Ruddock shown the exit door for no good reason

15 February 2016


The Liberals have pushed Philip Ruddock out of Federal Parliament.  I don’t believe otherwise.  Ruddock himself might deny it, but there’s too much evidence to suggest that he’s been pushed into retiring from politics.

It’s by no means uncommon for MPs to call time on their political careers, at their own free will, when elections aren’t far away.  But I doubt that this has been the case with Ruddock, who was elected to Parliament before I was even born.

With the next Federal election long predicted to be happening during this year, my feeling is that if Ruddock really had felt like retiring, he’d have announced his retirement a least a year ago.  That said, the timing of his announcement of retirement, likely to be months out from the election, probably shouldn’t be an issue in itself.  But over recent months there’s been speculation that if some Liberal MPs, especially older ones, didn’t choose to retire, they’d face challenges to their preselection, meaning their positions as Liberal candidates for elections.  And Ruddock’s been among those Liberals thought to be under the gun.  When you couple this speculation of a push against older Liberals with the timing of Ruddock’s retirement announcement, his retirement doesn’t look to be on his terms.

While no MP stays around forever, Ruddock looks to have been shown the exit door from Parliament, and for no good reason.  It’s true that he’s now aged in his seventies, but age alone shouldn’t be an excuse to show any MP the door.  Given the length of service given by Ruddock to the Liberal Party, and the regard in which many Liberals hold many things that he’s done throughout his service, he really deserved to be free to depart at a time of his choosing.

Ruddock has been in Parliament for more than forty-two years.  He was elected to the seat of Parramatta, in western Sydney, at a by-election in 1973.  In 1977 he switched to a new seat nearby, called Dundas, and he held it until 1993, when it was abolished.  From there he switched to the seat of Berowra, in northern Sydney, where he’s been ever since.

When the Liberal-National Coalition won office in 1996, after thirteen years out of office, Ruddock became Immigration Minister, and he held that post for a number of years.  It was during his time there, in 2001, that immigration suddenly became a hot political issue, particularly the question of people trying to sail to Australia on leaky boats from countries to the north, often after paying people smugglers to put them on boats, and how the Coalition sought to stop the arrival of these “boat people”.  A quietly-spoken person, Ruddock himself wasn’t overly vocal during the intense debate over this issue, but he was firm in arguing the Coalition Government’s case.  Indeed when a Federal election came later that year, Ruddock drew massive applause from the Coalition’s faithful supporters during Coalition campaigning when Prime Minister John Howard mentioned him – the cheers among the Coalition faithful were arguably as great for Ruddock as they were for Howard.  Amid this environment came a memorable “we will decide who comes to this country” declaration from Howard, with people remembering it, regardless of whether they agreed or not.

Because the Coalition’s policies succeeded in stopping the arrival of boat people, many Liberals came to hold Ruddock in high regard.  After the Coalition lost office to the Labor Party in 2007, Labor reversed the Coalition’s policies, and boat people started coming again, so it was unsurprising that the Coalition restored its policies when it returned to office in 2013, with boat arrivals subsequently stopping again.  Of course, the immigration debate in 2001 upset lots of people around the country, and some Liberal MPs felt that the Coalition was too harsh – this is why I deliberately say that “many” Liberals, rather than all, regard Ruddock highly.

Having been in Parliament for so long, Ruddock has seen the Coalition’s fortunes change over time.  In late 1972, a year before Ruddock’s arrival, the Coalition parties lost office for the first time in decades, and they seemed to regard their loss as illegitimate.  Ruddock therefore would’ve watched them fight ruthlessly to return to office in 1975, seem to dither until losing office in 1983, go through years of interal warfare over leadership, lose another four elections, return to office in 1996, survive a few close elections, lose office in 2007 after appearing stale, almost win in 2010, and fight ruthlessly until returning to office in 2013.  He’d have also watched his political opponents go through highs and lows, and watched Australia go through both economic boom times and recessions.

I dare say that Ruddock has many interesting stories to tell about events in Parliament during his time there, which public mightn’t already know.  He might’ve seen coming what political events might’ve surprised us all when they happened.  Hopefully he’ll have passed on his wealth of knowledge and insight for the Liberals in particular to remember.

Sadly the wrong reasoning looks to have seen Ruddock depart.  Of course, many people will miss him, and many will be glad to see the back of him.  But he really deserved to depart on his terms after almost forty-three years in Parliament.  Few like him last as long as that.



Big states developing electoral hit lists

17 January 2016


Hardly any Australian needs reminding that a Federal election will happen during the course of this year.  Based on the results of the last election, in 2013, it looks like the Australian Labor Party needs a swing of about 4.3 per cent to defeat the Liberal-National Coalition Government.  But the size of the needed swing could potentially change, depending on how electoral redistributions pan out in a few states.

A redistribution means a redrawing of boundaries of electorates within a given state or territory, to reflect population changes.  Naturally, the population grows in some areas and declines in others over time.  Therefore, a redistribution is necessary to give each electorate, or parliamentary seat, as near as possible to the same number of voters.  These redistributions usually happen every 5-10 years or so, but not necessarily in every state or territory at the same time.

Since the 2013 election, electoral redistributions have occurred in a few states, as well as in the Australian Capital Territory.  At the moment, these are yet to be finalised, but it looks as though the number of seats in New South Wales will fall from 48 to 47, and the number in Western Australia will rise from 15 to 16.

The redistribution in NSW looks like including a new seat named after the late Gough Whitlam, who was Prime Minister in the 1970s.  Seats are duly created for every former PM after death, when the opportunity arises.  This honour has yet to come for Whitlam, who died in late 2014.  And it’ll come in due course for another former PM, Malcolm Fraser, who died only a few months after Whitlam died.  These honours will be in NSW for Whitlam and Victoria for Fraser, because their seats were in those respective states.

These honours won’t apply to their successors until after they’ve passed away.  This is why there aren’t yet seats named after Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, or Tony Abbott.  But they’ll come in due course.  I note that Hawke and Gillard held seats in Victoria, Rudd held a seat in Queensland, and the rest were in NSW.

However, the hard part for future electoral redistributions might be the question of which seats should be abolished, especially after any former PM passes away.  This is certainly the case in NSW, which has seen its number of seats fall from 51 a few decades ago to 48 now, due to population shifts over time.  If the voting population in NSW shifts to the point where the number of seats has to fall, there might be arguments over which seats to abolish.  Victoria might have a similar problem, as its number of seats has fallen from 39 to 37 over the last few decades.

Most seats in Federal Parliament, specifically in the House of Representatives, are named after significant people or localities.  Mind you, I’m not sure how many Australians know what made famous most of the individuals after whom seats are named.

When electoral redistributions happen, efforts are usually made to preserve seats which have existed since 1901, when Parliament first opened.  They’re also made to preserve any seat named after a former PM.

NSW has many seats set to be preserved in any future redistribution for the reasons noted above.  Existing continuously since 1901 are Cowper, Eden-Monaro, Hume, Hunter, Macquarie, New England, Newcastle, North Sydney, Parramatta, Richmond, Robertson, Wentworth, and Werriwa.  The seats of Barton, Chifley, Hughes, McMahon, Page, Reid, and Watson are named after men who served as PM.  There are 20 seats in all.  I’d add the seats of Riverina and Cook to this tally – Riverina was created in 1901 and abolished in 1984 and restored in some form in 1993, but during its non-existence there was a seat named Riverina-Darling, and indeed MP Noel Hicks held Riverina when it was abolished before holding Riverina-Darling and then Riverina again, while Cook is actually named after a great explorer whose surname is shared with a former PM.

The other seats are named after artists, explorers, pioneers, writers, or other people of note.  There are also some seats named after localities.  In due course, some of these seats will have to be abolished.  But there’ll be some public resistance to their abolition.

I remember a campaign against the abolition of the rural seat of Gwydir ahead of an election in 2007, as Gwydir had existed since 1901, but it had experienced significant population decline.  I also remember some resistance to the abolition of the suburban seat of Lowe, named after an individual, ahead of an election in 2010.  Both seats were ultimately abolished, but some people remained attached to them.

There might be a chance of the big states developing electoral hit lists, as some seats will be abolished amid population shifts.  From time to time, such seats simply have to go.

Bizarre rise to political leadership

24 October 2015

Last month marked thirty years since a bizarre event took place in politics.  Even if you’re conditioned to expect the unexpected in politics, I doubt that anybody would’ve confidently predicted what happened in Canberra in early September 1985.

How often does a man start a day as the deputy leader of a political party, theoretically one step away from being a rooster, and wonder if by day’s end he’ll be a feather duster as a mere MP on the party’s backbench, only to end up actually the leader of the party and hence a rooster?

Well, this was what happened to John Howard in September 1985.  Arguably by accident, he became leader of the Liberal Party, for the first of two stints in the job, the second of which included his election as Prime Minister in a big election win in 1996 and more than a decade on top.

Howard had run for the Liberal leadership after the Liberals lost office in 1983, with defeated Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser calling it quits in the aftermath, but Andrew Peacock beat Howard to the leadership.  Both Peacock and Howard had been senior ministers under Fraser, the former holding several different portfolios in the Fraser Government and the latter being Treasurer for all but the first two years of it.  Peacock was considered the more popular of the two among Liberal MPs, but Howard was thought to be stronger on advocating policy.

In late 1984, less than two years after leading the Labor Party to its first Federal election win since 1974, Prime Minister Bob Hawke saw fit to call a snap election.  Despite Hawke’s immense popularity, Peacock reduced his parliamentary majority a fair bit in that election.  Afterwards, Peacock was unsurprisingly elected as Liberal leader again.  But Howard publicly declined to rule out challenging Peacock for the leadership in future, which unsettled Peacock to some degree.  Howard presumably decided that Liberal MPs clearly preferred Peacock to him, and that he should just concentrate on doing his job as both a shadow minister and as deputy leader of the Liberals, to which he’d been elected.

During the period from late 1984 until September 1985, Howard came across as a better parliamentary performer than Peacock, who was considered all-style-no-substance.  Peacock subsequently became flustered and was convinced that Howard was undermining him, although Howard was never apparently doing any such thing.  In the end, Peacock sought a change of deputy leadership, but nobody was really interested in taking on Howard.  A challenger was subsequently found, namely former minister John Moore, who ran reluctantly.

When a vote was held for the deputy leadership, Howard was probably wondering if he’d still have the job by day’s end.  But he ended up winning the vote over Moore.  Peacock was therefore humiliated, and he resigned as leader, with Howard becoming the new leader in the aftermath.

Howard’s accidental rise to the Liberal leadership that day must surely rate as a bizarre rise to political leadership if ever you could describe one.

Interestingly, soon after Howard had become Liberal leader, he and his supporters held a celebratory meeting, during which his wife proclaimed that their next destination, so to speak, would be The Lodge, namely the official residence of the Prime Minister in Canberra.  But history shows eleven years passing before they got there.

In that eleven-year period, Howard would go through rough times which might’ve broken the back of countless other politicians.  He’d go on to lose an election to Hawke in 1987, lose the Liberal leadership to Peacock in a surprise coup in 1989, live through election losses in 1990 and 1993, and ultimately return to the Liberal leadership in 1995, ten years after first obtaining it and only after Liberal MPs reluctantly decided that only he could bring them back to office.  Howard sensed that he’d never been as popular among Liberals as Peacock was, and his accidental rise to the leadership in 1985 didn’t really endear him to them, for years after the event.

As a final point, when Howard finally made it to The Lodge upon his election as Prime Minister in 1996, he seldom lived there.  He preferred to base himself at Kirribilli House, the Sydney residence of the Prime Minister, which happened to be close to his northern Sydney home base, and also because he regarded Sydney as more important than the national capital in terms of business affairs.

History shows Howard going through a rocky road in politics, as many political leaders would’ve endured.  But his first stint as Liberal leader, putting him a stone’s throw from the top job in the country, came about after a bizarre political event.  Few stories of would-be roosters avoiding becoming would-be feather dusters could match what Howard went through back in September 1985.

Origins of an election tragic

Warren Grzic

26 July 2014


How does one become an election tragic?  I suspect that it comes from stumbling upon something relating to an election, such as a report or something in a newspaper, and then looking it over.  And then looking it over once more – at this point, one becomes fascinated and wants to know more.  But no matter how much one reads and researches, the only missing thing is an outlet to spell out the knowledge that one acquires.  This applies to me when it comes to elections, and is how I became an election tragic.

Early in 1998, while browsing newspapers in a library, I stumbled across something in the AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW.  It was an electoral pendulum – a graphic with a tubed shaped down the middle and names down either side.  The names were of seats in the House of Representatives, the Lower House of the Australian Parliament, where governments are formed – on the other hand the Senate, the Upper House of Parliament, just covers each Australian state and territory as a whole.  On this pendulum, Government-held seats were listed to one side of the tube, and Opposition-held seats were listed to the other side.  Next to each seat was a number, showing the margin by which either the Government or the Opposition held it, and therefore the swing needed for the seat to change hands.  Obviously, smaller numbers meant marginal seats, which could therefore change hands more easily.  I just became fascinated in this, so I spent a bit of my spare time researching what parts of Australia each seat covered.  And it basically took off from there!

My interest in politics and elections at this point had been somewhat fleeting.  But I remembered a few elections past.

I remembered Bob Hawke becoming Prime Minister after leading the Australian Labor Party to victory at an election in 1983.  Hawke was considered a immensely popular figure, and would go on to win several elections as Prime Minister.  His last win was in 1990, and later on he lost the Labor leadership to Paul Keating, who’d been Treasurer in the Hawke Government for all but the last few months of it.  Keating was very unpopular as Prime Minister, but he managed to win an election in 1993.  In 1996, Keating lost an election to a teaming of the Liberal Party and the National Party, known as the Coalition, with John Howard leading it.

That 1996 election saw the emergence of a political figure of some notoriety, named Pauline Hanson.  She was a Liberal candidate in a Labor seat that the Liberals weren’t expected to win, when suddenly she made news headlines with criticism of Aboriginal people that was portrayed in the mainstream media as racist.  The Liberals disendorsed her, but incredibly, she won the seat.  She went on to become immensely popular, and formed the One Nation Party.  But she was widely portrayed as racist because of criticisms of Aborigines and Asians.

Two years later, by which time I’d come across that pendulum that kicked off my interest in elections, there came a state election in Queensland, from whence Hanson came.  This election saw the ONP win a large slice of the statewide vote and numerous seats in the Queensland Parliament, which shocked all and sundry.  This was fascinating to me – how could a party perceived as racist win so many votes?  As such, I researched more and more, and just kept researching.

Months after the Queensland election, there came a Federal election, which Howard narrowly won.  The following year saw a state election in New South Wales, and then a state election in Victoria.  By now, I was hooked on elections!

Since then, I’ve researched all sorts of things relating to elections, and watched governments fall and survive countless elections.  And having studied how voters have behaved at election time, the current circus of minor parties in Federal Parliament in particular doesn’t surprise me at all.

Over time, this election tragic will have more stories to share and enlighten you all with.