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The Shaw crisis: Denis Napthine's past failures come home to roost

Date

Ken Coghill

Had the Premier stuck to his anti-corruption promises, he wouldn't be in the mess he's in now.

 

The Victorian Coalition’s failure to implement its promised rigorous anti-corruption measures has come back to bite it.  Denis Napthine’s government crisis has escalated to become Victoria’s constitutional crisis.

Underlying this crisis is an absence of respect for the very purpose of responsible, democratic government. 

Had a Victorian Independent Commission Against Corruption been created with the strong powers of the NSW ICAC  –  the coalition’s election policy – Frankston MP Geoff Shaw’s conduct and penalty would now be ancient history. Likewise, had the Privileges Committee united in the interests of the Parliament, a unanimous finding would have made the way ahead much clearer. 

Instead, Victoria faces uncertainty and instability that could drag on until the election – as late as November. Napthine may be unable to pass any legislation opposed by Labor. Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews has guaranteed only the budget. 

Napthine’s chances of re-election as Premier are falling further each day.

Underlying this crisis is an absence of respect for the very purpose of responsible, democratic government.  Frankston MP Geoff Shaw and every other member of parliament, including the Premier and ministers, are public officers elected to act in the best interests of Victorians and required to put the state’s interests ahead of their personal interests – whether that be Shaw’s hardware store or the Premier’s hold on office.

They have a fiduciary duty to members of the community and a responsibility to exercise a public trust, that is, to act to protect the assets and interests of the state.

Instead, we have seen a promised ICAC created as a tiger so toothless that its own commissioner told Parliament he does not have the powers he needs. The Coalition knew that was what it was doing, in direct contradiction to its responsibilities, but brazenly persisted. 

Having left Victoria without the capacity to effectively investigate the allegations against Mr Shaw, the Coalition and the community are now reaping the whirlwind as it sweeps back to engulf the state’s government. 

What are the options now? The complexity both limits and opens up a wide range of possibilities.

First, Shaw’s future: The Privileges Committee report is now before the Parliament; it is so important that it should be the first item debated and decided when the Parliament re-assembles next Tuesday.

The Coalition is unlikely to want that knowing that the Opposition could have a majority to expel Shaw and force a by-election. Shaw would also oppose a motion that could see him lose his seat.  His expulsion would be immediate and the law requires the Speaker to issue a writ within 30 days for an election, which could be as late as September. It is not clear that the Speaker could use common law to cancel a by-election two to three months before the general election. Either way the Coalition would be paralysed in Parliament.

Expect Napthine to do everything he can to avoid that debate including, no doubt, accepting Shaw’s vote despite claiming it to be “tainted”. However, former Speaker Ken Smith clearly believes action must be taken, leaving the result uncertain.

If the Privileges Committee report is debated, almost any penalty can be imposed on Shaw. Expulsion is simply the most extreme and it can be argued that it is justified to make it clear that the Parliament has zero tolerance of his behaviour. Expulsion has been used elsewhere, but other cases have included suspending the MP’s salary or calling the offending member before the House and issuing a humiliating reprimand.

Second, four-year fixed terms: The change to fixed terms removed the power of the governor to call an election when requested by the premier. Now, the Governor cannot dissolve  the assembly for an election except under very special circumstances. The Government would have to lose a vote of confidence and then no new premier win a vote of confidence within eight days; that is, it would have to be clear that no one had sufficient support to form a government.

Whether or not Shaw is expelled, it will remain open to the Opposition to move a vote of no confidence. If moved, and Shaw has not been expelled, it is likely to be carried. However, before initiating such a motion, the Opposition will carefully weigh up what might follow. I have no information on  its thinking on that.

If a no-confidence motion is carried, convention dictates that Napthine will have to offer his resignation to the Governor. The Governor would then consult and invite another member of the Legislative Assembly to form a government, probably the Leader of the Opposition but not necessarily; he or she would be the member believed most likely to be able to attract majority support in the house and to survive a confidence vote. If within eight days no member had been able to win a confidence vote, then a fresh general election would follow within a few weeks. 

The Coalition could be about to face judgment on its failure to give Victoria the ICAC that could have ''saved its bacon''!

Ken Coghill is an associate professor at  Monash University. He is the acting chairman of the Accountability Round Table and a former Labor Speaker of the Parliament of Victoria.

24 comments so far

  • Ken, you said: ''...Premier and ministers, are public officers elected to act in the best interests of Victorians and required to put the state’s interests ahead of their personal interests – whether that be Shaw’s hardware store or the Premier’s hold on office.''

    These people do not currently put the state's interest in front of their own - and everybody in Victoria knows it!

    It is time to get rid of Shaw once and for all, (and Bernie Finn whilst we are at it). So far this year, these two have shown that they will put their own personal views as being above the views of the majority of Victorians. Yes, the abortion laws are a specific example.

    Napthine should have done something about the rogues of the 'extreme right push' in the Victorian LNP a long time ago, and his failure to act is going to cost him heavily. However, he was right in asking Abbott to stay out of the Victorian election process later this year because the letters and posts we read in The Age from everyday Victorians indicate that the current Abbott government adds to the political poison sweeping through Victoria, and Australia.

    Finally, we must ensure that Victoria installs its own version of the NSW ICAC as a matter of urgency. It will save Victoria from any more of this abysmal political garbage - where ministers do whatever the heck they want (whilst the electorate are totally ignored).

    Commenter
    Jump
    Date and time
    June 05, 2014, 1:43AM
    • Morning Jump, I don't think Naptime has much control in matters of such. The meddling of Andrews, Kruger et al, re the preselection of Smith over Wooldridge-a prime example of the power of the anti abortion lobby in Vic. #Wooldrige voted with Labor in the 2006 Abortion Reform Bill. Labor too has it's fair share of "Labor For Life" members to contend with in Vic.
      Moderates are under threat across the Nation as Zealots imbue their hard line views on reproductive choice. Another one popped up in Qld this week Freya Ostapovitch with the unsubstantiated claim of the link between Breast cancer and Abortion. Akin to those chain emails on refugees entitlements, hear it often enough and circle it wide, it eventually gains some credence and traction with the gullible.
      One would think in 2014 that the days of hard core religion affecting social policy were over, seems get rid of one and another pops up. How can we ever forget the Harradine Telstra Clause that controlled how our FA was spent. Thankyou Labor for repealing that absurdity, actually surprised Aboat/Andrews hasn't had a go at that, yet.
      Shaw and Finn are the type who act in the open, many others lurking undetected.
      Interesting days ahead in Vic, Naptime had a chat with the Gov this morning, yet has claimed it was a regular get together- as if.
      That the Rooster feather duster (credit to Spooner) has the state in such turmoil and over the barrel is unbelievable.

      Commenter
      A country gal
      Date and time
      June 05, 2014, 10:35AM
    • unsurprising that The Age has mobilised it forces and produced two anti-Napthine opinion pieces together with other articles talking of crisis in the government.
      There doen't feel like a crisis underway. people aren't marching in the streets. Napthine continues in the business of government.
      The reality is, Daniel Andrews has looked particularly unimpressive with his response to geoff Shaw, and his hollow demands to see the Queen's representative. I'll bet he won't be the leader come the election - he's Kim Beasley-lite

      Commenter
      tedx
      Date and time
      June 05, 2014, 12:13PM
    • I have first hand tested the IBAC, it has been instructed to say to anything that is within its jurisdiction to tell them it is not within it, and when asked to elaborate on what grounds, they refuse to respond. They wont investigate the leaders recent controversy. What have they really done so far? NOTHING. And with PUP being a new entrant, I'd like to give them fullest powers as our party is untainted with nothing itself to fear. All our consumer protection bodies are ignoring valid crimes hence aiding and abetting them, these need urgent investigation, as over the years I have gained factual evidences against them at state and federal level. Why wont the IBAC investigate anything when we pay big money to do so.

      Commenter
      Brian Woods
      Location
      Glenroy
      Date and time
      June 05, 2014, 12:14PM
    • @tedex. What are you on about? Seriously? The Age hasn't mobilised any forces.
      I am a public citizen who votes for neither LNP nor ALP (I can't speak on behalf of ACG - although I noted that you feel you feel you can...).
      That we take an interest in what is going on seems to be fuel for LNP squadron members to post derogatory posts against anyone who disagrees with them. We get call 'lefties' when we are actually at the 'centre' of the political spectrum, (well, I am, at any rate).
      I like the little 'L' liberal idea that we should all be able to improve 'our lot' in life. To infer that I am some how aligned with a specific media source is just ridiculousness - on YOUR part.
      The LNP DNA = attack the person and not look at the 'big picture'.

      Commenter
      Jump
      Date and time
      June 05, 2014, 7:10PM
    • Good cartoon ya got two in one, Shaw the Turkey and Napthine the Feather Duster.

      Commenter
      Bushy
      Location
      Cressy
      Date and time
      June 05, 2014, 9:51PM
  • Whenever politicians think they have found short-term solutions to long-term problems, they delude themselves. Whenever they think they have found a convenient too-smart-by-half solution that will not blow back on them at some time in the future, they delude themselves. Like CEOs who chase higher share prices at the expense of their company's health, it might serve their own personal short-term interests but it does the larger organism within which they operate and which they are charged with leading no good at all.
    Fixed term election cycles were designed to stop them taking advantage of specific circumstances that may be favourable at a particular moment, but overlook the moments when the wider public interest would be served with an election.
    Hopefully the Governor will have enough wisdom, dare I say common sense, to recognise the mess for what it is and give Victorians the opportunity to elect a government that is able to provide some stability and certainty.
    ICAC clearly serves a valuable role, as we are seeing in NSW, and should be Replicated in Victoria, and federally too for that matter.
    Finally, after the Geoff Shaw and Craig Thomson episodes, it is clear that both parties needs a serious overhaul of their pre-selection processes. If these sorts of people keep slipping through the process, the disdain with which both parties are regarded will only deepen. If parties cannot even manage to find candidates with integrity to stand on their behalf when it is in their own interest, how can we trust them to run the government with integrity and on behalf of the wider interests of the community?

    Commenter
    Frosty
    Location
    Collingwood
    Date and time
    June 05, 2014, 7:00AM
    • +1

      Commenter
      sierra sierra
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      June 05, 2014, 4:00PM
  • You reap what you sew. The real problem in all this, the elephant in the room, is the lack of due process and genuine democracy in preselecting candidates by all parties. Very few generally suitable candidates will ever make it through the system. Then the sheeple blindly vote for one party or the other without ever genuinely assessing their individual candidates. We deserve better. We should demand it.

    Commenter
    Drongomcmc
    Location
    Sunbury
    Date and time
    June 05, 2014, 8:09AM
    • It is too early to make a definitive call on the ability of the ICAC to deal with the sins of MPs but the experience in NSW of witch hunts against some MPs that would not stand a chance of being upheld in a reasonable court has clearly not gone unnoticed by the Coalition in Victoria.
      One thing that can be definitely stated is the shocking weakness exhibited by the Coalition MPs on the Privileges Committee on the Shaw matter. Here was a case of putting political interests ahead of what is morally right and now the political price is about to be exacted. Those MPs should not only hang their heads in shame, they also consider their individual fitness to remain in Parliament. Other than the most partisan the bulk of electors expect their representatives to make the right decisions, and that has not been the case in this instance. Because of their weakness they have left their own Government badly exposed, and displayed themselves as nothing more than a bunch of weak amateurs.

      Commenter
      Ropbbo
      Location
      Mt Eliza
      Date and time
      June 05, 2014, 9:50AM

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