JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Minority rule makes fools of both sides of the house

Criticised  former aide James Ashby ... Justice Steven Rares.

Criticised former aide James Ashby ... Justice Steven Rares. Photo: Supplied

The Australian body politic is clearly afflicted by the minority obsession - which has been around since Julia Gillard's formation of a minority government in September 2010. It seems likely to remain extant until the 2013 federal election, which is due around August.

For more than two years, a number of poor political decisions and misjudged statements can be directly attributed to the minority obsession's prevalence. Most recently, some of the assessments of the Federal Court in Ashby v Commonwealth of Australia.

Contrary to some politics-inspired commentary, Justice Steven Rares did not make any findings against the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, or indeed the aspiring Liberal Mal Brough, who is attempting to win the seat of Fisher, held by the independent MP and former speaker Peter Slipper. Rares's main criticisms were directed at the former aide James Ashby, who took a sexual harassment case against Slipper, and especially Ashby's solicitor, Michael Harmer.

Rares's finding that ''Ashby's predominant purpose for bringing these proceedings was to pursue a political attack against Mr Slipper and not to vindicate any legal claim he may have for which the right to bring proceedings exists'' is certainly compelling. Even so, the judge got himself into some trouble in providing reasons for his decision.

For example, Rares commented that Ashby's moves against Slipper had consequences that ''could affect the balance of power in the House of Representatives, depending on whether Mr Slipper could remain as Speaker''. This is not the case. Here, the judge seems to have been disoriented by the minority obsession. He is not the only one.

The Prime Minister formed government after she obtained the support of two rural and regional independent MPs - Rob Oakeshott (Lyne) and Tony Windsor (New England). Both were one-time Nationals members who represent seats in the House of Representatives and whose electorates clearly preferred the Coalition to Labor when they had a choice between the two parties in the 2010 Senate election.

In other words, Oakeshott and Windsor are responsible for the fact Gillard is Prime Minister. Gillard did not need to enter into the Labor-Greens alliance since the one Greens MP, Adam Bandt in Melbourne, said before the election he would support Labor. It was much the same with Andrew Wilkie, the independent MP for the Hobart seat of Denison. Wilkie comes from a left-of-centre seat and was likely to support Gillard over Abbott. Gillard's doubt about Bandt and Wilkie was part of the minority obsession.

Abbott also got caught up in the minority obsession. That's why he spent more than two weeks pursuing Oakeshott and Windsor after the August 2010 election in the vain hope they would support the Coalition. It was a waste of time. The two former Nationals detest the Nationals. In 2010, on Sky News, Windsor equated the Nationals with cancer.

Then there is the matter of personal animosity. When Abbott became Liberal leader in December 2009, Oakeshott told his local paper he was concerned ''for Australian politics, where no separation of church and state exists in principle''. This was code for saying that Abbott could not be trusted because he was a Catholic; a 21st century manifestation of anti-Catholic sectarianism. Last May, Windsor described Abbott as a ''rabid dog''.

Clearly, Oakeshott and Windsor were never going to cross the floor to bring down Labor and make Abbott prime minister. Nor, for different reasons, were Bandt or Wilkie. In other words, only those subsumed by the minority obsession believed the Gillard government might fall.

In view of this, Slipper was of marginal importance. He was elected as a member of the Queensland Liberal National Party. Labor did not really need Slipper to take over as speaker, since it already had a secure majority. And the Coalition did not need to pursue Slipper over his many indiscretions since, having quit the Coalition for a job with considerably greater remuneration, he was never likely to return.

Brough is also a victim of the minority obsession. Slipper was never likely to retain LNP preselection and there was not a remote possibility of him winning his seat as an independent. Brough did not need to involve himself in any way in Ashby's campaign against Slipper, which Justice Rares found was essentially motivated by Ashby's own desire for a job as an LNP aide.

It is not even clear why Ashby would qualify as a political aide. After all, he spells ''awe'' as ''ore'' and once believed the speaker did not need to be a parliamentarian. Ashby, too, was overcome by the minority obsession. Slipper was never as politically important as Ashby believed him to be.

The fact is, the narrow majority put together in September 2010 was always likely to remain in situ until the end of the three-year term. The actual numbers stand against the minority obsession.

Gerard Henderson is the executive director of the Sydney Institute.

Follow the National Times on Twitter



  • In other words: spin this until we're all too dizzy to piece the puzzle together. Mal Brough and Tony Abbott are now 'victims' of this story. I'm just surprised you haven't blamed Gillard for the whole mess. Oh, actually, you just did. What will you with your time do when Abbott is Prime Minister?

    Date and time
    December 18, 2012, 9:15AM
    • Mal Brough is one of the LNP candidates in Abbotts so called "conservatives" ....... appears its ok to conspire in a sexual harassment case.

      J. Fraser
      Date and time
      December 18, 2012, 9:40AM
    • A classic failed coup.......with many LNP fingerprints all over it.

      Date and time
      December 18, 2012, 9:54AM
    • @ Jace - Frankly they're all to blame here, and in so many other instances. ALP and LNP are focussed on power, first and foremost. They'll play the man (or woman as is appropriate) every chance they get.
      Policy and the country are by-products.

      Date and time
      December 18, 2012, 10:10AM
    • No findings against Mal Brough? That is almost word-for-word the spin that George Brandis was giving us the other day - why am I not the least bit surprised?

      The real question is why did Mal Brough lie so blatantly when he said he had no knowledge of the court proceedings:

      Why did Christopher Pyne lie about meeting Ashby? Why does Abbott repeatedly claim "no specific knowledge" rather than no knowledge. After all Abbott's talk about 'the highest parliamentary office' the party were doing their utmost to bring down that office.

      Think Big
      Date and time
      December 18, 2012, 10:11AM
    • Give up the hyperbole - what coup? Slipper was removed as Speaker, not as MP. He didn't change the numbers in the lower house. Labor is still in power. A coup is a change in government. Removing Mr Mussels as Speaker would never have changed the government.

      Date and time
      December 18, 2012, 10:45AM
    • It's clear that many key figures in the LNP had a role in this stitch up. Henderson yet again is trying to creatively re-write the story to suit his own political leanings. No one can muck rake quite as well as the LNP and the fact that they perpetuate the Gillard-as-lier story is complete and utter audacious hypocrisy.

      Date and time
      December 18, 2012, 10:50AM
    • Rodrigo - the term was 'failed coup' so calm down yourself.

      Date and time
      December 18, 2012, 11:09AM
    • Rodrigo
      A failed coup is still a failed coup even if it failed.
      Typical of Liberal apologists to claim that success was never intended whenever something fails.
      And the hypocrisy of Liberal MPs running for cover once their plan has fallen apart is breathtaking.

      Date and time
      December 18, 2012, 11:19AM
    • Rodrigo, I like your logic, so much so that I'll apply it to another scenario where the word "coup" has been used quite liberally:

      Give up the hyperbole - what coup? Rudd was removed as Prime MInister, not as an MP. His removal didn't change the numbers in the lower house. Labor was still in power. A coup is a change in government. Removing Mr Rudd as PM would never have changed the government.

      Mornington Peninsula
      Date and time
      December 18, 2012, 11:24AM

More comments

Comments are now closed

HuffPost Australia

Follow Us

Featured advertisers

Special offers

Credit card, savings and loan rates by Mozo