott could trouble the Nationals.  But the experience of 2010-2013 could probably scare voters in Lyne out of electing another Independent, and for some time at that.  However, because of this problem surrounding a politician and a post office, we might be kept posted or in line for any updates – if you’ll pardon the puns!

The closeness of the Coalition’s majority in Federal Parliament puts Lyne up for scrutiny once more, after news having emerged of Gillespie’s trouble.  The Coalition would probably win a by-election if Gillespie had to quit Parliament, but this just makes the majority even more vulnerable.

 

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Joyless memories for Coalition MPs

14 July 2017

 

Hardly any Liberal-National Coalition MPs would have the best of memories at this time, given what they’ve been through.

Actually, this sentiment doesn’t apply only to this month marking one year since a very narrow win in a Federal election – it could also apply to a Federal election that possibly got away from the Coalition around this time thirty years ago, in July 1987.

Back then, Bob Hawke had been Prime Minister for four years, having led the Labor Party to an election win in March 1983, just a month after he’d obtained the Labor leadership.  Although he’d long been immensely popular across Australia both before and during his time as PM, his popularity was dropping off to some extent when he called that 1987 election.

Facing him in that election was John Howard, who’d accidentally become leader of the Liberal Party – and also the Coalition Opposition – about two years earlier.  His rise to the leadership was accidental because of ridiculous circumstances.  Before then, he’d been deputy leader, under the popular Andrew Peacock, but because he was seen as a better performer in Parliament than Peacock and having stronger convictions on many issues, Peacock became flustered, to the point where he tried to persuade the Liberals to vote in a different person as deputy leader – this attempt failed, and he resigned as leader.  Howard then became leader, but lots of Liberals didn’t like how he got there.

Despite being virtually a stone’s throw away from becoming PM, Howard didn’t seem as good as Opposition Leader as he’d been a just an Opposition frontbencher.

Worse for Howard, Queensland Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen saw fit to campaign for the job of PM, being keen to see Labor lose office but severely doubting that the Coalition could win under Howard.  The Queensland Premier, a National, was having delusions of grandeur, but had strong support from some quarters, although ultimately nobody was really interested in running for his mob at the Federal election.  When the election came, he’d done nothing more than split the Coalition, with the Nationals leaving the Liberals.

To be fair, even if the Coalition hadn’t split, most people don’t believe that it would’ve beaten Labor in that 1987 election, because the Liberals had problems over policy as well as some of their own infighting.  Labor ended up increasing its majority at the election, while the Coalition parties came back together.

History shows that Howard lost the Liberal leadership two years after that election, and then won it nearly six years later.  He won an election and became Prime Minister in 1996, and governed for eleven years before losing office at an election in 2007.

Led in 2007 by Kevin Rudd, Labor defeated the Coalition comfortably.  But Labor lost its majority at an election three years later, in 2010, and could only govern with the support of crossbench MPs.  By then, Labor MPs had dumped Rudd in a surprise leadership coup, with Julia Gillard taking over.

Tony Abbott had led the Coalition to that 2010 election, and after failing to convince the crossbenchers to support him instead of Gillard, he spent three years trying anything and everything to bring on a new election.  He’d made his name as an attack dog in Parliament during his time as a minister in the Howard Government.  As Opposition Leader, he was constantly attacking and opposing, with constant negativity.

While Labor had problems over policy and governance, it was largely consumed with infighting, as Rudd kept trying to regain the leadership that he’d lost to Gillard so suddenly.  He got it back in June 2013, but lost an election just months later, and Abbott became PM, winning a healthy majority.

But Abbott had never been popular with voters, and even as PM, he still seemed to behave like an attack dog, which voters hated.  He was totally incapable of taking voters with him, as far as policy and other issues went.  Less than two years after he became PM, there was an attempt to dump him from the leadership, with a large proportion of Liberal MPs – but not a majority – wanting him out.  The numbers weren’t quite there to dump him then, but months later, in September 2015, Malcolm Turnbull challenged him for the leadership, and beat him.

After initially seeming very popular among voters as PM, Turnbull saw his popularity suddenly drop off.  His problem was that he’d long been known as a man with principles, but he couldn’t act upon them because so many Liberals disagreed with them – some more strongly than others.  Somehow, the PM looked fake.

Frustrated with an inability to get support for key policies and pieces of legislation, Turnbull saw fit to call an election in July 2016.  And he almost lost.  In the end, the Coalition came away with a two-seat majority over Labor and various crossbenchers.

At this point, a swing of around 0.7 per cent to Labor will cost the Coalition its majority, although the presence of the crossbenchers – five in all – means that Labor needs a bigger swing to win an election outright.

The close result of the last election, a year ago this month, comes amid joyless memories at this time for Coalition MPs.  Polls now point to defeat at the next election.  How they respond will keep many observers interested.